Why “Occupy (Take Back?) Wall Street” Might Matter, Maybe

The “Occupy Wall Street” protesters are a strange bunch. On the one hand, they’re far too few, and far too unsure of why exactly they’re there, to be taken seriously. (Locals will remember the comparably schizophrenic agenda of the “Take Back NYU” protests in 2009: those guys were hilarious.) On the other, they’re getting into a disproportionate amount of trouble, always a sign of a successful protest; pretty good at putting a useful spin on it; and when they can be troubled to state a unitary agenda, it comes off as inoffensive, educated, and classically liberal. The pervasiveness of corporate influence in America really is worth protesting, and despite the fact that there aren’t really enough of them to fill the two-block-by-two-block square between Ground Zero and Broadway (not on, but just north of Wall Street), these guys seem to be getting their share of attention, from both sides. Should we care about them?

Probably. If we’ve learned two things from the tea partiers — and I suggest that that is precisely how many things we’ve learned from them — it’s that the crazier you are, the more attention you’ll get; and numbers don’t matter if you can put on a good show. Despite the right’s nonstop attempts to fudge the numbers, Glenn Beck’s 9/12 project drew substantially fewer than the Stewart/Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, but left a stronger mark on the national consciousness because the attendees took themselves seriously, for all of their obvious silliness. American politics is fundamentally about the drama of it all, and the contrast of consciously grungy hipsters (and zombies) with the tall, stately buildings of the Financial District tells a good story. I would blanche at giving the protesters the kind of official recognition Republicans have afforded the tea parties, but it might be time for elites to pick up, contextualize, and refine their message into something that could actually effect policy change. Beneath the superficial absurdity of “Occupy Wall Street,” there’s a valid undercurrent of old-style economic populism, something that’s been missing and needed since the ’80s. It’s past time for someone to tap into it, and tell the true story of corporate greed.



  1. I’ve been waiting for this one. Why not “occupy wall street”?

  2. I’ve heard them call themselves both. So, edited.

  3. I’m just wondering why they’re not occupying Philadelphia Avenue in DC instead, if anything. Wall St isn’t the fundamental problem here, it’s that Congress can’t get it’s act together and introduce the economic reforms that are necessary.

    1. Pennsylvania Avenue, I mean.

    2. I agree. Wall Street is mostly residential these days, at least at my end; at the other, there’re a few banks (Deutsche) but other than that, high end boutiques. It’s the symbol they’re after, which is something, I suppose. But yes, I think Pennsylvania Ave would be more effective.

  4. I think you missed my point. Why the upper-case name? By your own criteria, shouldn’t it be lower-case ‘occupy wall street’ ?

    1. It’s actually a proper name, whereas there is no “tea party.” There is, though, “Tea Party Patriots,” and a billion offshoot organizations, which would be capitalized. The analogue here would be “Wall Street protesters,” would I would capitalize accordingly — lowercase except for “Wall Street.”

      Oh, and the demands you reference aren’t all that bright, yeah. I think there are a few versions circulating around, which is its own problem.

      1. We’ve been over this. ‘Tea Party’ refers to a specific historic event that is ALWAYS capitalized. Therefore, again, by your own rules it should be ‘Tea Party movement’ or ‘Tea Party protestors’ or ‘Tea Party activists’.

        1. We have, indeed, been over this, sir. And let me remind you, it is not a proper tea party, capitalised or otherwise, unless there are cucumber sandwiches served. So I apologise for the inconvenience, but you will have to call it something else. Thank you for your cooperation.

        2. Love it.

          And the Boston Tea Party is a historic event. The “tea party” is not. You might as well say “The Invasion,” and expect me to infer the British landing at Kips Bay in the battle of New York.

          1. It’s common knowledge which Tea Party they are refering to Ames – and of course you know that. Is playing dumb a lawerly trick or something they taught you at Rice?

          2. Nah, this is from like fifth grade. I could call these guys “Tea Parties,” with the implied “Boston,” but that makes no sense, and risks confusion between the event and the group. It’s easier to use lowercase to distinguish between the actual event and the purported heirs of the legacy, unless there’s an official group being referenced.

            1. You’ve officially jumped the shark.

              1. Hah! I mean, the easy, honest answer is I don’t want to use grammar to confer upon them a legitimacy they haven’t earned. There is no “tea party.” If they ever organized one, I’d call them the “Tea Party.” Until then there’s the “tea party,” and their subsets, like “Tea Party Patriots.”

                I will use that rule equally, though. If these guys on Wall Street tried to compare themselves to… I dunno… the Decemberists, I would lower-case it until they got a proper PAC. Out of respect for the band, too.

                1. They have a senator, several congressmen and other elected officials. I’d say they earned it.

                  And also, if you want to pretend Tea Party is confusing, you should probably know there are at least six Wall Streets in my state alone. Seems like capitalization could lead to confusion.

              2. This whole “Tea Party” vs. “tea party” discussion jumped the shark a long time ago. Scratch that, it started out by jumping the shark.

  5. If these ‘demands’ are accurate these people are dumber than I thought.


    1. While I don’t think that list is anymore representative of the protesters than any other random guy on the Internet, #2-6 are actually useful ideas. The others I’ll grant seem to range from the odd to the insane.

      1. A broken clock is right twice a day.

        I saw a video of a group meditation this morning. Best laugh I have had in awhile.

        1. Maybe, but at least they are doing something. We’re here in our cubicle worlds sniping at each other online. And not doing a very good job of changing anything either might add.

          1. … at least they are doing something.

            Blocking traffic?

          2. Phillip,

            I have never found protests to be terribly effective in the Western world. If they achieve anything I will be nothing short of amazed.

          3. Hah, that’s clearly wrong. Haven’t the tea parties achieved something, even if what they achieved is pretty dumb? And didn’t the hippies, too?

            1. The Tea Parties achieved something because they worked within the system and put candidates on the ballot. I don’t see the occupy wall street people achieving anything other than annoying bystanders.

            2. I mean, there’s been plenty of mocking the dumb, racist, yelling, town hall disrupting, still relatively unorganized group that is “The Tea Party”. They still have plenty of impractical demands and beliefs. Partially seen in some of the “crazy” stuff that came out of the debate.

              But you immediately defended the Tea Party, as a great outcry of democracy, being picked on and generalized by liberals…but demean the Wall Street people?

              Just as no one knew what would happen with the Tea Party, I don’t think anyone knows if anything will happen with the Wall Street group. It’s interesting now that the unions are getting involved.

              1. I don’t think I put the Tea Party in such noble terms. It’s a populist movement that has enjoyed some success because the leadership was focused and they worked within the system. From what I have seen of the OWS crowd they don’t really know what they are protesting other than some vague concept of hating corporations.

                Any demeaning that is going on is purely a personal contempt for hipsters and hippies.

              2. But it’s been what, a week?

                I don’t think the Tea Party wasn’t working within the system at a week. They were still playing dress up.

                That’s why I said the unions are important, they’ve been a powerful group in the past, and they’re getting in there and trying to lend some organization to the protests.

                1. Yeah – that worked out well in Wisconsin.

                  1. You’re right, they’re no Kochs.

        2. Yeah, I rather agree. I have half a mind to go introduce myself (they’re about two blocks from my front door, after all).

      2. One of my best friends lives across from the stock exchange. She wakes up to drum circles every morning. THAT is some funny shit.

  6. I was thrilled beyond belief when they all got arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Roads are for cars only, sidewalks are for pedestrians only, and never the twain should meet. Except at crosswalks.

    What little I’ve heard about the protestors’ aims has amounted to “we shouldn’t have to pay back our loans because corporations bad!” Hardly an agenda worthy of respect.

    1. They were walking across the footbridge over the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a thing we do, and a lovely date activity. So, not interfering with anyone except romantics and snobby bikers.

      1. Oh. The accounts I read said some of them got in the vehicular lanes.

        I’m all for obstructing snobby bicyclists though.

      2. If they got in the vehicular lanes, yeah, that’s illegal and like really really dangerous!

    2. Hear, hear! It seems that personal responsibility is a foreign concept to these folks.

      1. Mike,
        They have a responsibility to pay back their loans – no argument from me on that. But you can’t pay back loans if you can’t earn a wage, and right now 10% of working Americans can’t earn a wage because there’s not enough demand for goods or services for those folks to be employed. Personal responsibility has zero to do with that part of the equation.

        1. Sure. But you don’t get here by calling for universal loan forgiveness or a $20 minimum wage. These people are welcome to be outraged but when their proposals make the Tea Party look like sane by comparison – I think calling them irresponsible is the kindest hing I can say.

    3. “Just for fun he says, ‘get a job.’ But that’s just the way it is; some things will never change…”

      1. ? Lyric of crappy old song has me confused.

        1. Oh, Mike’s boilerplate “liberals have no personal responsibility” crap deserved no more sophisticated response. It’s really no better than “they took err jerbs!” So, a song about that.

          1. My understanding was that this was a non-partisan movement. Of course, the drum circles, group meditations and complete lack of organization seem to betray a Leftist slant. Still, calling for universal debt forgiveness and a $20 minimum wage is clearly a disregard for personal responsibility.

            1. At the least, it’s a rejection of the idea that life should be a sequence of one tahaddi al-burhan after another.

      2. “But it’s the early 19th century, And we’re gonna take this country back”…?

        I didn’t expect the “also other things” would be drum circles, though.

        1. omg since when and how did you see Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.

        2. Haven’t seen it onstage, but we have these technologies called “the Internet” and “Youtube” now, you know. :-)

  7. This is just awesome:

    “Many of these aggrieved youth believe that the government has become unresponsive, that their voices have been silenced, and therefore protest is the only option. But this strikes me as a fundamental misreading of the past three years. It is likely that few of the protesters have actually taken part in the more mundane aspects of the system they’d like to take down—for example, only 24% of 18- to 29-year-olds voted in the 2010 mid-term elections. And while they were quietly seething, the tea-party movement was showing America what democracy actually looks like, pushing their candidates forward and holding them accountable. When liberals complain that the Republicans are beholden to the tea-party movement, is that not an admission that the system is responsive?

    Which is not to say that it is working perfectly. There is no doubt that some of what we are hearing out of the Wall Street encampment is correct, and there have been good suggestions as to how to translate these sentiments into action. But perhaps the biggest reason young people feel so alienated by their government is because they have removed themselves from the process of choosing it. Tea-party people have been known to take over public spaces, too. Then they go vote.”


    1. Sort of a dumb point. The system responds to protests, is what all of this reduces to, provided it’s backed by voting. Granted. And granted, too, that the percentage of people my generation who vote is pretty pitiful. But I suspect the portion willing to cross state lines for a pretty lame protest is also the portion willing to take the minimal time to vote. Finally, remember this is an early-stage movement, compared to the tea parties.

      1. I wouldn’t count on them voting. I would be willing to bet a lot of these kids aren’t even registered.

        Also, the Tea Parties have done so well because it is a movement of adults. They understood fromt the start that you have to work within the system. Unlike some other people?


      2. Right. A movement of adults who dress up like colonial soldiers, with tea bags dangling from their hats, yell at elected representatives to disrupt “town halls,” cultivate a deliberate misunderstanding of the law, carry loaded guns to rallies just to piss people off, make signs depicting the President as a Batman villain, and… what? What substantive work do they actually do? They’re relevant because the GOP needs a semblance of a populist hook. So they yoke the stampeding horde that is the tea party movement, and whip them to preordained goals.

        Let’s not imagine these are sophisticated people, thinking up bold new ideas and writing bills to put them into law. They’re a disorganized, angry rabble, just like the Wall Street protesters.

        1. C’mon Ames, you’re going to criticize people for wearing costumes? I’ve seen your FB page…Mr.Potter.

          From Day One they intended on putting people in office. Within 2 years they had done just that. That strikes me as pretty mature and serious.

        2. Hey now, that was Halloween!!! :)

        3. I would say a political rally is pretty analagous.

      3. Question inspired! Would it be Constitutional for a state to ban all out-of-state money and volunteers from its political process? Should it be?

        1. Probably not. Money is a form of speech these days, so there’s the 1st plus 14th Amendment. Or perhaps just the Commerce Clause, since buying services (advertisement or whatever) is involved.

  8. The protests and demands are a bit disjointed now, but they’re a symptom of a growing discontent…as things in the global economy get worse, I think the movement will grow.

  9. Wow! Reminds me of that movie where the crooked cop gives the Eloi speech to Mel Gibson in Ransom:

    “Ever see that movie The Time Machine? It’s the, uh, land of the future, right?

    “There´s only two kinds of people in the world now: the Morlocks and the Eloi. And the Elois, they live above ground. They wear togas. They´re all blond. They eat grapes and shit like that. But it´s like the Garden of Eden there. I mean, basically, everybody just lays around, listens to harp music.
    “Now, the Morlocks… they live underground, right? Big, hairy, ugly suckers like you wouldn´t wish on an ape, right? They´re down there with all this machinery. They´re doing all the labour. They´re making sure that the Elois have enough food and– and togas. Well, this is a great deal if you´re an Eloi, right? There´s only one thing.

    “Every once in a while, a Morlock comes up to the surface… and snatches an Eloi, takes him down there. The Morlocks, they don´t eat grapes. They´re cannibals. They eat Elois.

    “So when I think about, uh, The Time Machine… it kind of reminds me of New York City, you know? See, you´re an Eloi. You and all your friends, walking around like zombies… with no idea of what is goin´ on down below.”

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