Illustration by Mr. Fish
Ketchup, a petite 22-year-old from Chicago with wavy red hair and glasses with bright red frames, arrived in Zuccotti Park in New York on Sept. 17. She had a tent, a rolling suitcase, 40 dollars' worth of food, the graphic version of Howard Zinn's "A People's History of the United States" and a sleeping bag. She had no return ticket, no idea what she was undertaking, and no acquaintances among the stragglers who joined her that afternoon to begin the Wall Street occupation. She decided to go to New York after reading the Canadian magazine Adbusters, which called for the occupation, although she noted that when she got to the park, Adbusters had no discernable presence.
The lords of finance in the looming towers surrounding the park, who toy with money and lives, who make the political class, the press and the judiciary jump at their demands, who destroy the ecosystem for profit and drain the U.S. Treasury to gamble and speculate, took little notice of Ketchup or any of the other scruffy activists on the street below them. The elites consider everyone outside their sphere marginal or invisible. And what significance could an artist who paid her bills by working as a waitress have for the powerful? What could she and the others in Zuccotti Park do to them? What threat can the weak pose to the strong? Those who worship money believe their buckets of cash, like the $4.6 million JPMorgan Chase gave a few days ago to the New York City Police Foundation, can buy them perpetual power and security. Masters all, kneeling before the idols of the marketplace, blinded by their self-importance, impervious to human suffering, bloated from unchecked greed and privilege, they were about to be taught a lesson in the folly of hubris.
Even now, three weeks later, elites, and their mouthpieces in the press, continue to puzzle over what people like Ketchup want. Where is the list of demands? Why don't they present us with specific goals? Why can't they articulate an agenda?
The goal to people like Ketchup is very, very clear. It can be articulated in one word -- REBELLION. These protesters have not come to work within the system. They are not pleading with Congress for electoral reform. They know electoral politics is a farce and have found another way to be heard and exercise power. They have no faith, nor should they, in the political system or the two major political parties. They know the press will not amplify their voices, and so they created a press of their own. They know the economy serves the oligarchs, so they formed their own communal system. This movement is an effort to take our country back.
This is a goal the power elite cannot comprehend. They cannot envision a day when they will not be in charge of our lives. The elites believe, and seek to make us believe, that globalization and unfettered capitalism are natural law, some kind of permanent and eternal dynamic that can never be altered. What the elites fail to realize is that rebellion will not stop until the corporate state is extinguished. It will not stop until there is an end to the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our imperial wars and tortured in our black sites. It will not stop until foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into debt to be educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops, and our relationships with each other and the planet are radically reconfigured. And that is why the elites, and the rotted and degenerate system of corporate power they sustain, are in trouble. That is why they keep asking what the demands are. They don't understand what is happening. They are deaf, dumb and blind.
"The world can't continue on its current path and survive," Ketchup told me. "That idea is selfish and blind. It's not sustainable. People all over the globe are suffering needlessly at our hands."
The occupation of Wall Street has formed an alternative community that defies the profit-driven hierarchical structures of corporate capitalism. If the police shut down the encampment in New York tonight, the power elite will still lose, for this vision and structure have been imprinted into the thousands of people who have passed through park, renamed Liberty Plaza by the protesters. The greatest gift the occupation has given us is a blueprint for how to fight back. And this blueprint is being transferred to cities and parks across the country.
"We get to the park," Ketchup says of the first day. "There's madness for a little while. There were a lot of people. They were using megaphones at first. Nobody could hear. Then someone says we should get into circles and talk about what needed to happen, what we thought we could accomplish. And so that's what we did. There was a note-taker in each circle. I don't know what happened with those notes, probably nothing, but it was a good start. One person at a time, airing your ideas. There was one person saying that he wasn't very hopeful about what we could accomplish here, that he wasn't very optimistic. And then my response was that, well, we have to be optimistic, because if anybody's going to get anything done, it's going be us here. People said different things about what our priorities should be. People were talking about the one-demand idea. Someone called for AIG executives to be prosecuted. There was someone who had come from Spain to be there, saying that she was here to help us avoid the mistakes that were made in Spain. It was a wide spectrum. Some had come because of their own personal suffering or what they saw in the world.
"After the circles broke I felt disheartened because it was sort of chaotic," she said. "I didn't have anybody there, so it was a little depressing. I didn't know what was going to happen."
"Over the past few months, people had been meeting in New York City general assembly," she said. "One of them is named Brooke. She's a professor of social ecology. She did my facilitation training. There's her and a lot of other people, students, school teachers, different people who were involved with that ... so they organized a general assembly."
"It's funny that the cops won't let us use megaphones, because it's to make our lives harder, but we actually end up making a much louder sound [with the "people's mic"] and I imagine it's much more annoying to the people around us," she said. "I had been in the back, unable to hear. I walked to different parts of the circle. I saw this man talking in short phrases and people were repeating them. I don't know whose idea it was, but that started on the first night. The first general assembly was a little chaotic because people had no idea ... a general assembly, what is this for? At first it was kind of grandstanding about what were our demands. Ending corporate personhood is one that has come up again and again as a favorite and. " What ended up happening was, they said, OK, we're going to break into work groups.
"People were worried we were going to get kicked out of the park at 10 p.m. This was a major concern. There were tons of cops. I've heard that it's costing the city a ton of money to have constant surveillance on a bunch of peaceful protesters who aren't hurting anyone. With the people's mic, everything we do is completely transparent. We know there are undercover cops in the crowd. I think I was talking to one last night, but it's like, what are you trying to accomplish? We don't have any secrets."
"The undercover cops are the only ones who ask, "Who's the leader?' " she said. "Presumably, if they know who our leaders are they can take them out. The fact is we have no leader. There's no leader, so there's nothing they can do.
"There was a woman [in the medics unit]. This guy was pretending to be a reporter. The first question he asks is, "Who's the leader?' She goes, "I'm the leader.' And he says, "Oh yeah, what are you in charge of?' She says, "I'm in a charge of everything.' He says, "Oh yeah? What's your title?' She says 'God.' "
"So it's 9:30 p.m. and people are worried that they're going to try and rush us out of the camp," she said, referring back to the first day. "At 9:30 they break into work groups. I joined the group on contingency plans. The job of the bedding group was to find cardboard for people to sleep on. The contingency group had to decide what to do if they kick us out. The big decision we made was to announce to the group that if we were dispersed we were going to meet back at 10 a.m. the next day in the park. Another group was arts and culture. What was really cool was that we assumed we were going to be there more than one night. There was a food group. They were going dumpster diving. The direct action committee plans for direct, visible action like marches. There was a security team. It's security against the cops. The cops are the only people we think that might hurt us. The security team keeps people awake in shifts. They always have people awake."
The work groups make logistical decisions, and the general assembly makes large policy decisions.