An amateur futurist (read: paranoid alarmist with access to Wikipedia) dissects the news of the week in an attempt to prove that the end times aren’t near, they’re here.
The Occupy Wall Street protests, and their national off-shoots, are incredibly difficult to sum up. Writing about them is hard because there’s no discernible focus. Well, there is, but the focus doesn’t fit a headline and it doesn’t lend itself to a smarmy blog post or a tumbled image macro. From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a garbled mess. It’s a lot of young people complaining and chanting. Their demands are scattered and confusing: People want less corporate greed, they want a more attentive government, they want more money, better healthcare, more jobs. They want a better country. And that’s pretty valid, sure, why wouldn’t you want a better country. But at the same time, I protest: this unfocused protesting isn’t really good for progress.
As for an image people can rally around, there hasn’t been a fallen kissing couple or a tank-guy yet. Hell, no one has even slipped a flower into a gun barrel. Occupy Wall Street has this little white girl in an Invader Zim hat. Great. Spencer’s Gifts is arming the revolutionaries of the 21st century. Plus, she’s even smiling! White people are the worst.
The focus of Occupy Wall Street is just rage, rage and a lot of different, slightly connected issues. And after a year of protests around the world and international news outlets basking in the sensational meaninglessness of dramatic riot porn, it looks like the United States is behind the curve when it comes to making a stink. But there’s a very good chance that by the end of this year we’ll realize that grass roots protesting can’t solve anything.
“I can’t wait to grow up and complain about smelly kids hanging out in fields.”
Somehow being college educated and American creates an urge to organize huge, dramatic protests in the streets in a way that completely invalidates whatever it is you’re protesting about.
Perhaps it’s that young people are kind of stupid. About everything. Or maybe it’s the fact that the social strata that most American college educated 20-somethings exist on is both nothing to complain about but also completely miserable. I graduated in May and right now I’m living relatively comfortably and I’m pleasantly happy, but I also have no money and have to suppress an inexplicable desire to run through the streets lighting cars between smashing storefronts.
Being recently graduated in 2011 America is like eating at Wendy’s. Wendy’s is a nice treat, their square hamburgers are perfectly adequate, their new sea salted fries are pretty interesting, you can ask for the chili sauce packets they keep behind the counter (seriously, try it, it’s awesome). But being trapped inside of a Wendy’s with no hope of ever eating anything else would be maddening. It’s really nothing special, the burgers are measly, the chicken is a bit watery, the milkshakes are kind of whatever after the novelty wears off, and most of the dining areas are littered with homeless people: You want to protest right when you muster up the energy, you’re like, “eh, it’s not so bad” all over again. Good grief.
An American degree: You’ll either feel like you live in a Wendy’s or end up working at one.
Possibly the most coherent Occupy Wall Street statement being made right now is We Are The 99 Percent. The user-submitted pictures paint a portrait of how Americans feel—exhausted, hopeless, forgotten, and bitter. More specifically it shows how American youth feel. Most of the coverage of protesters reveals a crowd of mainly youngsters who kind of look like they smell bad.
No snarky caption. Some of these are seriously heartbreaking.
Earlier this week Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi made two interesting points about Occupy Wall Street’s lack of focus but good intentions:
There are times when one wonders how effective marches are – one of the lessons that the other side learned from the Vietnam era is that you can often ignore even really big protests without consequence – but in this case demonstrations could be very important just in terms of educating people about the fact that there is, in fact, a well-defined conflict out there with two sides to it.
That seems to be the real tricky thing about looking at Occupy Wall Street. There’s seemingly no focus or direction. There is an interesting Reddit thread that clears up some of the confusion, citing grievances like campaign finance reform, judicial equality, and better governmental representation, which is kind of like the Spark’s Notes of political protesting. And there’s a serious problem with vague angry protesting. Formless frustration is great; it could be argued that’s how Barack Obama won the presidency, he was all like, “yeah bros, this class is totally hard and sucks wicked bad, if I taught it, we’d have class outside all the time and I’d never assign papers.” And everyone was like, “Aw, shit, that’s mad chill, dog.”
Plus, when you aren’t rallying together on anything specific, support is both plentiful and kind of meaningless. In that same line of thinking, let’s be totally hyperbolic for a second: The French Revolution was a gathering of people who were angry for the sake of being angry, figured it must be the people at the top, got rid of the top, and then had years and years of political mass murders.
And that brings me to my last and most important point. I don’t think protesting solves anything anymore. Or it can’t the way it’s being done right now. I don’t know if it’s because of laziness, lack of imagination or because the closest thing to a real rally most young people have ever been to is Bonaroo, but most of these protests end up looking more like an open air music festival than a place of political fervor.
“We hate Wall Street even though we don’t buy anything anyway and we eat other people’s garbage.”
Possible Future #1
The youth of America realize that one of the hardest parts of organizing a protest is agreeing on what to protest. They collectively sit down, get some kind of leadership, maybe draft some kind of mission statement. I don’t know, these are kind of basic things that need to happen. Maybe, they forgo the whole “being homeless because screw you guys” thing and maybe embrace the media and work within some kind of system and push long-term, meaningful change via the proper channels. Maybe they focus on healthcare, or employment, or corporate greed and solve one or two of them decently and stop being stupid enough to think these are new problems, or even problems that can be fixed.
Possible Future #2
Riots start being sponsored, Occupy Wall Street has a PR firm now. This sponsorship attitude leads to a slippery slope of larger riots getting endorsement deals and influxes of money by personal interest groups. This creates a need for larger and larger protests that don’t so much call attention to beliefs and issues as much as they create bizarre crust punk shanty towns of homeless political science majors smoking pot in front of, like totally important buildings where people wear suits and count money, dude. A protest that started on the Washington mall grows so large it ends up clashing with a New Jersey protest, rallying against government spending and turns into some kind of disgusting love in. Copious amounts of free love and LSD creates some kind of mutated form of the clap that makes people hallucinate about gun control. Protesting gets banned by the government, all the young people in the protests grow up, get real jobs, realize they accomplished nothing and pass a law making it illegal to teach people under the age of 25 about the electoral college.
Last Saturday, somewhere between 500 and 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge for hopping the rail and obstructing traffic. I was one of them, but I wasn’t there to protest. I was there with some guys I do silly videos with on the internet to hopefully get some good footage of hippies being dumb and do some mean-spirited interviews. It’s not that I don’t sympathize with the whole wanting a better country thing, who doesn’t? But living in a hippy commune in the park doesn’t really seem like the best way to go about it.
Above: The video we got halfway through making before we were arrested. Look at my cool blazer. It’s awesome.
As the march wound it’s way completely unironically towards the Brooklyn Bridge, I followed the smelly, unfocused mass with my crew.
We got split up. Myself and one of my friends were left alone inside the mass of people on the bridge, which was pretty lackluster until they started arresting people. No one knew what was going on, they were letting some people go, arresting others. Oddly enough, at a demonstration without any focus or leadership or point, knowing what was happening was extremely difficult. One by one the police grabbed us out of the crowd, zip-tied our hands and threw us into paddy-wagons. Personally, I was a bit disappointed I wasn’t drunk for my first time in the back of a paddy-wagon, but what can you do?
In my paddy-wagon a bunch of kids wearing swimming goggles and bandanas talked about how the fascists had no right to arrest the 700 people breaking the law by obstructing traffic on the bridge. One kid was convinced the cops were going to go through his phone and tried to lock the keypad it from behind his back. My main concern was that I had to go the bathroom and if I peed myself before I got to prison it would be a long time before I could change my pants.
I ended up at the fifth precinct, amazingly enough, reunited with my friend in line for the holding cell. My arresting officer was really nice about the whole thing and we made small talk as we went through processing. He told me a fun fact about how driving without a license is a lesser offense than driving with a suspended one. And I told him that he was my first arresting officer. He said he was honored.
The next 7 hours were spent in a bleak craphole with 120 other protesters. The worst part of which was that they kept doing their human megaphone chant (the call and return thing they use for spreading messages). Every couple minutes you’d hear:
Random Idiot In An Operation Ivy Hoodie Or Something: Mic check, mic check!
Hippies In Jail With Me: Mic check, mic check!
Remember, the police.
Remember, the police.
Cannot force you.
Cannot force you.
To give them.
To give them.
Your social security number.
Your social security number.
At one point, they formed a committee in half of the cell and used the human megaphone to vote on whether or not they were going to go on a hunger strike while in prison. Once they agreed that they were in fact only drinking the water provided by the police and not the sandwiches they then orally drafted a manifesto which was then explained to a very bored policeman as he tried to hand out milk and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. A dude who looked like a caricature of every Blockbuster employee ever, wearing a shirt that read “Affluence creates poverty,” yelled “fuck your sandwiches!”
I had two sandwiches, as I was very hungry.
I was let out around 12:30am. And I can tell you quite confidently, my arrest did not change anything.