Bloomberg Is Wrong About Occupy Wall Street
I am going to Occupy Philly today. I want to see, hear and feel my hometown offshoot of the movement that started a little over a month ago in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. I have been to Occupy Wall Street four times in the past month. The last time was just yesterday when, for the first time, I could see that the protestors were hunkering down for fall and winter. New tents and portable heaters are gifts from anonymous donors and proof that the protestors have a growing network of support. This is bad news for New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg who predicted that the protestors would scatter with the first big snowfall or bitter cold night.
It is symbolically powerful to see a tent city in the shadow of the Wall Street high-rises that represent the riches of America. Even though the tents are nylon, and the food is cooked on portable grills, the scene is the modern staging of the “Hooverville” tent cities that arose out of necessity during the Great Depression.
So in this theatrical presentation of protest, the staging is magnificent. The script? Not so much. The strong criticism of Occupy Wall Street is the lack of coherent message. You need only walk through the crowd to find the validity of that criticism. The signs range from “Free China” and “Get Out of Afghanistan Now” to one sign that just had every obscene word in the English language written in a Pop Art collage. The young man carrying that sign was driving the network crews crazy as he seemingly meandered into every live report.
Surrounding the signs is the hum of constant debates. Walking through the crowd is like tuning your radio from one talk station to another. And then there are the crazy screamers. These are people I believe would be screaming their opinion on the street whether the protestors were there or not. Occupy Wall Street just gave them somewhere to go where people might actually listen. In fact, one unshaven and unwashed older gentleman with a homemade misspelled sign was getting a lot of attention as he ranted about the evil of Hindus. As TV crews started recording the man’s racist rant, several Occupy protestors started shouting, “This man does not represent Occupy Wall Street.”
It seems that the Occupiers don’t know exactly who they want to be yet, but they know who they don’t want to be. I discovered that when I attempted to record my video commentaries for WPIX in New York and the Tribune stations. As I was delivering my lines, I always had “listeners” nearby. Anytime I said something that one of the listeners didn’t like, I was corrected. In one of my commentaries I talked about the similarities between Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. That got a lot of attention as the two words “Tea Party” are considered more obscene to this group than anything written on the Andy Warhol Curse Words sign. And when I would say something in my commentary that the “listeners” liked, I would get handshakes and congratulations. The group is very media savvy, as every word I said was not only recorded by my photographer, but by a half dozen smartphones.
The group doesn’t want the wrong message getting out, even if they aren’t sure what the right message is just yet. For now, it is a powerful visual display of discontent about unemployment and economic disparity in America. And maybe that is all it has to be. Although as I watched and listened to the passion in Zuccotti Park, I couldn’t help think that it could be much more with a strong but simple mission statement.
Maybe I will understand more after my time at Occupy Philly today. But I have to believe that as I walk through the crowd searching for a unified message, the crowd will be searching for the same thing.