THE BLOG
11/20/2011 11:17 am ET | Updated Jan 20, 2012

OWS' Day of Action

I'm tired of writing about Occupy Wall Street (see earlier posts here, here andhere). But since everyone who lives and works in the Wall Street area had a considerable amount of direct contact with the movement Thursday morning, let me offer a few observations.

I'm baffled by what OWS expects to prove by disrupting the activities of the area, notably by hassling folks who work here and parents with schoolchildren. First, it's not an "occupation" at all; it's a temporary disruption. OWS simply isn't large enough to shut down the entire Wall Street area, not to say the stock exchange. No protester got within blocks of the exchange when the symbolic bell ringing took place at 9:30. In fact, around that time the crowds seemed to drift off to other appointments: subways, Foley Square, Zuccotti, Brooklyn Bridge. I find it hard to imagine that all this will convince the outside world of their power or their message. All of which suggest that this is all a game, which is annoying. If Zuccotti Park began to resemble a sleep-away camp, today's Day of Action, at least on Wall Street, resembled a massive game of whack-a-mole with the cops. Fun, but not serious.

Second, after an hour wandering the streets, I can testify that I did not see much in the way of police brutality (in fact the cops seemed generally good tempered, though when they moved on someone they did so with force: A baton in a hand to me is not brutality). I did, however, witness pushing, shoving and bullying from the OWS crowd -- not everyone, of course, but the temper of the crowd seemed different from the past two months. A mob is still a mob, no matter its ideals: It has force and power and it does not care for individual niceties. When it decided to move, you needed to get out of its way.

Third, everything about this seemed to highlight a lack of intellectual seriousness. Wall Street is an empty metaphor. So is the New York Stock Exchange. Their notion that they were going to keep "traders" from operating the NYSE ignores the reality that the exchange floor is really a stage set, and that most of the "trading" takes place elsewhere. The official OWS site managed to get the bell-ringing time wrong, prematurely announcing that somehow -- how? -- they had delayed the opening. Of course, they stopped nothing. (Besides their essential weakness on the ground had been amply demonstrated a few nights earlier when the cops swept them from Zuccotti, which may explain the somewhat more truculent tone.) So their declaration of "victory" and "occupation" is posturing. On the ground, there was a general feeling that we were all caught in a silly exercise in public relations that had very little to do with the more serious, if often incoherent, messages of OWS. That for all their talk about eliminating hierarchies and creating a liberated zone of consensus and democracy, they were quite happy to harass office workers, because they had no idea where the true fat cats resided. It was democracy and consensus for them, not us.

The larger question here, of course, is not what we felt, but how does this play across the country? The polls have already been sinking; and across New York City, there has been no vast upsurge of anger at the cops for cleaning out the park -- and I would imagine that OWS has more support per capita here than nearly anywhere. What will folks outside New York City see? They will see that OWS is not dead, that it can still mobilize troops -- but hardly the vast hordes its supporters claim -- and that occasionally the police will rush in to arrest someone, which on television always looks bad. But there are many centrifugal forces working against that OWS message. Targeting the NYSE, if ineffectual and symbolic, also targets the equities that most adult Americans (as opposed to most OWSers) have in their retirement plans. And there is an odd disjunction between a movement that still offers no "program" beyond a vague slogan -- and whose engine is an experiment in democracy that struggles in small groups -- and a concerted effort at disruption. Why are we being hassled? What's their point? What solutions do they offer to inequality, too-big-to-fail, overleveraging, growth, job creation, sky-high tuitions and a squeezed middle class? Who elected them?

Two months in, we've still got nothing but platitudes and slogans. And now that's getting annoying.

Robert Teitelman is editor in chief of The Deal magazine.