Friday, November 04, 2011
Onsite at #OccupyWallStreet: 10 Myths Debunked
Over 35 years ago, Jerry Mander wrote a landmark book titled, “Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television.” One of those arguments was that with TV, the media now had the power to edit the variety of pictures they showed to the public, thus enabling them to create whatever ‘story’ they wanted based on what they chose to show.
Today, my partner and I finally got to Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan and joined in the Occupy Wall Street encampment. And I have to admit that what I saw was not at all what I had read or seen in the media reports. Thus, my post today is meant to debunk some of the myths I have heard over and over.
Myth #1: The Protesters have ‘taken over’ Manhattan’s Financial District and are interrupting and burdening normal activities.
Wrong. OWS “occupiers” are compactly situated in Zuccotti Park, a plaza about two short blocks north of Wall Street. It is plaza that is normally “occupied” by the public. For the last eight years I have taken student groups to Manhattan, and each year we have had lunch at the plaza. The sidewalks surrounding the plaza are clear, and there is no interruption of vehicular or pedestrian traffic. From as close as one block away, we had no idea that anything unusual was taking place.
Myth #2: OWS is destroying the “park.”
Those unfamiliar with the park may incorrectly imagine this to be a grassy oasis in the midst of lower Manhattan. But there is not a blade of grass in the ‘park’ – it is a 100% paved plaza. The tents that have been erected are not compacting soil, killing vegetation, or being secured into the ground with pegs; rather, they are simply weighted down by their contents on the pavement. The Occupiers have taken great care to protect a planter of flowers and the small locust trees that have been planted around the plaza.
Myth #3: These protesters are just a bunch of spoiled young brats.
No, actually the group is as amazingly diverse as New York City and America are. Occupants are black, white, asian, and latino. They are students, war veterans (actually, veterans are present in significant numbers), grandmas knitting in chairs, economists in ties & suit jackets, middle –aged laborers, and senior citizens. My favorite sign, held by one middle-aged man with a great sense of humor, read, “Another green-haired, deer-hunting, real estate developer in support of OWS.”
Myth #4: They may be diverse, but they’re simply whiners looking for handouts.
No, these people are heroes. With temperatures falling below 40 and wind whipping through lower Manhattan, it is very cold right now. It is also very cramped: with over 100 tents squeezed together, occupiers barely have room to stretch out. They lack most of the creature comforts that the majority of us take for granted and go home to each night, without complaint. Rather than whining, these people are enduring hardship for all of us – hardship that many Wall Street Executives have never experienced.
Myth #5: OWS has no clear focus or message.
Nonsense. The diverse interests that make up OWS have a consistent thread: – opposition to corporate domination of the American political system. This opposition manifests itself in various ways: opposition to fracking, nuclear power, and the Keystone pipeline; indictments of corporate refusals to hire veterans; student loan burdens, and the exclusion of such loans in bankruptcy proceedings; the imprisonment of Bradley Manning; the Citizens United Court ruling; the irony of lower wages in a time of higher corporate profits; and the capture of both major political parties by corporate donors. Diverse causes, yes…but all undergirded by the influence of large corporations in government decisions.
Myth #6: OWS is disorganized and aimless.
A mere walk through the Occupy Camp shows an incredible amount of organization: there is a large lending library, a medical tent, a welcome table, a press tent, on-site legal assistance, scheduled teach-ins, addiction assistance, a food tent, a sanitation crew, and an energy operation. OWS has managed to create a voluntary, need-based, consensus-embraced camp, in spite of Mayor Bloomberg’s cutting them off from heat & energy sources and sanitary facilities.
Disorganized? Lacking electricity, OWS participants are peddling used, stationery bicycles to create electricity that is being stored in car batteries to continue their computer feeds – an effort in which your Blogger participated. This is impressive creativity, not disorganization.
Myth #7: OWS is hurting New York’s image and its economy.
First of all, the exercise of Constitutional Rights is not subject to image niceties. However, it is fair to say that not only is OWS not hurting New York’s image and economy – it has become a tourist attraction in and of itself. Located in the shadow of the newly-rising World Trade Center Building #1, tourists ringed Zuccotti Park the entire time I was there, snapping pictures, taking videos, speaking with Occupiers. The mobile food carts that have always been located on the south edge of the park remain there and are thriving….as are an increased number of street vendors that are set up across the street on the east side of Broadway.
Myth #8: These people are really anti-capitalist Communists.
To be sure, there are some Occupiers sporting Che Guevara signs and anti-capitalist slogans. There are also a number selling t-shirts, pins, souvenirs, and even refrigerator magnets. More than anti-capitalist (many of them are engaging in entrepreneurial activities), they are anti-corporatist, pro democracy, and promoting new approaches to wealth disparity. More than anything, they value social responsibility and paying a laborer what he or she is worth – a very American principle that has been sorely upended in the last two decades.
Myth #9: The Occupation has become unsanitary and a health hazard.
There’s no doubt that Zuccotti Park is messy & cramped – though hardly more cramped than some 6 x 10 student hostel rooms I’ve stayed in. And tents and canvas and signs and wind and a “camping” situation that is now 6 weeks old will not look like Martha Stewart’s living room. But “Unsanitary?” No. OWS has instituted recycling, composting, and its own “Sanitation Department,” complete with cleansing agents, brooms, and a garbage collection squad. On each side of the Park, very large “Good Neighbor Policy” signs are posted, clearly spelling out behavioral expectations. Considering it is the City of New York that blocked the delivery of port-a-potties (Bette Midler offered to pay for them), it is rather disingenuous of them to then suggest that the plaza is ‘unsanitary.’ (Ironically, *this afternoon* it was announced that port-a-potties will be located on the loading dock of the United Teacher’s Federation building, about two blocks away)
Myth #10: Crimes are going unreported (said Bloomberg today), and it is a lawless community.
I just have to laugh at this one. Police cars, trucks and at least one Police Tower are parked side-by-side along the north side of the park. TV trucks, with cameras looking down from twenty-foot-high booms, line the south side. Police stand on the sidewalks on all sides. There are more police at Zuccotti Park per square foot than in a Dunkin Donuts parking lot. To suggest that Zuccotti Park is crime-ridden in the face of the videos, cameras, cell phones, TV crews, and round-the-clock police presence, would tell us more about the ineffectiveness of the NYPD than about the Occupiers.