Sometimes something doesn’t mean anything until it comes right to your front door. Then it crystallizes with a clarity that throws everything into sharp relief, and the truth can no longer be avoid. And that’s what just happened to us.
This afternoon, at about 2:45, an angry but organized mob of Occupy Wall Street protesters marched down East 54th Street, past the boutiques and luncheon spots of the privileged, thrusting handmade placards in the air and chanting “They got bailed out, we got sold out!” Striking fear into the hearts of patrons of Bice and Rothmann’s (two darlings of the expense account lunch crowd), of Schumer’s Liquors (where $150 bottles of scotch are displayed in the window) and the Reliable Foods luncheonette (which charges $4.50 for a tuna salad sandwich), the throng turned right at Park Avenue to find its target: the heartless 53rd Street branch office of Citibank.
There, the protesters made known their rage. Waving signs and chanting, the mob, by now numbering almost three dozen, hurled paper airplanes at the cowering group of elite tellers and upper-crust customer service reps huddled in fear inside. One could almost hear them crying: “You can’t do this to us! We’re the one percent!”
Well, okay, as a stirring protest, it wasn’t much. In fact, there were so few of them that they barely made a noticeable ripple in the normal sidewalk traffic. And picking this Citi branch as the face of Wall Street made about as much sense as protesting the Iraq war by picketing a roadside falafel stand.
So, this is our moment of clarity, of definition, of awareness. We had some dim hopes for this movement; that it might form an effective platform to voice real concerns of real people, so that real efforts could be undertaken to address them.
But we got silliness instead. Each “proposal” is nothing more than a suggestion that one small minority special interest group profit from the pain of everyone else. Forgive all student loans. (Don’t have one? Paid yours off? Sucker.) Forgive all consumer debt. (Oh, you paid yours? Tough.) Pay off my underwater mortgage. (You should have bought a house you couldn’t afford with no down payment. All you had to do was lie. Idiot.) Kill all the banks and corporations. (We’ll live on communes in a barter society and share everything. It worked so well in the sixties.) Put all the bankers in jail. (And if they’ve done nothing criminal, then just hang them. Who cares?)
This isn’t social justice, this is street theater. We have listened to many, many people tell us what OWS really means. Frankly, they don’t know, and we don’t either, because OWS has been very careful not to mean anything at all. All the special interest groups that have tried to co-opt it have left empty-handed.
But one thing is for sure: this ain’t the Arab Spring. The media can pontificate all it likes about “virtual” events, but when it comes down to it, no one really pays attention to anything that doesn’t involve real feet on real pavement. In spite of all the hype, all the hoo-hah and all the bold claims of representation, OWS hasn’t been able to do that. It was, and remains, a make-believe army with a make-believe war, with the media fanning what appear to be dying embers into something that still resembles a spark of spirited protest.
At the end of the day, OWS turns out to be the pool of Narcissus. The apostles gaze into it to find their reflection, and they stare, rapt, with admiration. But they must be careful lest their reverie draws them too close, and they fall in and drown.
If you agree, put your hands in the air and wiggle your fingers. No? That would make you feel silly? Well, maybe that’s because you don’t see yourself as part of the “99%.” Whoever the hell they are.