I’m the type of person who asks for permission because I can’t imagine a world where you do what you want with complete disregard for the person next to you. I’m very much conscious that my actions will have consequences, whether positive or negative, and that I won’t be able to immediately gauge these actions.
On September 17, I did something uncharacteristic. I attended the #occupywallstreet protests. I informed my boss and colleagues that I would be in New York that weekend so I might as well go and see it for myself. My tools were a borrowed flipcam and my iPhone, and, well, my boyfriend to carry my bag. That Saturday afternoon, I descended to the financial district, made my way to Wall Street and looked for protestors and posters. The area was blocked off by the NYPD. One of them let me in when I showed him my makeshift press pass (the badge I use to get into my workplace). He told me the demonstrators were on Broadway and that they were blocking the area because it was private property. I didn’t ask questions, just directions. But then I came across another police officer and, empowered by God knows what, I asked him why they were blocking it. He wasn’t as nice as the first one. He told me in an authoritative manner, which I guess is granted by wearing a uniform and carrying a gun, that he was just following his boss’s orders. I retorted, “So, you don’t question these orders?” My boyfriend gave me “the look.” I left before he could think of an excuse to arrest me.
Then I encountered the protest, and dozens of police officers obstinate and observant. It was an eclectic crowd, to say the least. My Twitter feed said they were all young. Not quite. There were many old folk, people whose soles had made a mark on modern history before I was born. There were characters in costume, sporting the now infamous”V for Vendetta” mask or personifying capitalism in some creative way. Just to be clear–there were people wearing jeans and shirts and dresses and coats, too. Some weren’t even wearing clothes. But the clothes weren’t the point.
They were there for a common concern–why is trying to live the American dream a nightmare?
One need not look any further than the hashtag #occupywallstreet to understand their anger and whom it’s directed at. It has to do with money and jobs, or lack thereof, and the reckless decisions of the powers that be. It has to do with not being able to afford their necessities. It has to do with justice and injustice. It has to do with a laundry list of grievances that a minority of the population never has to think about.
That day, not many people were paying attention. I knew there was potential in this “occupation,” and that’s why I went. Now most news outlets have covered it, some have even been implicated (journalists arrested, the NYT’s controversial change of perspective).
It’s a shame that people in this country cannot get the attention they deserve. There must be arrests, there must be pepper spray, there must be a celebrity, there must be some element of scandal or stardom that drives news outlets to cover an event. Isn’t angst enough? And considering that this is a product of the Great Recession and is a crucial part of the narrative, how was it not covered as soon as it happened?
Is social media the answer to this gap or this bias in choosing what and what not to cover? Maybe. I just know that it’s what prompted me to go to the protests. I now wish I would have camped out a la Gonzo and developed a thorough understanding of the story by getting to know these people who have sparked a mass movement instead of just having interviewed a few protesters and taken photos.