Is This What Democracy Looks Like? Observing the Launch of Occupy Wall Street


The Occupy Wall Street protest, now in its dwindling stage, started off as something of a shitshow. Around noon on Saturday, Runnin’ Scared watched as protesters met at Bowling Green to march around the bronze Wall Street bull and begin their demonstrations. At first, the results were mixed–the journalist-to-protester ratio was totally skewed, and the combination of jugglers, vuvuzelas, handmade cardboard signs of Internet memes, cowbells, bongos, and V For Vendetta masks made the protest seem more carnival-esque than demonstrators may have hoped. The small mass of white college students, who seemed too self-conscious to yell “This is what democracy looks like!” for more than a minute or two at a time, marched around the bull until everyone seemed to tire of it. “Fuck the pigs!” someone wearing a hula hoop shouted halfheartedly.

After the revolutionary yoga session, the protest migrated to the southern corner of Bowling Green, where protesters soapboxed on the steps of the Smithsonian/Custom House building, cycling between grievances and speeches. Wizened baby boomers came on to remind everyone that the Sixties existed, drawing cheers and confusion in equal measure among the 800-strong crowd. The steps were off the path of traffic; half a block away, there was no clear indication that Wall Street was even being occupied.

As the afternoon wore on, the crowd grew to about 1,500 people, but it never came close to the 20,000 hoped for by organizers. Even with those numbers, which were more than most people expected, the chants for “Power to the people!” and “Democracy now!” didn’t go far.

No formal demands had been decided upon before the occupation began, and after speaking with many protesters, it seemed that everyone had different reasons for attending. When asked why he was attending, Hunter Thompson (seriously), a 22-year-old from Albany, replied, “For the ladies!” and pointed to the sign hanging around his neck: “Ladies?” When pressed further, he admitted to having slightly more reasonable motivations. “I’m here because of general discontent over the economic structure, particularly big corporations who are hoarding all the wealth in the country and not using that wealth to create jobs,” he said, pointing to a second sign that expressed his political discontent.

In an endless parade of Guy Fawkes masks and bandana-wearing hipsters, it was pretty difficult to figure out where to start. But one group managed to stick out: the Protest Chaplains, pictured at right, “a bunch of Christians who have a complicated relationship with faith and understand all the harm that’s been done, as well as the good,” according to member Marisa Egerstrom of Boston. Wearing long white liturgical robes, the group was there to protest the mainstream religious right who, according to Egerstrom, are “hijacking the language and the tradition and the beauty of our faith for purposes of greed and waging war for profit.”

Runnin’ Scared was surprised to find that grew more vehement as its numbers diminished. By Saturday night, the Redditors and the laughable atmosphere dissipated, leaving only the hardliners. Almost 300 dedicated revolutionaries hunkered down in Zucotti Park and, amidst random outbursts of chants and scattered guitar playing, spent the night in sleeping bags and surrounded by policemen who could only sit back and watch from the streets.