Occupy On A Winter Break
By Michael MaherFebruary 6, 2012
In New York, as the birthplace of Occupy is vacated for the winter, it’s a time to reassess and, supporters hope, renew.
A funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Yes, we saw hippies, yippies, anarchists and Trots. There were banjo players, dreadlocks and flowers. There was endless caucusing and, yes, at times there was a certain funk in the air. Plenty to sneer at if you happened to be in a Newt Gingrich "go get a job right after you've taken a bath" state of mind.
But as the autumn turned to winter, the occupiers' 99 per cent slogan began to resonate outwards from their encampments. It was Pseudolus (in Sondheim's 1962 Broadway hit A Funny Thing…) who replied to his Roman master's protestation that slaves aren't freed every day: "Be the first. Start a fashion." And so it was with Occupy Wall Street.
Occupy Wall Street Winter
A constellation of celebrities began lending their support. Leading Democrats including Nancy Pelosi, Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama publicly empathized with the movement's core message. Even the Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, put a little political skin in the game, revealing he stayed up at night worrying about the 99 per cent.
In a nation beaten down by the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression, Occupy Wall Street's message is mainstream, says professor Todd Gitlin of New York's Columbia University. Author of a soon-to-be-published book on the Occupy movement, Gitlin says the 99 per cent slogan "doesn't answer a lot of questions, but it does answer the aspirational question of, how do you define yourself? We are those who are not the one per cent, and we think that some way or another we've been screwed by the one per cent."
Views differ on how Occupy Wall Street will evolve in this presidential election year. Some, such as Vlad Teichberg, a 39-year-old financier turned protestor, have predicted social activism might rise to levels rivaling 1968. "This movement is much broader than what we saw in 1968," Teichberg says. "In 1968 it was a movement of just young people, the adults were on the sidelines for the most part. Here it's everybody."
Along with Teichberg, filmmaker Katie Davison, 31, has been one of the public faces of the Occupy movement. She wants to see Occupy Wall Street expand beyond the 99 per cent slogan in 2012. "I think this movement has a particular brand of something new, and a lot of people have a difficult time understanding what that is. In the '60s, the issues were a little bit more black and white."
Whatever unfolds, the thinly disguised contempt many in the media and mainstream politics initially displayed towards Occupy Wall Street has dissipated. As OWS hibernates during the long North American winter, The Global Mail takes a look at a movement assessing its headline-grabbing start and planning for a bigger return in the spring.