Whether or not you believe that Occupy Wall Street heralds the proverbial Arab Spring of the American nation, you cannot ignore the impact it has had on our society’s thinking. The Occupy movement has spread like wildfire from its nascent New York home and is shaping the expression of the growing frustrations of people across the world.
Occupy is a difficult movement to take a stance on. On one side of the argument, its protesters have put forth no definite policy agenda. This leaves a substantial fraction of people tethering on a decision of whether to support it while they wait for an articulation of its purpose. The scope of this movement shows widespread agitation, but lacks the depth that will see reform. Despite the absence of a coherent agenda, protesters continue to see millions of dollars spent by the New York Police Department to protect both sides of this movement. And no one can say with certainty that the movement does not have people with a class-warfare agenda.
These thoughts, however, don’t take away the fact that Occupy has begun to frame and direct the discontent of our generation with a system that has failed us. It truly is an expression of the anger that we feel toward the establishments that structure our world.
When I visited Zuccotti Park and then Times Square over Fall Break, I made sure to consider the on-goings with a skeptical eye. On first glance, OWS seems like a hippie congregation in the middle of Manhattan, with variegated hair colors lining the crowd and scattered tents and mattresses.
Of course, this prompted the initial reaction that the media has slowly been instilling in us — the movement is essentially aimless and reeks of class-warfare. But after a closer look, that perception slowly changed. Here’s what came to mind.
The protesters aren’t just a bunch of out-of-work hippies looking to complain because other people are in a better situation than them. When I stood near the press listening to them speak and gazing at their signs, the intellect of the crowd began surfacing. These people are far from bums and leeches, they’re an organized entity trying to frame a generation’s mindset around their own egalitarian beliefs. They’ve also made a conscious effort to humanize their proverbial enemy, never blaming a single person, but rather attacking an idea and a corporation.
The movement is far from violent. Even though the Times Square clash has been well recorded, I saw police officers who seemed to agree with the people they were trying to keep under control. They weren’t there to suppress freewill, but rather to protect it — for both sides. This wasn’t lost on the protesters, who bore signs saying, “The NYPD are still heroes.” Chants of “All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street” were interspersed with cries of thanks to the police officers, who smiled at the acknowledgement.
The movement is by no means perfect. The absence of a concrete philosophy and news of protesters attacking the police certainly add a sour note. But the true movement, at its heart, is not caused by boredom or a sense of injustice at the growing disparity of wealth. Whether you believe it’s a cry of the have-nots against the haves, or an incipient thought that will guide us, you must be glad that it’s drawn our attention away from the trivial things that we pass our day with to issues whose exigency is paramount.
Dhruv Madeka is an Engineering senior.