#OccupyWallStreet: Protesting with Hashtags

So there’s about a thousand people protesting on Wall Street (ish) right now and I don’t really know exactly for what. The movement is #OccupyWallStreet and it started on September 17 and consists of about 1,000 (mostly) student-aged people (My official estimate of the demographic: I’m picturing literary references and lots of beards) just kind of hanging around the Wall Street area. Sometimes there are marches. People are sleeping in the park. People online are ordering pizzas to be delivered to the protesters. One girl took off her shirt.

You might want to know what people are actually protesting – that’s where things get more vague. Some advertisements speak of the need for One Demand, but nobody has decided what that demand is or should be or could be. Interviews with the protesters range from the idiotic to the informed, revealing mostly a mixture of the two (along the “I don’t know who my house representative is but I can tell you the percentage of the population that holds 50% of the wealth” line). The attitudes seem to be predominately socialist, or at least anti-capitalist, with lots of complaints alluding to the Bush tax cuts, the 2008 bank bailouts (if you don’t really know what those are about either, a good explanation by my friend Chris here.), and a lot of derogatory use of the word “corporations”.

An #OccupyWallStreet protester with an Anonymous mask and a hijab.

The whole situation is a strange crossover between internet networking and the real world – the Twitter support and piles of enthusiastic comments and exclamation all over the web have only translated to about 1,000 protesters at any time, and not even in the street the protest was planned for (the NYPD blocked off the key sections of Wall Street before any protesters got there). Online, however, the results are impressive (it’s kind of like looking at the Ron Paul campaign) – Anonymous, the 4chan-based hacker group with frightening amounts of power, is credited for much of the protest’s popularity.

It’s fascinating and kind of beautiful to watch – this is the first generation that grew up with the internet, and you can tell. Twitter-based protests are just called “protests” now. We are the generation that will use hashtags in our protest signs. It’s like old protests, but improved: we still have unconstructive platitudes, but at least some of them are ironic, dangit.

The coming-of-age of the first generation raised on the internet looks like this.

The use of the word “Occupy” in the title seems inaccurate, as if the protesters knew what they would do if they actually got control of the place. I’m imagining collages made with cut-up quarterly reports.

The thing is that Wall Street is now just as nonphysical as the organization of the protests – there’s not really much actual money to burn, anymore, and there aren’t safes full of the hoarded wealth of the rich. Significant money never really physically goes to Wall Street, or really anywhere – money is numbers in a computer and property value and stock value; it’s kind of hard to figure out where it actually exists.

The physicality of the protest is less impressive than its internet following and even seems a little incongruous – it’s like the event is being swallowed by its own abstractness; an internet-developed protest trying to cross the line of physical reality and occur in front of a physically symbolic place just doesn’t work out in the digital age.

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