During the last few days, every time I’ve left City Hall I’ve been greeted by drum circles, abandoned cardboard signs and the slowly festering smell of filth and week-old sweat. Occupy Philly has begun to occupy a serious amount of my patience.
These would-be “protesters” seem to consider themselves the American versions of the people who took to the streets in the Middle East earlier this year. Yet they don’t seem to have an idea of the gravity of the connection they draw.
The Arab Spring turned centuries of political theory concerning populist movements on their heads. While important figures such as Karl Marx and Che Guevara may have disagreed on much, they all recognized that leadership was important for any revolution. The Arab Spring proved that leadership isn’t anywhere near as high a priority as a unified power of will.
But those camping out at City Hall have no discernible uniting cause. A quick look at the signs they hold up so proudly reveals that as plain as can be.
In my admittedly short time there, I saw signs as diverse as “We Want Democracy Not Corporatacry” (stylized with a Comcast “C”) and “Prison=Plantation.” Others included “Stop the Republican Takeover,” “Education>Warfare,” “Say No to Fracking” and “Trade Lidge.”
While I certainly agree with some of those messages, I think we can all agree that nothing about them even hints at a united group. Instead, what we see is a disjointed crowd masquerading as one solid unit.
The entire event can be summarized in one single moment.
While one of the organizers stood on a bench and talked about breaking down into small groups to discuss proposals, the young man in front of me played Free Cell on his smart phone. The girl to my left held up a sign that read “Student Loans=Indentured Servitude.” And a Philadelphia local behind me was talking about trying to grab a microphone so she could discuss the negative effects gentrification has had on her neighborhood.
The organizer was displaying such overbearing idealism that it bordered comedy. The young man in front of me encapsulated a sense of being there not because he felt so passionate about the cause, but because it seemed like the “it” place to be. The young woman to my left represented the accusatory nature of the whole affair. Instead of acknowledging the fact that a student loan allowed her to get the education she wanted, which she couldn’t have otherwise, she chooses instead to blame the bank that afforded her the opportunity she desired. And then there’s the woman who was behind me. The only fault I can point out with her is high expectations. She came in thinking it would be a meeting of people who actually wanted to discuss issues, only to be sorely disappointed.
The only thing that joins the “protesters” is how they’re all reaching over to pat each other on the back. Everything from their slogan of “we are the 99 percent” to the spirit fingers they use to signify approval serves no purpose other than self-congratulation.
If there is anything good about Occupy Philly, it is that this might represent a trend out of the miasma of apathy that has long engulfed the American populace. Perhaps this is the first stretches of a political awakening.
As of right now, it seems the death of apathy is nothing more than the rise of naiveté.
Maybe these protesters will begin a real dialogue and successfully communicate with our political system. Maybe they’ll all get out and vote in 2012. Maybe they’ll even become structured enough to endorse candidates or, hell, even run themselves.
All of that would be wonderful and I sincerely do hope it happens. But right now, all I see is a bunch of people who don’t know what they want but are pretending otherwise.
Zachary Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.