Despite nearly a month’s worth of headlines under their belts, the now-global Occupy Wall Street movement had somehow shown an impressive knack at avoiding my path. It wasn’t until last night that I got my first chance at poking around the protester’s camp in front of San Francisco’s Justin Herman Plaza.
As any truly grassroots assembly will demonstrate, stupidity will follow even the best-informed contrarians like a snail trail. For example, I was treated to a fascinating conversation on the working-class literature of Emile Zola and George Orwell from the camp’s “librarian”, while next to him a man taped a picture of Jeb Bush (yes: Jeb) adorned with devil horns to a tree. This commingling of the sharp with the dull is the singular reason why I could never dismiss the Tea Party, as many commentators did at the time, as an “astroturf” movement. Their public face may be that of the paranoid and feeble minded spouse, but the always-clever corporate-America is the brains behind Pa on that farm.
In all honesty, however, I was prepared for worse. The uncleaned anti-semitic fringe-left which mirrors the ugly nativism of the Tea Party-fringe with such freakish perfection was in short supply. Rather than bull-horned blowhards, I was met by a refreshing delegation of passionate listeners.
Here I was, fresh from work, suited from head to toe, strolling through a month-old communal encampment. I had five o’clock shadow. They looked like they landed by raft.
As I examined the camp, I saw a group of four or five young people, probably all between 20-24. I overheard them reading over drafts of something. Having some experience in political communication, I took a seat and offered to help them out.
They we’re working on a press release, which, honestly, sounded like something mad-libbed from a wall in a Berkeley toilet. I told them that this cry-wolf digression on “police brutality”, following what appeared (to me) to be a standard-issue-cop-stuff removal of the camp the previous night, was precisely the type of distraction that always kills progressive movements. Occupy Wall Street won’t be killed by police, it’ll be killed by Attention Deficit PR.
They were very receptive, and eager to hear what wisdom the suited-man came to share. What’s needed is an explicit endorsement from the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, and a commitment to leave them be while they exercise their First Amendment rights.
It was fun, and they all told me how the past month had been, and their hopes for the movement.
A little rabble rousing is good for the heart and good for the mind…but it’s probably better for the heart.