The Shift

If one were to judge the Occupy Wall Street movement based on my friends’ facebook feeds, it would be clear that the revolution was over and that we had won.  Creative people would forever be free to be creative and the tyranny and corruption of “efficency” would be banished from the land.  As such I might have an irrationally exuberant view of how things have been playing out. Still, having been down to Wall Street, as well as similar protests in Seattle, I have witnessed something truly profound taking place.  What began with a few dozen people in downtown Manhattan has grown in an exponentially exponential manner.  Each day the make up of the protesters moves further up the “in group” food chain.  Even those who enjoy positions of relative privllege and prestige increasingly identify with the subtly oppressive nature of our deeply corrupted society.  For this to have happened the way it has, the kindling had to be very dry.

After the first week I went down to Occupy Wall Street to make a short film out of some photos and video.  I found a fairly diverse group of people.  Still, for the most part it was younger people, and older people who were not at their first protests. There was a lot of positive and creative energy.  By the following Sunday when I went to shoot again, the creative energy level had ramped up even more.  There were also were increasing numbers of people who had never been to a protest before.  One photo that kept popping up on facebook- and that had been shared 4000 times depicted a woman holding up a sign that said, “You know it’s bad when even the librarians show up to protest.”

From the start, the protest and the protesters were criticized for not having clear goals or messaging.  However, the protests themselves, as driven by people who have been driven to the margins, were a reaction to this kind of internalized orthodoxy.  Increasingly the left and the right have been trying to beat each other at the same game.  The business model of increasing “efficiency” at all cost has led to a massive disenfranchisement of creativity, and community.  As such all political discussion has devolved into efficient messaging.  This has led to an increasing outsourcing of our political energy.  We rely on Professional Progressives to fight against Professional Conservatives, and all nuance and participation are lost.

The Tea Party expanded rapidly (some might say they were co-opted rapdily) due to expert and efficient messaging.  Make it TV ready by making it clear and you feed the beast.  TV didn’t know what to make of the Occupy message at first , so the media responded with a sense of annoyance that tthe protests made it difficult for them to do their job.  They wanted press people giveing them talking points.  “Can’t these people get some good consultants here?” the seemed to be implying.  There were colorful signs, but they weren’t clear, and some of them had long inefficient messages.  However, it was precisely this lack of clear message that allowed each person to creatively make it their own space, and identify with it.  They told two friends and they told two friends.  Soon they were all on the same team.  I talked to many people holding signs who had shown up to observe what was going on and soon found themselves participating.  They had gone with the idea that they were outside of the group protesting, but simply crossed an imaginary line to become a protester.

If you go down to wall street you’ll find as many cameras as there are people.  Some of these cameras are held by professional media.  However, most of them are citizens compelled to capture and transmit images because the old media fails to understand what’s going on.  Everything in that system has to be contextualized and compartmentalized and boiled down for consumption.  However, even the non-professional media are drawn to clear and powerful images.  One of the protesters taped a dollar over his mouth. It’s catchy, but it’s also profound.  “We are no longer willing to be silenced and imprisoned by the power of money” he seems to be shouting, and we are all increasingly shouting it with him.

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