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Posted at 01:01 PM ET, 11/16/2011

The Occupy movement needs a new verb


No sleeping bags. (Allison Joyce - GETTY IMAGES)
There are still people in Zuccotti Park. But all the pictures look strangely empty.

The judge has ruled: No more sleeping bags. No more library. No more Tent City. People can come back into the park, but they cannot come back in the same form.

Maybe it’s time for a new verb.

Occupy won’t cut it any more. Occupy was always a funny word. Sit-in? History took that. Put a Tent In? Too unwieldy. Dwell? Too innocuous and old-timey.

But with a verb like “occupy” and a slogan like “We are the 99 percent,” everyone who showed up became a part of the movement. This led to some confusion among the media.

During the early weeks, it seemed as though half the people at a protest at a given moment were people who had wandered there on their lunch break to see what it was all about. The other half were reporters. There was one guy in a tent in the middle who seemed to actually know what he was doing, but he was beetlebrowed and smelled intimidatingly of onions, so no one wanted to approach him.

So for weeks we wound up with articles with headlines like: Protesters Don't Know What Protest Is About! Nobody Knows What Protest Is About!

That became the image. “This is a movement of the people who happen to be sitting in and around the tents in a given park at a given time,” people announced. “Also, there’s a guy here who says he watched ‘Inside Job’ and it changed his life.”

This, we knew, was the sort of ’60s-esque protest that we were conditioned to like. Young, often photogenic people, with music that wasn’t country music, with an agenda of Openness and Embracing People and Trying to Fix the Inequality of Society. It started too late to be a Summer of Love. It was an Autumn of Discontent. And it had a Tumblr.

 I stood in Zuccotti Park a few weeks ago, before the weather turned. I listened to an impromptu band play covers of old protest songs. I visited the library, walked along the food tables piled high with donations, heard the calls and responses. I sat talking with the protesters late into the night — people there with a purpose, people there just to find out what the purpose was. Some suggested the park could serve as a model for a more caring society. Everyone had suggestions.

Now the park is out of commission. So what’s next?

Maybe it’s a chance for something better.

The occupants were often a muddle. Whenever a movement like this springs up, it attracts Those People Who Show Up Whenever Anyone Throws a Protest, and everyone else wonders if the men in homemade robes stringing liberty-bell-shaped beads onto bits of yarn are really all there is.

Sure, the people in parks dispelled that perennial millennial myth — that we’ll join a Facebook group supporting any cause but never actually show up. But everyone was willing to talk and so few of them seemed to know what they were talking about.

Meanwhile a movement coalesced. Everyone insisted that no one person spoke for the movement. But gradually the variegated comments averaged out to a message: We are fed up with the inequality.

Even the people who were slow to find specifics in the movement at first can’t deny that it’s been dominating the conversation, that it points to a visible and increasing inequality, that it’s brought the cost of education and the problems of student loans into the foreground, that millions of people sympathize with its complaints.

Start a conversation? The Occupants did that, all right.

Time for a new verb. Occupy grabbed our attention. They were there. They were intense (and in tents) and they were not going anywhere. Now they’ve been forced to go somewhere.

The lingering image is police clearing the parks with batons and sound cannons, journalists barred, police helicopters fending off the TV choppers. I find it difficult to say, as some have, that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg did the movement a favor by evicting it at 1 in the morning with klieg lights and sound cannons. If this is a favor, please, Mayor Bloomberg, never do me any favors.

But movements that exist only in the streets are, of necessity, limited in duration. And it was getting cold. Besides, everyone had iPhones. What were they doing outside? Who needs parks? We can coalesce around a hashtag.

A park is no place to look for specifics.

One of the movement’s leaders — a relatively recent innovation — said that you cannot evict an idea. It’s time to state that idea as loud as possible and see where it leads. I hope it’ll take people out of the parks. Only 1 percent of the people actually care who occupies 99 percent of the parks. What matters is the message, which has a tendency to get lost when you are worrying about where next to stake your tent.

Time for a new verb.

By  |  01:01 PM ET, 11/16/2011

Tags:  Occupy Wall Street

 
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