I first attended Occupy Wall Street on Sunday afternoon, and was quickly committed to spending all of my free (and even compromised) time there. Rather than muse at length on the assembly and the quasi-governmental General Assembly’s (GA) purpose, I will summarize some of what I noted, shot, and videoed during my time. Other blogs can do the editorializing. This will be updated for as long as there is an encampment—for that’s as long as I’ll go. For updates as they happen/ed see my Twitter feed (also to the right).
Some people stick out sharply, even in a spectrum ranging from libertarians to Trotskyists-Leninists. I haven’t seen much online coverage of the real malcontents, so this is my first post in hopes that people will take caution and not talk to strangers (as it were).
On the subject of plants/agents provocateur, there was much discussion. I spent part of my first night speaking to a fairly suspicious man. He carried a megaphone that was broken, through which he’d planned to agitate with some exhortations. He introduced himself as Solomon, and had an accent I couldn’t place but that had traces of British education—at least in English. I wanted to trust him, but couldn’t quite, which was fine because he talked nonstop and had a standard spiel with which he approached everyone: “You should be wearing a black hoody and have a mask, I was thinking of ordering 4 or 500 V masks from China and selling them for $5, they could be here in a few days.” The point was to create anonymity in the event of a crackdown. Problem is, that kind of projection caused crackdowns the very next day.
I mightn’t have been suspicious of Solomon alone, but for the appearance of a guy who tore down the signs, claiming he wanted to protect the encampment. The police had asked us to take down the signs attached to the low walls around the park at about 2100 on Sunday. He loudly declaimed against people’s suspicions that he was from the police or the CIA as he removed a few signs. I could see his point, but the divisive effect was unmistakable.
The police removed a few signs too. It had the effect of dividing the group into two separate assemblies, each one yelling with a People’s Microphone because the police had ordered amplification off. The main Assembly called for discussion, and the Stairs/Sign Debate/That Guy Assembly didn’t want to move from the disturbance. (A People’s Microphone is when a speaker addresses a crowd in short bursts, which are then parroted by a group that shouts to those further off.) It was a chaos quickly contained, but in that moment it was easy to see how cohesion gives way. This guy was there Monday too, wearing a purple top but otherwise innocuous.
Also on Monday, some asshat with a sign advising vigilance against “Jewish bankers” turned up, and one of the guys close to the GA marshaled a large group over yelling “He does not represent us!” The sign was folded up in a crush of people by police or protestors, and apparently the guy was told he could free his speech elsewhere (I was about 10 meters back).
Fox News turned up and engaged in some predictable baiting. There was some very lucid commentary from interviewees even under the camera’s glare and the mic’s probe. At times, subjects ranted as though it were a live feed, which would make for great manipulative edits later.
I had lots of conversations that made me feel there was latent focus and intelligence in the group, but it needs time to cohere. The occasion had been constructed to be non-hierarchical and encourage autonomous free association.
We Need You there, especially New Yorkers. Even a walkthrough or an afternoon helps—show up and form your own opinion, then tell even a couple of people.
(If it’s even a tenth of Tahrir you’ll feel like a knob for missing it.)