Such was the slogan chanted by dozens of yet effervescent protesters as they marched to several different drummers, skirting the edges of the public space at the corner of Broadway and Cedar St in Lower Manhattan today. Weaving through the throngs of diehard activists, it was impossible to not immediately draw parallels to the Arab Spring; collections of college students, irate out of work mid-career wage earners, and veteran Vietnam era demonstrators convening at the corner of Broadway and Cedar to make a point. Like the regime changing movements in those far off countries, there is also a string of live video shot of policeactivity with unprecedented, unprovoked force against the citizenry of an urban center in which peaceful gathering, freedom of speech, and the right of the people to assemble are written into the Constitution, in stark contrast to the now overthrown totalitarian governments of yesteryear. Watching the movements of people through the streets, and the bursts of state sanctioned power against the people doing what they have every right to do, a clear line in the sand has been crossed, a switch has been thrown, a fuse has been lit. Not only in this column, but in a considerable number of media outlets the question has been asked: how long until we have our own revolution? If what I saw tonight was any indication, the time is now.
For a stage that has been ongoing over the last 11 days, you would never know that the site is anything but temporary: Trash is conspicuously absent – despite a rather complicated and well provisioned food line, if people are sleeping there, any sorts of bedding has been kept fastidiously in order, and signs, cardboard, markers, paints, all of it is maintained so as not to leave any trace of its usage. The city planted and maintained flower beds are untouched, with signs saying ‘Please keep our space beautiful, stay out of the flower beds’ posted at the edge of each. However, spirit lifting, raucous music – mostly drumming, tambourines, and handheld cymbals, men and women with acoustic guitars, and chants – pervades throughout. This group of dissenters believes it is their patriotic duty to register their discontent.
In a week that has seen a boost from the appearance of silver screen star Susan Sarandon, it should not be a logical leap for Civil Rights activist, and collaborator on the Poverty Tour with Tavis Smiley, Princeton University professor Cornell West should appear in the center of the crowd. Predictably, there was an enormous crush of photographers, non-mainstream media, and genuinely concerned citizens vying for his attention, but this intrepid reporter was able to occupy a moment of his time. In this time of worldwidediscomfiture with governmental untrustworthiness, it seems that similar sorts of operations are unfolding daily. However, in a moment when politics are moving beyond the rank of persona non grata towards an entirely new classification, adoring fans of West seemed solely concerned with that one theme. And so, given only the space of time for one question, in the hopes of gaining insight into how to create a more perfect union between progressives in different communities, I asked the following:
DB: Professor – you’ve spoken to the people here about the white left and the black left not being unified, what are some ways we could work towards bringing them both together to move our objectives forward?
CW: Well, that’s the $64,000 question…I don’t think there’s really one way to do it because history is so unpredictable. But one of the things we could try to do is to keep this momentum going, let it spread from city to city. Keep it going in different cities in terms of highlighting different corporate headquarters…so that people can see it’s very consistent, so they can see that common theme. What’s wonderful about this is that you have so many different voices, so many different viewpoints, wrestling with how to move forward. As it’s continuing with a democratic structure, it’s very difficult to know what’s next…it’s very fluid, very flexible. You almost don’t want a leadership to emerge too quickly so that it doesn’t become rigid.
The national economic, cultural, and political climate, not unlike recent changes in the weather has moved recently to an ever more heated and perilous time. As a country, we can no longer afford to continue with political brinksmanship, the ping pong of blame for economic woes, and keeping 15 million people out of work for the next thirteen months until the elections. The country simply won’t survive it. But, perhaps this is just the thing that we need at this point in our national history: a bit of unrest, a groundswell that carries forward and crashes like a wave onto the rocky countenances of the beltway enclaves. Finally putting faces with the difficult times, it is impossible to not get swept up by the moment, and want to Occupy Wall Street.