Occupy: Out of Zuccotti Park and Into the Streets
By Eugene Robinson,
November 17, 2011
Demonstrators staged a "day of action" Thursday,
following the eviction of their two-month-old encampment
this week. The idea was, well, to occupy Wall Street in
a literal sense - to shut down the financial district,
at least during the morning rush hour.
For the most part, it didn't work. Entrances to some
subway stations were blocked for a while, and traffic
was more of a mess than usual. But police turned out in
force, erecting barricades that kept protesters from
getting anywhere near their main target, the New York
Stock Exchange. Captains of commerce may have been
hassled and inconvenienced, but they weren't thwarted.
There was some pushing and shoving, resulting in a few
dozen arrests. Coordinated "day of action" protests were
held in other cities. They did not change the world.
A big failure? No, quite the opposite.
Lower Manhattan was swarming not just with demonstrators
and police but with journalists from around the world -
and with tourists who wanted to see what all the fuss
was about. A small, nonviolent protest had been
amplified into something much bigger and more
compelling, not by the strength of its numbers but by
the power of its central idea.
There is a central idea, by the way: Our financial
system has been warped to serve the interests of a
privileged few at the expense of everyone else.
Is this true? I believe the evidence suggests that it
is. Others might disagree. The important thing is that
because of the activism of the Occupy Wall Street
protests - however naive, however all-over-the-map -
issues of unfairness and inequality are being discussed.
This is a conversation we haven't been having for the
past 30 years. For politicians - and those who pay
lavishly to fund their campaigns - the discussion is
destabilizing because it does not respect traditional
alignments. For example, white working-class voters are
supposed to be riled up against Democrats for policies
such as affirmative action and gun control. They're not
supposed to get angry with Republicans for voting to
bail out the banks and then flatly ruling out the idea
of relief on underwater mortgages.
How people feel about fairness - the 1 percent at the
top versus the other 99 percent - has nothing to do with
how they feel about limiting abortion or banning assault
weapons. It has nothing to do with whether people think
racism is a thing of the past or a continuing scourge.
Fairness can't be dismissed as some sort of first step
toward socialism, unless we're willing to concede that
capitalism and fairness are fundamentally incompatible.
I don't believe this is the case. Maybe some of the
Occupy protests' most vocal opponents would like to
In Midtown Manhattan, many blocks from Zuccotti Park,
famously jaded New Yorkers were eager to talk about
Occupy Wall Street. Buttonholing people at random, I
found a lot of support for the decision by Mayor Michael
R. Bloomberg (I) to clear the park of tents, sleeping
bags and other appurtenances of a permanent settlement.
But I also found a lot of agreement with the protesters
- even if not everyone had the same idea about just what
the protesters were saying.
"Yeah, they were talking a lot of crazy stuff, some of
them," said Ramon Henriquez, owner of a limousine
company, who was idling on Central Park South behind the
wheel of one of his cars. "Some of them, when they'd do
that crazy human microphone thing, they would talk about
socialism. I didn't like that at all. But I liked what
they said about the banks."
He remembered one Occupy speaker asking what would
happen if every homeowner decided to skip a month on the
mortgage, instead putting the money in escrow - just to
get the banks' attention. "You saw what happened with
the debit-card fee," he said, referring to Bank of
America's abandoned attempt to squeeze new revenue out
of account holders. "They listened because they had to
The erstwhile occupiers of Zuccotti Park swear that they
aren't going anywhere - that they'll get back into the
park one way or another. But they've done something more
important: They've gotten into people's heads.
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