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Embedded at Occupy Wall Street


What went on at Occupy Wall Street on its birthday.

MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL A breezy, cloudless September 17 marked the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street protests, a series of demonstrations across New York's financial district that polarized the nation. There were those with Occupy and those against them-those who, according to occupiers, could imagine a world in which equality was given new breadth and definition, and then those who could not, or who refused to. Diverse forms of change have been advanced by the occupation, from elimination of the Fed to an upheaval of free-market principles, but one prescription remains constant: the demand to occupy.

As I realized while trooping around with the occupiers on the movement's anniversary, "occupy" is not only the name of a kind of civil action (which for many has been predicated on drum circles and gradual lapse), but is also a demand, not addressed to bankers, investors, or career politicians, but to "the people" themselves.

I arrived at Zuccotti Park shortly after the morning's convergence between several small marches at the New York Stock Exchange. I ran into a friend who writes for Salon at the McDonald's across from the park. We walked to Battery Park, where small groups were discussing afternoon tactics.

The reader should know that, though I've been following Occupy since its inception, I've never seen its machinery at work. Here's what goes on, from my brief encounter with the planning process. The affinity groups sketch their next action-where, when, and how it will happen-using the people's mic, a system by which each person who speaks is instantly echoed by all surrounding -and twinkle hands (members raise and wag their fingers to express approval). The affinity group onto which I latched, called 99%, had a remarkably smart idea for the afternoon's march: At about 2:00 p.m., they planned to storm the public but privately owned esplanade bordered by the Hudson River, the Marina behind the headquarters of Goldman Sachs (GS), a promenade lined with outdoor restaurants and at which, supposedly, high-financiers lunch daily. And because they were using the people's microphone, the NYPD hedging them in, about 40 yards behind, could certainly hear. Which, in fact, the occupiers were betting on if not in some respect wanting: If they heard and wanted to protect against the 99%'s intended insurrection, the police would cordon off the esplanade, effectively disrupting the lunching public; if they didn't hear, then the protest would be executed.

The affinity group, 99%, agreed to "go civilian" during the interval between the Spokes Council-the congress of independent affinity groups-and their demonstration on the esplanade. As far as I know (because I was pretty much consistently civilian), going civilian requires that a protest-ready mass be dissolved into its constituent parts, or in other words, that the group be broken down into small, non-protesting groups, who are apparently our average Wall Street tourist or denizen, plus dreadlocks and minus the bewildered expressions one easily finds on most civilian faces during the occupation. This strange designation makes you wonder: When you occupy, do you relinquish your status as a civilian, indeed as a citizen?

After a decision on specifics, the group dispersed. The Spokes Council met to discuss and ratify whatever plans the individual groups had proposed. Among all of the ideas volleyed around-which included a march around Wells Fargo (WFC) directly to the north, civil disobedience for those who would willfully get arrested (presumably by blocking intersections), and another group's proposal to demonstrate around the World Financial Center-the 99%'s, a face-to-face standoff with the dining elite, seemed to afford the most twinkle hands. All plans approved by the caucus, individual groups broke away from the convention to carry out their midday interventions.
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