Occupy Wall Street is Absolutely Exhilarating





James Livingston is Professor of History at Rutgers University. He blogs at Politics and Letters, where this was cross-posted.

“This is my f**king Woodstock, man!”—end of march exclamation by 30-something.

“I’ll believe corporations are persons when Texas executes one.”—sign held aloft by beautiful woman.

“In a real democracy, bartenders and billionaires would be equal.”  “F**k that, in a real democracy, there’d be no billionaires.”—sign held aloft by smoker of joint and riposte by passerby.

“Are we cool?  Can we stay on those sidewalks?”—questions asked by angry, tattooed marshal

“What’s with all the cops at the doors?”  “It’s a protest.”  “Yeah, I was there, I mean the helmets and shit.”  “Seattle.”  “Seattle?”  “Globalization, we’re not gonna have people get out this space and break windows.”—exchange between me and focused policeman

“As long as they’re against Wall Street, we make strategic sacrifices.  Yeah, the Tea Party is here, Ron Paul is big, good for them, this thing is growing because we don’t, uh, we don’t, uh, we can’t keep anybody out of here, look around.  This is an occupation.”—observation by Paul, from Brooklyn, on the composition of this aggregation

I went to Zuccotti Park [the other day], looking for the substance of Occupy Wall Street, knowing that Gina Bellafonte and Charles Blow had to be wrong about its political promise and intellectual composition, and asking whether Adbusters was really the presiding spirit of this protest.  It was so much fun that I wanted to stay all night, roll out my sleeping bag and stick around.  Except that I hadn’t planned that far ahead—I don’t even have a sleeping bag—and this tiny little park couldn’t hold one more horizontal person.

This is for real because this is cultural politics, not politics as usual according to the wise men and women who think that voting is the ultimate act of citizenship, and that policy-making is the obvious output of political thought and action.  These people know what they’re against—oligarchy—and for the time being all they want is to discredit the defenders of the status quo.  They don’t know what they’re for, and that’s a good thing.

There were at least 10,000 people who gathered in Foley Square, then marched back to Zuccotti Park in the narrow lanes determined by the NYPD.  It was a crowd that was significantly different from the New York anti-war marches of 2003 and 2004: all ages, all colors, all ideas, all idiocies.

“I lost my job, but I found an occupation.”—sign held aloft at Foley Square

The speeches didn’t matter, the people on the stage were irrelevant.  When I talked to Paul, the guy who was minding the Information Table at the south end of the park, where Occupied Wall Street Journal was available for free—like food and books and everything else in this place—he explained that when he first came, he tried to check it out, walking around on Day 2 and asking questions, wondering what the real deal was, was it here?  “You’ll find more sophisticated conversations here than anywhere, people know about the financial system, they get it, they can talk about it.”

I ask him what they read, and he shrugs, he says “Inside Job,” and I know what he means, Charles Ferguson’s documentary is better than any book on the subject.  I hate the movie, but I know what he means.

All in all, an exhilarating experience.

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