Saturday at noon, a group that calls itself “Occupy Wall Street” is going to try to live up to their name for as long as they can. But first, they’ll be meeting at Bowling Green Park for a program that includes yoga, a pillow fight, face-painting, small break-out groups to discuss topics like derivatives, and a lecture from an author. There’s an arts and culture committee. Plus, there’s yoga and a planned “Thriller” dance. It sounds a little bit like camp, or maybe one of those pre-college orientation bonding sessions. But as the group says on its website, it’s actually a “leaderless resistance movement” meant to protest the concentration of wealth at the top of society — the “99 percent” standing up against the “1 percent.”
Essentially, says Marissa Holmes, a 25-year-old freelance documentarian who’s helped organize the event, it’s meant as a rebuke of “neoliberal economics,” and a youth-driven lefty answer to the tea party. Many of those involved, says Holmes, are young, overeducated, and underemployed. “How do you think we had time to organize this?” she laughed. Anonymous, the hacktivist group, has also released a video in support of the event, though their involvement isn’t official — Holmes told me she was simply waiting, curiously, to see what they might do.
The scenario of an unemployed-young-people uprising is exactly the one Mayor Bloomberg publicly worried about earlier today. The group explicitly cites the Tahrir Square demonstrators as an inspiration. And the critique of neoliberal economics also calls to mind the violent World Bank protests of the nineties in Seattle. But it’s a little unclear how many people will actually show up. The original goal — as proposed by AdBusters, where the event originated — was to gather 20,000 people, but the group’s Facebook page has less than 8,000 who’ve RSVPed. Planning meetings over the past couple of months have drawn no more than 100 attendees. If you can’t make it to the protest, the organizers have suggested one of the easiest ways to participate would be by calling in a pizza delivery.
The very basic question of what exactly the protestors are asking for is far from clear. AdBusters tried to keep things simple in the original formulation, saying that the group would have just one single demand. Unfortunately, no one could agree what the demand was. In the official forum (and on Reddit, where Occupy Wall Street has also been a heated topic of discussion) there are all kinds of demands, all over the ideological spectrum: Some people think they should be asking for a return to the gold standard. Others think the problem is rampant consumerism. Still others think the problem is corporate cronyism, while others have a problem with the symbolism of occupying Wall Street when most bank executives are in midtown. And some people just want to know what the bathroom access situation will be. It’s half comic and half tragic.
Holmes told me that the one-demand idea was problematic. She was less interested in getting results, per se, than in creating a template. “We are creating a new form of social relations within the shell of the old, ” she said. ” We’ve provided space for nonviolent creative process to happen. People will enter into that space and add whatever it is they can add.” And, having opened up a space for herself, she added “We’re not asking anything of Wall Street. We’re not making specific demands.” Can you have a successful movement without any particular articulated purpose? We’ll find out this weekend.