“And finally the tables are starting to turn, Talking about a revolution” – Talkin’ Bout A Revolution, Tracy Chapman
When you walk into Zuccotti Park, like I did last Friday morning, it definitely feels like the tables are starting to turn. The whole plaza is filled with positive vibrations – change is in the air. The problem is that once you walk a one block away, it seems like business as usual: everyone is walking fast, talking on their smartphones and occupied more with work, shopping or catching the next train than with existential questions about greed, justice and solidarity.
This contrast between the hundreds of protestors in the park and the mostly indifferent world around them (literally, just one block away), gets you to wonder if this movement is just a little hiccup the capitalist machine won’t notice eventually, or actually a beginning of a fundamental change in the way things work.
First, I have to say to Brookfield Office Properties, the owner of the park, you can relax – the place is very clean. Although to an outsider, especially a real estate developer worrying about its property it might look like an anarchistic gathering that can result in a lot of trash and damage to property, this doesn’t seem to be the case here. This is certainly not Woodstock and the protestors seem to really care and make sure their surroundings stay clean and unharmed. You can see it especially in the busy kitchen and with the tons of cleaning materials they have there (no Seventh Generation or Method products though!)
One thing I was surprised to see is the small number of signs connecting environmental issues with the protest. I saw couple of signs against nuclear energy and one or two promoting 350.org and that’s it. I was expecting to see more signs not just because the place is full of signs connecting almost everything to the protest (hell, even the Israeli-Palestinian conflict got in with “Un-occupy Palestine, Occupy Wall-Street”), but because economic issues and environmental issues have the same root cause.
Naomi Klein put it very eloquently in her “The Most Important Thing in the World Now“ speech on October 6, in Liberty Square:
“The point is, today everyone can see that the system is deeply unjust and careening out of control. Unfettered greed has trashed the global economy. And it is trashing the natural world as well. We are overfishing our oceans, polluting our water with fracking and deepwater drilling, turning to the dirtiest forms of energy on the planet, like the Alberta tar sands. And the atmosphere cannot absorb the amount of carbon we are putting into it, creating dangerous warming. The new normal is serial disasters: economic and ecological.”
Klein also made the point that climate change increases the urgency in the need for change as it provides us with a deadline. I guess the reason her emphasis on environmental issues is less prominent at Zuccotti Park is that protestors might believe the deadline of other social and economic problems is even closer, so they rather focus on these issues. You can certainly understand why protestors who lost their jobs recently or whose house was foreclosed tend to be more worried about these issues than of overuse of natural resources or the risks from the Keystone Pipeline project.
An interesting point Klein made was about the fact that what we need is not necessarily more regulation on bank sand taxes on the rich, but a change in “the underlying values that govern our society.” Although this vision is very clear to some it can be difficult to wrap your head around. This vagueness is partly what makes this movement so interesting to the media, despite the fact that media outlets find it difficult to report on messaging like “This occupation is first about participation,” (the headline of the Editor Note on the second issue of the Occupied Wall Street Journal.)
The result is that Zuccotti Park had become a bit of a media circus, where there is one journalist for every two protesters, with each media representative trying to figure out what’s going on.
I guess what everyone is trying to figure out is what’s next. Will Zuccotti Park become some sort of Tahrir Square, where the tables have really started to turn, or just another name that will be added to the long list of unsuccessful anti-capitalist and anti-globalization protests we had in the last decade or so. My heart hopes it will be the former, but my brain is afraid it will be the latter.
Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris, a green company working to green up the book industry in the digital age. He is also an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.