Those of us who believed we were going to change the world because we did Model UN, Mock Trial and Kind-of College classes, were sometimes jolted when we came up against the real thing later in life. Whereas when younger we might have founded our high school’s first chapter of Students Against Bad People Who Drink and Smoke, today we sometimes recoil from taking on social issues. What’s more, if you’re Special, and think almost entirely about yourself, how do you stop for a long enough period in order to focus on the world outside? Still, against the odds, we have our idealist streak.
I was down at Occupy Wall Street, and there’s definitely something going on there. I believe in what’s happening, despite not founding the movement myself. At Liberty Square, in a nook between skyscrapers, bearded and banjoed occupiers hang out by their tents or gather for assignments. Other protestors mull about, take stock, get food and sign up for committees. Around this core walk onlookers and tourists, and around them the press. A movement is clearly a foot, but can it last?
On this particular occasion, I had agreed to help two friends do a publicity shoot for their play, “Date Me.” They were dressed in heels and cocktail dresses, holding signs saying “99% of people won’t date me, Be the 1%!” and “Occupy my ring finger.” It says something about human nature that wherever we set up to take a shot, tourists piled up with their cameras and flip-phones. When the two gals decided to kiss–I thought it a bit overkill– the crowd quadrupled and someone from the New York Post took pictures rapid-fire as if at a sports match. Shows how much I know about publicity! The question I was wondering, other than what’s our exit strategy if this goes flash mob, was how does the protest itself stay sexy?
Noreen Malone, in her excellent article for NY Magazine, “The Kids are Actually Sort of Alright,” quotes Sam Graham-Felsen, Obama’s chief Blogger from ’08, as saying that the Occupy protestors are too derivative of the 60s, too steeped in the tambourine ethos. They should be more our generation. But what does that look like? i-pads are terrible for camping. Would Snooky come by? Can playing Apples to Apples make a statement? What does our generation do? In the end, I think the problem is less style than substance.
Everyone knows the Occupy movement is still honing its message, and doesn’t want to get reduced to slogans. But in the meantime, what if we started by educating the public. What if we get specific? We could show that being wealthy is not a crime, but that getting out of paying taxes is, or should be. Making money off credit is fine, but if you’re a credit card company, you shouldn’t do it by stringing along people in debt, people whom you knew wouldn’t be able to make payments on time–hence your business model. Now that’s parasitic, not what the Occupiers are doing.
Make Occupy Wall Street an education campaign. Use technology and elbow grease to ferret out the real stories of greed. Then, when it’s targeted, shame the wrongdoers by name and find the heroes. I envision giant billboards on Wall Street with visiting professors giving lectures on the journey of a repackaged sub-prime mortgage. This is entertainment! Booking team, get us Paul Krugman. Stat! Armed with facts, nothing could quash the movement–not batons, tear gas or Eric Cantor. Let’s show how we’re just as smart as the 1%…maybe even smarter! But here’s the tricky thing (fade trumpets, then strings). Special people don’t like sustained effort. We turn our focus to the next thing the minute it looks like we might not win. We fatigue, usually. We shouldn’t do that here. Victory will go to the side that lasts the longest–the one that stays after the opening-day cannon blast and keeps doing the incremental, logistical, relentless work that Special people dread and fear they can’t do. People of NS, was there ever a time to be more Unspecial than now?
And who knows? For those of us thought-we’d-change-the-world-then-got-disillusioned-because-it-was-hard-now-see-some-new-hope-in-Zuccotti-Park people, we might actually do something. Maybe we can focus on the world outside ourselves after all. Think about that. I’m going to go see how many “likes” my last Facebook post got.