One of the hallmarks of demonstrations organized by the left-as anyone who lives in this city can attest-is a consistently muddled message-or assemblage of messages-which often has little bearing on the theme ostensibly animating the protest movement in question. I’m not sure if the occupiers displaying the words of anti-USSR, Marxist Polish philosopher-turned anti-Marxist Solidarity activist-Leszek Kolakowski appreciate their import-considering the number of CCCP t-shirts and Soviet flags I saw displayed throughout May Day, I doubt most of them do. However, the Kolakowski quote did strike an ironic note when juxtaposed against the sea of slogans chanted by protesters this past Tuesday, some of them contradictory, some of them incoherent, and some of them not even leftist so much as anti-state.
Unlike in past years, the number of self-styled activists who were promoting mass legalization of illegal aliens was miniscule. There was the Aztec warrior you see below, who was wearing sneakers made of vulcanized rubber that I’m pretty certain was not part of pre-Columbian civilization.
There were also abandoned signs alluding to mass amnesty and opposition to immigration enforcement measures such as SB 1070:
However, the primary action was to be found among those agitating for a grab bag of legislative proposals, most consisting of the redistribution-some would say confiscation-of wealth from the “1 percent” and the transfer of said riches to the “99 percent.” The person below, for example, feels that “millionaires” should be taxed disproportionately. Leaving aside the fact that they already are in relation to the rest of the population, and that the phrase itself is incredibly misleading, insofar as the tax would be levied on those with six figure incomes, the idea that this proposal would reduce wealth stratification is completely erroneous.
Regardless of the message intended, there were several thousand of these people dispersed throughout the city Tuesday. Hence, the seemingly endless stream NYPD vehicles parked on the street opposite Bryant Park.
And signs denouncing the occupants of said vehicles. For what it’s worth, the application process for acquiring a sound permit in this city is incredibly difficult, although to be fair, the serpentine bureaucracy governing nearly everything in this city-including constitutionally protected activities-is probably more at fault than any individual police officer.
I spotted the gigantic sign bearing that singular, capitalized verb as I was entering Bryant Park from the west. I wasn’t able to discern its precise meaning. Then again, neither were the women walking beside me, who asked the seemingly obvious question, “rise against what?”
Some of the other signs on display were just as cryptic, such as the one above, which as a generic exhortation to creativity and industry is not such a bad suggestion. However, one wonders how much reinvention-or invention, for that matter-will occur once the optimal ratio of regulation and taxation envisioned by OWS is achieved. Some signs, of course, were even more inscrutable:
The somewhat contradictory ambitions of the movement could be found if one looked hard enough. For example, these two signs juxtaposed below, one urging an American spring-presumably with a concomitant flowering of individual freedom-while the one directly above it calls for the abrogation of freedom of speech.
The 1st Amendment, it should be noted, even enshrines freedom of speech and assembly for the fairer sex, a fact that I’m not sure the person who crafted this sign is fully cognizant of.
Many of the participants in May Day rallies used the opportunity to speak out against perceived injustices, including what they viewed as misguided American foreign policy. The interesting aspect of this segment of protest, from my perspective, was how often president George W. Bush was singled out for criticism, notwithstanding the fact that it’s been nearly four years since Barack Obama was elected to succeed him as POTUS.
The quietude of the anti-war left during the Obama administration has been much remarked upon, and the fact that there weren’t many protesters focusing on these issues-with a few exceptions, such as the man seen below-proves more than anything else that the anti-war movement was largely based upon partisan differences rather than any sincere philosophical attachment to pacifism and non-interventionism.
Although I wasn’t able to spot the Wikileaks truck, which was stationed across the street from Zuccotti Park during the first iteration of Occupy Wall Street, I did see one sign highlighting the prosecution of Bradley Manning, the Army private charged with handing over classified material to Julian Assange.
There was a surprisingly potent anti-government sentiment to be found at the gatherings I observed, although how far such expressions extend is open to question. Whether the critique of anti-terrorist surveillance techniques deployed by the federal government,
Will be broadened to include criticism of the state’s interpolation of itself into an individual’s working life is something that remains to be seen. Considering the litany of economic demands being made by OWS, it appears doubtful.
Even so, there were more than a few elements of Tuesday’s day of action that struck an almost Tea Partyish note, including a flag of Benjamin Franklin’s iconic woodcut urging resistance to British tyranny.
There was even a lone Ron Paul supporter standing amongst the throngs of occupiers who massed in Union Square, although I’m not sure he found much common ground with the scores of labor activists who traveled to Manhattan.
Which brings us to the main subject of this photo-essay. Namely, the public sector unions that have largely subsumed the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Kerry Picket, of the Washington Times, has analogized the labor unions that have taken over OWS to the Muslim Brotherhood, which exploited the unexpected success of mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square-which were initially led by students and nonsectarian anti-Mubarak forces-to achieve permanent political power within Egypt. As Picket has pointed out, while the unfocused, disorganized protests of OWS often result in reprisals by law enforcement, the disciplined militancy of Big Labor ensure that its followers-whose jobs depend upon political largesse more often than collective bargaining-are spared any harsh nights in Riker’s Island.
The main beneficiary of this uneasy coalition is the Service Employees International Union, which flooded Union Square with bodies during the May Day “strike.”
In addition to the SEIU, which served as the spearhead of President Obama’s initial presidential campaign, members of the American Federation of State, Municipal and County Employees-the single largest contributor to national political campaigns in the country-were there to demand their “fair share” of the public treasury, i.e. private wealth confiscated by agents of the government through taxation. Apparently, the portion that their employees in the legislature are giving them now isn’t quite enough to satisfy their wants.
For the most part, the interests of OWS and their union allies coincide. The fact the latter-and at least a large portion of the former-want to live off of the taxpayer ensure that they find many points of agreement, illustrated by the sign below, which enunciated the chief proposals outlined by the organizers of the May day strike.
In addition to the soft socialism pedaled by most of the attendees, there was also a much more explicit, hard communism endorsed by pockets within the crowd.
Despite the PRC flag-and copies of The China Daily-this man was not among them. In fact, he is what some would call a professional troll; he shows up at virtually every demonstration of any size that takes place in the City-you may even recognize him from the anti-police surveillance, CAIR-endorsed rally I covered earlier this year. There were, however, genuine Marxists and Communists participating in May Day, which shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the contemporary interpretation of May 1st.
The quote above is taken from Theodore Adorno, the German sociologist who was one of the chief theorists of the Frankfurt School, a branch of cultural Marxism that was transplanted to the United States from Western Europe after Adolf Hitler’s NSDAP seized power. Of course, there were those who didn’t feel the need to qualify their Marxism.
Or, if Marx is not to your liking, there’s always the ideology responsible for more unnecessary deaths than any other in the 20th century.
For the fashionable, historically and morally illiterate:
And no Occupy Wall Street convocation would be complete without a gaggle of neo-hippies ineptly copying what they perceive to be Eastern religious rites.
Pascal Bruckner would no doubt have a field day with some of the modern primitives that made their way to Bryant Park last week, although personally I don’t think they’re any more interesting than the Hare Krishnas I occasionally run into as I make my way through the Times Square 42nd St. station.
In my next post, I’ll scrutinize some of the artistic elements of OWS’s May Day “general strike.”