Column: Occupy Wall Street: crazy phase or passionate movement?

Occupy Wall Street. If you aren’t familiar with it already, you’re about to be, whether you read this or not.

Occupy Wall Street is an ongoing protest in major and minor cities around the country. The movement started off as a proposition by Adbusters Media Foundation, a non-profit organization that preaches anti-consumerism, self-described as “a global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs who want to advance the new social activist movement of the information age.”

Now, with major presence in cities around the country — Boston, New York City, Chicago and our own Columbia, to name a few — the Occupy Wall Street movement is gaining more media attention by the day.

But for all the attention and for all of the participants, direction is scarce. For weeks there were no clear goals in front of the movement, and many have become frustrated and see the protests as an inconvenience and a phase that will simply pass. But protesters know what they are there for.

“It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands,” renowned author Cornel West said in an interview with Democracy Now!. “We’re talking about a democratic awakening.”

With the abstract nature of the movement and its goals, it’s hard to say who does and does not advocate, but that hasn’t stopped anybody from doing so. Celebrity appearances around Occupy Wall Street are almost as numerous as those in HBO’s Entourage. Advocates range from mega-celebs such as Kanye West to intellectuals such as philosopher and critical theorist Slavoj Zizek.

“We all know the classic scenes from cartoons,” Zizek said in an address to the movement. “The cart reaches a precipice. But it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is nothing beneath. Only when it looks down and notices it, it falls down. This is what we are doing here. We are telling the guys there on Wall Street — Hey, look down!”

But are they looking? It’s easy to stare at the ceiling when you’re in an expensive recliner. They’re so comfy. Will a group of people protesting peacefully do anything so far as change? Or will things have to get worse before they get better?

“We’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution; a transfer of power from oligarchs to every day people of all colors, and that is a step-by-step process,” West said in his interview. “It’s a democratic process, it’s a non-violent process, but it is a revolution.”

And the revolution is being taken seriously. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has issued an order to “Clean the park,” an order the Occupy Wall Street organizations’ website has called out as an attempt to “shut down #OWS (Occupy Wall Street) for good.”

With the opposition from Bloomberg and Boston Police, OWS is becoming realer and more palpable. Is OWS the Hippie Movement of the present, just a social organization of the nation’s youth? Or is it the Arab Spring of the United States, The American Autumn, as Adbusters calls it? Whether you agree with it or not, one thing is certain: the protesters are passionate.

“Understand the genius of Bob Marley,” West said. “He called his group the Wailers, not the whiners. The Wailers were persons who cry for help but against the context of catastrophe. When Wall Street cried out for help, they got billions of dollars. Working people, poor people are crying for help. Whining is a cry of self-pity, of a sentimental disposition. That’s not what’s happening in America … that’s not whining, that’s not complaining, that’s legitimate critiques and legitimate grievances out of a genuine grief.”

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