I. New York City
I’ve lived in San Francisco long enough to consider myself a Local, if not a Native. But no number of elapsed years or distance can dull my strong attachment to New York City, my birth city. A combination of family and work obligations pull me back at least a half-dozen times annually. That frequency, plus some serendipity, has allowed me to inhabit my hometown during some interesting 21st century moments despite lacking residency. I was walking Manhattan’s streets a few days post-9/11 and the homemade “missing” flyers taped to any surface to which an adhesive would stick, still stands out vividly in my brain. Election nights where the streets were filled with celebration or with quiet resignation. Spontaneous celebrations following sports championships. The memories span all emotions.
In autumn I’m an especially frequent visitor – it’s my birth season, my favorite climate-wise, and the chance to get some last meetings done before the holiday months. So in September 2011 the pull of weather, family and work gave me enough reason to jump on a plane but those were all excuses. What I really wanted to see was Occupy Wall Street.
II. Occupy Wall Street
There hasn’t been much sustained IRL protest movement in America recently. Marches that last a few hours, sure – we’ve attended several since the Trump inauguration. Important displays of anger and resistance in the face of police brutality (St Louis, Baltimore, others). But these are episodic and then everyone returns to their normal day-to-day, often with very little having changed. Occupy Wall Street gripped me for a few reasons – its location was familiar to me, the grievances were varied (at first a feature, then a bug) and the tent city seemed to create actual consternation among public officials on how to proceed.
To refresh/remind folks about the Occupy movement:
- Occupy Wall Street protest began on September 17, 2011, in Zuccotti Park, New York City.
- The sentiment of uprising that led to the Occupy Wall Street movement in the US has sometimes been attributed to the Tahrir Square revolution that happened in Egypt earlier in 2011.
- The AdBusters group started calling for a Tahrir-like movement in lower Manhattan ~Summer 2011
- The Occupy Wall Street protest ended at 1 am on November 15, 2011, by police eviction.
- Lots of information here if you want to read
So about my visit…. while I was suspect that this coalition of randoms – it started to attract anyone who had a progressive-leaning cause – could make a policy impact, I was impressed by the resourcefulness and dedication of those who disrupted their lives to tent up Wall Street. And started me wondering what type of outrage or frustration could catalyze an ongoing Occupy community, one that might even be 10x larger or more durable.
III. Occupy White House
I’m not a fan of the guy at 1600 right now. I’ve written more checks and spent more time on political issues since 2016 but it has all stayed within a box of “nights and weekends.” Funded out of appreciating assets rather than dollars which would impact my daily routine. But I carry a fear that one day I’ll wake up wishing I’d done more to push back against the destructive behavior this administration perpetrates on our institutions, norms and vulnerable peoples.
There are other citizens who share my alarm – some I know personally, some are just talking heads on TV and in the newspapers, some are Twitter accounts that might be real. Or not. But yet no real physical protest of durability has resulted. Day long marches, sure. But no Occupy White House. And certainly nothing at the scale we’ve seen recently in South Korea, where millions of people continued protesting corruption until they saw results.
I don’t have an answer for why there isn’t any meaningful Occupy White House movement that has the potential to minimally display ongoing resistance to this administration and, more hopefully, snowball into a call to action, at least by those who believe impeachment is the right answer. But I’ve ended up with three potential explanations – one Optimistic, one Realistic, one Pessimistic. Note, I’m not advocating for any of these or assuming a POV. Just trying to conceive of why something I’d expect to happen isn’t happening.
Optimistic – the ballot box works and the system isn’t broken (hold aside gerrymandering, voter suppression, $$$ influence and so on)! While the majority of Americans polled disapprove of Trump, the population as a whole haven’t lost trust in democracy, and will express this at the polls in 2020. This explanation gives a lot of importance to the 2018 midterms, when decisive victories by the Democratic party sent a message. Respect the wisdom of the crowd, and the crowd says we’re going to get through this.
Realistic – the average person’s life hasn’t been impacted that much. It is absolutely horrific that there are vulnerable populations put in harms way by this administration. But there’s always some degree of suffering and unfortunately unless it impacts you personally, we’re all just focused on our lives. All politics is local and Trump creates a lot of sound and fury, but it’s superficial and our lives stay the same.
Pessimistic – No one is willing disrupt their own lives to create change any longer. Consumerism, social media and complacency have turned us into apathetic complainers who are willing to tweet but not to cancel our brunch plans, let alone stop showing up for work or SoulCycle to camp outside the White House. And even if we were, what good would it do? Nothing changes anyway. The frog is being boiled because no one has created a red line for themselves to say NO MORE.
Will we see a more enduring movement before the 2020 elections? Something which isn’t *just* about mobilizing people to town halls and the election booths but a growing group of citizens who are willing to disrupt their lives to send a signal? What should I reading, following or listening to, to understand why there seems to be a more decentralized (and virtual) protest movement right now?