'Big clouds condense around small particles.'
~ Stephen King
In case you haven't heard, there is an ongoing protest taking place on Wall Street. There is no shame in being ignorant of the event; the "mainstream" news media has gone out of its way to ignore what is happening down there, Yahoo's email service was recently busted for blocking messages having to do with the protest, and Twitter – that bastion of protest messaging for the people who organized the Arab Spring movements – has reportedly been quashing Wall Street protest-oriented tweets out of hand.
If a tree falls in the forest and the "mainstream" news doesn't report it, did it happen?
Of course it did. Ask the tree.
Well, let's be honest. There has been some reporting of these events. The New York Times – arguably the paper most obliged to cover a protest on the island of Manhattan – did deign to notice the Wall Street action a few days ago. In the annals of "obnoxious," this particular report stands tall:
A blonde with a marked likeness to Joni Mitchell and a seemingly even stronger wish to burrow through the space-time continuum and hunker down in 1968, Ms Tikka had taken off all but her cotton underwear and was dancing on the north side of Zuccotti Park, facing Liberty Street, just west of Broadway. Tourists stopped to take pictures; cops smiled, and the insidiously favourable tax treatment of private equity and hedge-fund managers was looking as though it would endure.
Some said they were fighting the legal doctrine of corporate personhood; others, not fully understanding what that meant, believed it meant corporations paid no taxes whatsoever. Others came to voice concerns about the death penalty, the drug war, the environment.
The group's lack of cohesion and its apparent wish to pantomime progressivism rather than practice it knowledgably is unsettling in the face of the challenges so many of its generation face - finding work, repaying student loans, figuring out ways to finish college when money has run out. But what were the chances that its members were going to receive the attention they so richly deserve carrying signs like "Even if the World Were to End Tomorrow I'd Still Plant a Tree Today"?
As the excellent blog Hullabaloo pointed out, the snark directed toward the Wall Street protesters is vividly contrasted by the long, luxurious backrub given by the Times to the goose-steppers of the Tea Party, back when they had their own little shindig in the Big Apple in the salad days of 2009:
The Web site TaxDayTeaParty.com listed its sponsors, including FreedomWorks, a group founded by Dick Armey, the former House majority leader; Top Conservatives on Twitter; and RFCRadio.com.
The idea for the demonstrations grew in part out of a blast from Rick Santelli, a CNBC commentator who on Feb. 19 at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange said that the Obama administration was promoting "bad behaviour" in helping people who were at risk of losing their homes and that Americans should protest with a tea party in Chicago.
"I'm not happy with the way our government is managing our taxes," said Jo Ouimete, 54, of Northampton, Mass., who was holding an umbrella with an American flag pattern, even though the sun was shining. The umbrella had a tea pot on top and Red Rose tea bags hanging from it.
What a difference an ideology makes, eh? The "Tea Party" is backed by more than a few of the bricks that make up the foundation of the financial citadel, and so they get lavish coverage...and never mind how embarrassing some of the outfits on the scene may have been. A hat made entirely out of tea bags? Stylish...and completely unremarked upon.
Issues of fashion aside, the Wall Street protests are drawing a certain kind of attention never paid to the "Tea Party" crowds. Jeanne Mansfield, writing for the Boston Review, describes her experience with the NYPD:
As we circle Union Square, about twenty NYPD officers haul out orange plastic nets (the kind used to fence off construction sites) and close off the road, diverting the crowd. But the detour, too, is closed, leaving us only one option: straight down Broadway. The light-hearted carnival air begins to get very heavy as it becomes clear that we are being corralled. The main group, about 150 protesters, keeps on down the street, but the police are running behind with the orange nets, siphoning off groups of fifteen to twenty people at a time, classic crowd control.
A new group of police officers arrives in white shirts, as opposed to dark blue. These guys are completely undiscerning in their aggression. If someone gets in their way, they shove them headfirst into the nearest parked car, at which point the officers are immediately surrounded by camera phones and shouts of "Shame! Shame!" Up until this point, Frank and I have managed to stay ahead of the nets, but as we hit what I think is 12th Street, they've caught up. The blue-shirts aren't being too forceful, so we manage to run free, but stay behind to see what happens. Then things go nuts.
The white-shirted cops are shouting at us to get off the street as they corral us onto the sidewalk. One African American man gets on the curb but refuses to be pushed up against the wall of the building; they throw him into the street, and five cops tackle him. As he's being cuffed, a white kid with a video camera asks him "What's your name?! What's your name?!" One of the blue-shirted cops thinks he's too close and gives him a little shove. A white-shirt sees this, grabs the kid and without hesitation billy-clubs him in the stomach.
A white-shirt, now known to be NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, comes from the left, walks straight up to the three young girls at the front of the crowd, and pepper-sprays them in the face for a few seconds, continuing as they scream "No! Why are you doing that?!" The rest of us in the crowd turn away from the spray, but it's unavoidable. My left eye burns and goes blind and tears start streaming down my face. Frank grabs my arm and shoves us through the small gap between the orange fence and the brick wall while everyone stares in shock and horror at the two girls on the ground and two more doubled over screaming as their eyes ooze.
The heavy-handed police response to peaceful protesters gives lie to the notion that this is all a hapless mess. The folks down on Wall Street are, we are expected to believe, totally disorganized and slightly embarrassing. Nonsense. This is one of the most important actions in modern American history, and it is being undertaken by average citizens who have lost homes, jobs and hope in one of the greatest thefts of all time. For years, a great many people have been screaming for justice to be done, with no tangible results. Now, these protesters have taken that message to the bank's front door, and they are getting maced by the police for their trouble.
The onus is not on these protesters. They're there, doing it. The onus is on us to pile in with them, to make the crowds and the central message unavoidable and un-ignorable. The goal of the Wall Street protest is to get the rock rolling down the hill. That's done; the rest is up to us.
(This story was originally published in Truthout on 28 September, 2011, and has been republished under a Creative Commons licence.)