The protesters’ camp in Zuccotti Park, lower Manhattan, covered in the rain. David Shankbone/Wikimedia Commons
What amazes me the most about the Occupy Wall Street protest is how long the city allowed it to go on peacefully. I guess I was cynical, believing that any day from September 16 on, the police would move in on Zuccotti Park, dispersing the camped protesters. But as the weeks dragged on, and the hordes continued on in their tents and on air mattresses, borrowing bathrooms and waving giant hand-lettered (and some printed) signs, It almost seemed as if the city leaders viewed it as another New York event. Almost as if they wanted it there. Because so many people stayed there for so long, this event and those it spawned around the country will make the history books for nothing else than that after many years of complacency, Americans finally got angry. The anger directed itself so broadly in this protest that perhaps it won’t change things much, but it will change the people who did it.
Nonviolent protest is a great American tradition going back to Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience. The protesters’ mark reaches way beyond their mundane lives encamped in a park. The message is: this is a terrible recession, but many corporations’ top men and women make astonishing salaries. The division between rich and poor now is a gap that yawns between the very rich and the very poor. In the middle of that gap are the invisible.
Protest and encampment aren’t my modes of expression. I’m a writer. I say these people all got mad enough to give Americans a backbone. They weren’t very focused, but they were angry enough. They were saying we need a better America.