Concept Post | Views on OccupyWallStreet | Duncombe Response

Katherine Maguire

October 14th 2011

Concept Proposal for “Better Speech” Midterm Assignment


Since hearing Steven Duncombe talk to my class about his perspectives on the occupy wall-street demonstration, my view about what it means and how it is run has revolved a bit. But to be quite honest, if I had not heard Steven speak about his philosophies regarding this demonstration or different forms of civil disobedience my views on #occupywallstreet would have stayed exactly as they were before. These were my previous views on  #occupywallstreet:

I have only been to the site one time, and that was for this class, when we were asked to go there for our class discussion. Before entering the #occupywallstreet terrain, I did not have any formal expectations of what were were going to be partaking in or what were we going to see. While we were there, in class, listening to the main organizers speak about their cause, I could hardly listen to them because I was so confused by the stimulation I saw around me. I saw ‘indigo children’ dancing gracefully and enacting yoga movements; anarchist leading meditation circles; food-trucks; organizers handing out food; sleeping bags and tents strew everywhere;Wall Street businessmen walking around looking perturbed and talking to cops; and cops, in blue shirts and cops in white shirts standing guard.  One big event I observed, when we were there was when Russell Simmons entered the scene and started meditating with the meditation circle. (I think he got bored 20 minutes later and walked away.)

The #occupywallstreet area looked like a big rock concert. The front page of the New York Post showed people at the protest, smoking out of hookahs, and claimed that the area was rife with drugs.It looked like what I imagine Berkley to be like in the 60s with lots of liberal hippies and punks but with less intellectuals.

Most of the information I have gathered about the protest is stuff that I have acquired from personally being there and also from reading blog posts on the event, or by looking at Facebook and Tumblr images. My attention ( as I imagine many other people’s attention in the demonstration) picked up when I started hearing that the NYPD was making massive arrests. I saw a picture on tumblr of a female being groped by a police officer. Then I heard that a woman was sprayed in the face with mace, just because she asked the officer, ‘what’s going on?’

My brother, who goes to school at Penn State called me three days after I had first gone to the site with my class to share his views of occupywallstreet, which were pretty similar to mine at the time. My brother thought that the occupywallstreet protest was giving liberals a bad reputation and actually gave Wall Street big wigs a lot to make fun of.  I’ve heard people say things like [in reference to occupiers] , ‘well of course these people don’t have jobs’.

When I heard perspectives like this or even when I start to think similarly, it makes me want to have no part in the #occupywallstreet protest, even though I support the personal reasons why people are there. The bottom line is that I support any American’s right to freedom of speech and expression. Speaking on behalf of my group: Michelle, Haley, and I  believe in many of the same things that the wall street protesters are rallying for or (what we think they are rallying for). For instance, we are distrusting of large corporations; we would like to see more equal distribution of wealth; we are pro-environmental health; we favor access to health care for everyone in this country; and we are in favor of access to free, quality education for all.

Over all, my feeling when I left the site the first time I went there was that this demonstration or protest seemed incredibly disorganized; and, that, if we as a class were going to do anything to help the protesters build more unity we would have to understand the protesters’ wants as well as understand what the current weakness of their demonstration structure. My other thoughts about the #occupywallstreet protest when I left were that the protesters, as a unified body had no “clear cut intention” or goal to fight for. For instance, in the women’s right’s movement, the goal was to give women the right to suffrage in this country.  Wall Street Occupiers were holding fort there but not actually trying to accomplish something specific besides taking over the space and letting people know they were furious. Another thing I gained from the experience of visiting the protest was that it seemed like people were there for any different reasons, not one main cause.  This was something that I was bothered by until the day that Duncombe came to speak to our class.

Duncombe opened my eyes to seeing #occupywallstreet as more of a ‘spectacle’ rather than a protest that had a specific goal in mind. He talked about it as being a spectacle with more fluidity, where participants should be open to not knowing where things are or where they are going to go. The openness creates a discussion that invites a larger participatory structure.  When Duncombe compared the the #occupywallstreet demonstration to political theatrics and spectacle, I began to understand why were learning about “Theatre of the Oppressed”. A major turning point I had in understanding the larger picture of this protest was when Duncombe said that the the protest is bringing the reality of the internet to the streets.

It’s important to recognize that this occupation caught steam over the internet and gained popularity over the internet.  In fact, the most accurate reporting was done by people who observed it on the streets and blogged about it on the internet or posted their findings to Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. This internet reporting is perhaps the most democratic tool that people have ever had.

As a group, we want to emphasize the truth about the internet being the birth-mother of the protest by creating a protest manual that would be written in the style of popular social media delivery sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. We also want to incorporate the aesthetic of the internet into the pages of the manual as a way of showing how modern activism is grounded in an internet way of thinking and also how it is contained in a system that is characterized by fleeting images and text. Our aim is to make this point clear by hyperbolizing the idea of the internet meme to show our readers how a modern flash- mobbing of information over the internet can form opinions about social and political topics.

The main idea we have for our protest manual is to make in into a scrapbook which houses photographs that we have taken or that we have seen in newspapers or internet which emphasize themes seen in occupywallstreet that we support like: distrust of large corporations; more equal distribution of wealth; pro-environment; access to free, quality education for all and to make an argument over the image by drawing over the images, writing our thoughts on them, changing the images, typing over them, and collaging them.  We are going to look to a lot of internet memes for inspiration because we find that internet memes are very good at making their point right away.  They can also be very funny and spread quickly.

The aim of doing it this way is to create a book that allows us to give our opinions in a way that is not  necessarily  clean or “PC” like the nightly news but more like what one would read on the web. Our goal in creating the book is to point out flaws, and ineffective leaks in the protest in a kind, humorous way offering suggestions to strengthen the cause because we believe in the cause but not necessarily the method that is being enacted. We will want to support the liberals by giving them a call to arms, not dismissing them.  We talked about writing the copy in the style of a article. Gawker is a very visible, NYC based visual media company with a very liberal and self-deprecating, pro-NYC attitude in the tone of the writing. We are also looking at examples of socio-political art that makes commentaries on the flaws in American politics, military, and industry. Another graphic precedent we are looking into is spoof ads which represents American capitalism in a twisted way.