Coming from chaotic Athens I didn’t know what to expect from New York protests. Tear gas? Broken windows? Burnt banks? Victims? I joined the crowd hoping I wouldn’t get arrested — because that wouldn’t look too good when I apply for citizenship — and started taking notes. Protestors these days don’t cringe away from pictures or journalists, they pose for them, expecting to be tweeted in real time. People saw you coming up close with your blackberry and they instantly straightened their handwritten signs and smiled. Thank God nobody made any peace signs.
So, Occupy Wall Street is not occupying Wall St., but a park a couple of blocks away. Wall St. on the other hand is so heavily guarded by armed policemen that you’d think they expect an attack from Joker when Batman is on leave.
I never saw a SWAT team though. Can you even remember a time when downtown Athens was SWAT-free? When those awful blue buses and the uniformed officers with the gas masks and the automatic weapons were not there? I don’t. It’s so sad.
Back to OccupyWallStreet and the actual occupation. Okay, so it looks like any other camping site, dirty and decadent and it smells exactly like the one in Syntagma. But then I noticed the organic food and the nice music and the children painting their own posters and I realized that there’s something vital I’m missing here, caught up in my own germ-free world.
In OccupyWallSt, there’s lots of humor and irony involved. People donate power suits and ties and the protesters dress up as Wall Street men and women. Most of the signs made me smile. Sometimes I even laughed out loud. These guys are not just carrying irrelevant anxieties and blind hatred around, they don’t just whine against the “system” — they know how to confront the situation and demand action. There was no mention of political parties or ready-made solutions brought to you with limited commercial interruption by the System itself. Unlike Syntagma, they’re not protesting against the latest government but the way governments are functioning in general. And unlike Syntagma, they have a couple of solutions to offer, feasible and real-life propositions to make. You won’t hear this from mainstream media, but this is a different kind of protesting, these guys aren’t lost in their own dream world, they don’t just ask for world peace and freedom for all, they demand a better future. And they know how to get there.
And the marching began.
Shocking fact #1: People march on sidewalks and avoid closing down entire city centers, thus making life hell for the rest of the 99%. Here’s something interesting though. In order to do this, you have to have sidewalks first. Big, paved, sidewalks. Now I get it! Union protestors in Athens cause all this trouble to their fellow citizens who are desperately trying to go to work before joining the 40% of unemployed youth, because there are NO sidewalks. Or they just don’t care.
Shocking fact #2: Protestors stop when the light turns red. Their destination was Wall St. so before getting there they avoided causing traffic jams anywhere else. Only around the area they wanted to focus on. That’s why New Yorkers were honking in support and not crying over their steering wheels for losing another day inside the car. And guess what? Their message was loud and clear: we’re all in this together, we’re not causing each other any more problems, we already have enough, let’s try to make life harder for the ones that are to blame. Whoah! Here’s a thought fellow Athenians. Why don’t we try to do the same?
(Fun fact: his mask had a huge stamp on the back MADE IN CHINA. It’s funny how you can only criticize unfair working conditions by supporting them first.)
So, the main target of the day was Chase Bank. It got a huge bail out from taxpayers money and then laid off thousand of employees while the CEO gave himself a record high bonus. Did the protestors break any windows? Did they throw any molotov cocktail bombs? Did they burn any low level employees who happened to be working on that specific day? Nope. They withdrew their money and closed the accounts. They gave out flyers explaining why Chase Bank is with the dark side and suggested solutions: deposit your money in a credit union. They even gave specific directions on how to close an account and where you’ll find a credit union. So, imagine if millions of Americans withdrew their money from Chase on the same day. Don’t you think this conveys a loud message?
Another thing you’ll never hear from mainstream media: New Yorkers support these protests even if they’re not part of them. Drivers caught in traffic waited patiently and chanted with the crowd “show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like”. Cooks from fancy restaurants would run out of their kitchens wearing tall white hats and wave huge signs “chefs for OccupyWallStreet”. Post office men would honk for support from the inside of their official vehicles. People drinking coffee in Starbucks would wave and join in the most popular “banks got bailed out, we got sold out”. The protestors never personally attack other citizens and the bystanders never feel threatened. It’s not “us” and “them” outside Wall Street, they all realize they’re in the same pot, we’re in the same pot, we’re the 99%.