Revolution? I’m not so sure.
Gertrude Stein famously said of Oakland, Calif., that “There is no there there.”
I didn’t want to presume the same of the Occupy DC rally, so I showed up bright and early today at McPherson Square, the rally’s hub. There were about 30 people, all of whom seemed to agree on two things: They were there to occupy D.C., and they would remain there until someone did something about it.
“Whose America?” they chanted. “Our America!” “Whose D.C.?” “Our D.C.!” “Whose New York?” “Our New York.”
The schedules handed out by the organizers — or whoever passes for an organizer in a movement so adamantly disorganized — informed us that the length of occupation was “indefinite.”
“We are all speaking for ourselves,” a self-described facilitator was telling the small crowd. “We all have our own reasons to be here.”
“Are you all here for the same protest?” I asked. No one seemed to hear me. It hardly seemed likely.
And the heterogeneity of the movement only increased when it moved to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce steps. The signs ranged from the broad and noncontroversial — “Corporations ≠The People” — to the oddly specific — “Stop Cheating Moviegoers.”
Several people holding giant letters spelling GREEDY grinned for the cameras.
Some were dressed in orange as Guantanamo detainees. A man with a megaphone was trying to get people to prostrate themselves before Jesus. “Jesus,” he intoned, dropping to his knees. “Jeeesus. Jeeesus.”
Someone else with a megaphone on the steps of the chamber was announcing that the gathering was going to shut it down. Everyone cheered, except a few people on the edge of the crowd who seemed to be protesting the war.
It was a theme party where no one seemed quite clear on the theme.
People on double-decker bicycles. People on lunch breaks. Homeless men with signs that could be tangentially related to the theme. Come one, come all!
Occupy DC was a sort of farrago of the disgruntled. “Why,” they seemed to ask, “should the Tea Party have all the fun?”
This is not the Tea Party. There are more young people here. The small clump of youth in McPherson Square writing bullet points on a white board would not have looked out of place at the Jon Stewart rally last year.
As far as any theme could be detected, it was that the protesters had fewer jobs and more time on their hands than they would have liked.
“We don’t have jobs!” the protesters said. “And this is because the government is not doing its job.”
Compared to the Tea Party, the Occupiers (Occupants? Occupation?) have more flair and a Tumblr presence. But where’s the there?
Maybe it’s on Wall Street. So far, the movement is growing larger and more colorful, but if it doesn’t grow an organizing principle soon, it’ll be another wasted opportunity along the lines of Stewart’s Rally for Sanity. It’s a bigger and bigger crowd. It’s what happens when you accidentally post an open invitation on Facebook. It’s a theme party without a theme, a crowd with megaphones and signs but nothing to say. (“Whose America? Our America!”) It’s a shame. They could have quite a roar.
“We are the 99 percent” is a grand slogan. But right now it amounts to little more than “We’re here. We’re unemployed. Get used to it.” It's a handy slogan if you want the biggest tent possible. But the trouble with large tents is they tend to blow over in light winds.
Still, if you visit the movement’s Tumblr — We Are The 99 Percent — there’s more coherence than was apparent at Occupy DC.
Like the Tea Party, the Occupants feel disserved by the status quo, but they seem to feel that the government should do more, not less. These are people who did what they were supposed to do — followed their dreams, pursued advanced degrees — and now feel that the system misled them. They have a voice. They even have a Tumblr. Now all they need is a plan.