Like a lot of people, I didn't pay much attention to the Occupy Wall Street protest until the Continental Airlines pilots showed up.
In perfectly pressed uniforms, replete with shined shoes and their pilot caps, they formed neat lines and carried a handful of messages professionally printed on red, white and blue signs. As they marched amongst the far less formal, sometimes topless protesters, they seemed to bring order to what many had dismissed as a chaotic bunch.
A few days later, last Saturday, the same day Kanye debuted his fashion line in Paris to the 1 percent who still can afford high end and couture, rapper Lupe Fiasco, once more known for being Jay-Z's other protege than criticizing President Obama for the war in Afghanistan, joined political rapper Immortal Technique and the 99 percenters who were occupying Wall Street.
That day, when some protesters claimed to reporters they were encouraged by police to march on the Brooklyn Bridge, then "entrapped", roughly 700 people were arrested. The arrests succeeded in luring the long absent mainstream media who'd ignored the protests for two weeks.
After the spectacle of arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge the pundits finally weighed in, the Wall Street Journal rather ironically featuring the arrests on the front page and the New York Times' NIcholas D. Kristof drafting a set of focused demands he wished to offer in the form of a Sunday editorial.
Black Twitter, or at least my Black Twitter, an incredibly well-read highly educated and opinionated bunch flung across the country and age spectrum, that functions for me and many as a kind of unvetted town hall, were to the brim with dismissive condemnation. Many joined the chorus of critics who see the protest as lacking real demands, of being so much political theater.
But even as I write this from Detroit where we are bracing for a very real -- not theatrical -- run on the city's few food pantries after 21,000 people in need were cut off from food benefits by a governor intent on balancing the state's budgets on the backs of its most vulnerable -- I must ask, What's wrong with a little political theater?
Nevermind that the Tea Party has held the media and by extension the public, and finally, its policymakers over a barrel for the past two years with a "movement" that began as wide and wildly as Occupy Wall Street. That the ragtag bunch who came together to demand economic justice at the symbolic site of the crime is pitch perfect.
For too long it seemed the Tea Party and rabidly reactionary conservatives were successful in convincing their fellow Americans it was the barely middle class overspenders who couldn't afford their McMansions that brought this country's economy to its knees. Obama's financial reform TAARP rescued banks with billions of taxpayers dollars but about only 30 million homeowners managed to get their mortgages reduced in its Foreclosure Prevention Program. The four biggest banks, deemed too big to fail, were barely slapped on the wrist for their deceptive and discriminatory practices.
Instead of functioning as public utilities given their tax breaks and recent bailout by taxpayers, they nickel and dime their customers "because of recent regulation" as if last year's financial reform, which largely called for transparency, went far enough. That the banks' top executives and trading houses who'd treated taxpayers pensions and mortgages like Vegas chips, received the same multi-million dollar bonuses they would've had they not gone to Congress with their hats in their hands, seemed too much for the American people to bear. But silently bear it, we seemed to. Until Occupy Wall Street took over the square, the millions of victims of some of the biggest corporate crimes committed in this country seemed invisible.
The demand within and outside the Occupy Wall Street movement that they come up with a clear set of actionable demands seems both reasonable and beside the point. (And thedeclaration they drafted and released did little to make clear any demands). Protest as public spectacle, even as performative, is part and parcel of any effective movement.
The regular protests in the 80s and 90s under the expansive pink triangle, the Women's Movement of the 70s and yes, the Civil Rights protests, all included diverse and conflicting protesters with varying sets of interests and palettes for reform or revolution. Some of the protesters who joined those successful movements were activists and organizers, but many more were moved to make visible, with their very bodies, their opposition to injustice.
That the Occupy Wall Street protesters have only clearly declared they demand economic justice makes this movement both amorphous and diffusive enough to include the many millions across the globe who were affected by America's cowboy bankers. Tomorrow, teacher's unions are set to join the Occupy Wall Street protests reminding us there has been no bailout of public education. The teachers' presence also is a reminder labor unions have exhausted much of their ability to collectively bargain and negotiate even with their elected officials, as tied as those officials are to corporate America.
Last week, in Athens, the European ground zero for months long anti-corporate protests, the trend in the streets pointed to the unification of the far right and the political left. Despite the reported presence of some Tea Party types at Occupy Wall Street, that doesn't look as likely in America. In fact, only a few days ago, the evangelical Apostolic Reformation movement, who received a bit of media attention when they lead a prayer rally attended by Texas Governor and flailing Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry, began a theocratic takeover of D.C. They plan to occupy the nation's capital for 40 days, demanding much of the nation be ridded of demons.
I truly hope the majority of Black people in this country don't, even secretly, identify with those loons more than they do the "fringe movement" that's taken center stage in downtown Manhattan. We have more to lose than most, and whether we believe in taking our grievances to the streets anymore, we've certainly received little result in lobbying the administration we put in office for some attention. Take off your bedroom slippers indeed.