"Where is Occupy Wall Street?"

09/18/2013 11:09 AM |

Occupy Wall Street birthday anniversary

During yesterday’s second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Henry Stewart spent the afternoon walking around Manhattan, trying to find the protesters.

Wall Street is open to public pedestrian traffic. This promises to be a mellow afternoon. During the height of Occupy, Wall Street was on perpetual lockdown. I want to run down to Zuccotti and tell the kids they’re free to demonstrate in the belly of the beast, but the midday march from Washington Square has already left by the time I make it downtown, and with it has gone most of the protesters. A few have stayed behind to beat drums on Broadway and hold up signs airing the usual grievances. (One mourns the good old days when people robbed banks and not vice versa.) I stroll the perimeter, which police have gated off as usual with select entrance points, and see people using the park as intended: workers are on their lunch breaks; one guy in a suit is going through a stack of papers. Ugh, it’s enough to make you sick!

[jump]

So I heard north, thinking maybe I’ll catch up to the march, but I get all the way to Washington Square without seeing so much as people in backpacks chanting slogans. There’s not much going on here, either: a guy’s flying a flag, a lady’s strumming a guitar, a young man is decorating Guy Fawkes masks; a few other people have signs or fliers. This isn’t an occupation! It’s not even a rally. Almost two years ago, I saw dozens of cops in riot gear under the arch, batons at the ready to crack the skulls of anyone who stuck around after the park closed; nearby, organizers distributed stacks of free pizzas, both regular and vegan, to the famished crowds debating, should they stay or should they go? Today, New Yorkers are just using a park; I haven’t eaten anything all day, so I go buy myself a pretzel.

Occupy was never a protest movement in the traditional sense; it wasn’t about marches or rallies or venting but about living your ideals, putting politics into practice, and making your life the protest, rejecting almost every mechanism of survival under capitalism for new models based on anti-hierarchical communalism—sharing food and shelter, opting out. “You can’t evict an idea!” became Occupy’s post-eviction rallying cry, but the idea was the place, the place the idea, and to destroy one was to destroy the other. This isn’t to fault the people; they did their bests, continuing to organize and excelling at storm relief (blurring the usual lines between right and left by highlighting the inefficiency of big government). But still: we can try to live our lives as best we can in opposition to broken and unjust systems, but if we’re not doing it all together, in public for all the world to see, then it’s not the same. Then it’s protest, but not the protest.

So, where the fuck is Occupy? You can’t be late to an occupation! I walk back south again, and around 4pm, Zuccotti is still sparsely populated. Someone had joked earlier on Twitter that there were more pigeons than protesters, and, without doing a proper census, it could be literally true. On Gothamist, Christopher Robbins called yesterday “an exercise in shrunken nostalgia. All the hallmarks of an Occupy protest were present, if miniaturized and slightly muted.” At 5pm, a scheduled action at Wall and Broad streets didn’t materialize; instead, a lone man stood on the steps at Federal Hall, shouting, while Asian tourists snapped photos with the George Washington statue. I was on one side, the soapboxer on the other, and I could hardly hear him. But I guess it was a start. Or—an end?

Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart