Occupy Wall Street: Musings on a possibly fleeting but potent movement

An Occupy Wall Street sign.

One of many Occupy Wall Street signs.

UPDATE Nov. 15: Looks like I got this post up just in time. After an early-morning raid that removed the protestors and their tents and tarps from Zuccotti Park, the New York Supreme Court ruled today that the protestors may return to the park but not encamp. What does that mean for the future of Occupy Wall Street? Will the movement fundamentally change, or retain its heart if not its home? 

Although I finally made it to the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park, it’s taken me far too long to actually blog about it. (My visit was on Oct. 26, more than half a month ago. I’m still planning on blogging about Halloween, too. Prospective employers: My excuse for tardiness is that I’ve been applying non-stop to you. Please take pity.)

In any case, I had been trying to get there for a while (see the result from my previous failed attempt) and I was eager to catch a glimpse of this chapter of history.

My initial reaction? It was much smaller than I thought it would be. Zuccotti Park is only 33,000-square-feet and although tents are densely-packed — the Wall Street Journal estimated about 200 tents on Nov. 8 — the number of protestors are far less than the thousands I’m used to seeing at marches for a variety of causes in Washington, D.C., my hometown.

My delayed reaction? Duh. Of course there are fewer people protesting Wall Street in Zuccotti Park than I’ve seen protest the second Iraq War or President Obama’s health care reform legislation on the National Mall in D.C. And not because the protestors themselves seem to be different — at least not from the left-leaning protestors I’ve seen elsewhere.

But rather the protest is different because its essence is living the protest, day and night, in this park.This is a completely different animal from the single-episode events that seem to me to be the norm of dissent and ultimately have a low-level commitment for participation. Occupy Wall Street truly is an occupation, and therefore demands a huge commitment from its participants.

A tent in Zuccotti Park, home to Occupy Wall Street.

A tent in Zuccotti Park, home to Occupy Wall Street.

And with that commitment must come respect. It’s impossible to shrug off these protestors as only partially committed to their cause. They have completely dived in, have completely devoted their lives to the cause, and as such they stubbornly and forecelly demand attention (this protest will not be ignored lest we drum circle you to death).

However, it seems its own downfall may be encoded in precisely what makes it so demanding and alluring. The protests seemingly have to end in their current incarnation at some point. It’s mid-November already. It’s only going to get colder from here, and plenty of outlets have already covered the dangers the protesters may face living in the camp during the winter months (let alone issues like proper sanitation and health).

In any case, regardless of how long Zuccotti Park is home to the occupiers, I made it to see them while they were still there and going strong.

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