I’ve spent today’s afternoon (Central European Time) watching livestreams of Occupy protests. One of the tense anticipation of the Occupy Wall Street crowd in Zucotti Park waiting to be “cleaned” out of there and rejoicing at the news that they can stay for now. The other of Denver police removing protesters there from the park they had been camping in for 22 days. I watched CNN’s live footage of people being dragged away and tents being thrown into orange dump trucks. I also watched an unedited 9News feed from Lincoln Park in Denver.
I followed twitter streams talking about the Occupy movements in both cities. And I laughed out loud when I read @denverwill’s tweet about the dichotomy between the OccupyWallStreet campers and those camping out in front of Apple Stores to buy the new iPhone 4S (apparently Steve Wozniak is first in line).
Here’s my short and impromptu analysis:
The Occupy movement camps out in public parks because that is the easiest way to ensure an around-the-clock presence to call attention to their cause. The Apple customers camp out in front of stores to ensure the successful purchase of a product on the day it comes out. I’m not going to compare the priorities of either group. What I’m interested in is the reaction that these campers get from those in power.
Both groups pose the same problems for a city: they obstruct pedestrians’ paths, they leave litter (paper, wrappers, cigarette butts, coffee cups, etc.), their tents or chairs leave marks on the pavement or grass. So why are some politicians more concerned with one group than the other? Why is a person there for political purposes considered more disruptive than a person who’s there to buy something? Why, in other words, is the first group threatened with eviction while the second group is left unbothered?
I’d argue that those in power would like to see citizens consuming and spending money and celebrating consumerism, rather than have them question and criticize what has become a way of life for those of us in the industrialized West.
Most of us have heard the slogan “Conform! Consume! Obey!” or a variant of it. Buying things re-inforces the status quo. It is, we are told, what drives our economies forward. It is what, one might argue, helps companies pay their employees and therefore, in a sense, keeps the world going round. Questioning one’s place in the consumerist chain or even just planting a survival garden disrupts the status quo. By removing themselves from the dominant discourse of conformism and consumerism the Occupiers have rattled a cage. They do not give those in power the chance to smile indulgently and metaphorically pat them on the head. Being questioned, or rather having your power questioned, is scary. Having your way of life called into question is scary. Hell, having the status-quo called into question is scary, even if you are unhappy with the way things are.
In conclusion: the difference between the two camps is that one questions the prevalent hegemony and the others are free advertisement for a shiny world in which your life is made better by buying things and it’s easier to be nice to those who do not criticize or scare you.
It really is a wonderful contrast that highlights the kind of society we live in today.
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