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Yesterday, Thursday, was a make or break moment for the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Two months on (yes it’s only two months) and a year out, to the day, from the election, they wanted to mark a birthday.  They had suffered a series of well publicised set-backs with their mother camp at Zuccotti Park and other camps across the states being cleared earlier in the week in a concerted move by authorities.  Their planned goal of marching on The New York Stock Exchange and closing it for the day needed to be seen as successful.  If it didn’t, well then the whole enterprise was in jeopardy, just another leftist flash in the pan.  Accusations that yesterday would be curtains for Occupy Wall Street simply a lot of silly students and the usual “rent a mob” being self indulgently obvious.

Now the dust has settled, how did they fare?  Well, certainly the central goal of stopping the brokers in Wall Street did not come about, but the day was far from a failure.  Thousands did turn out.  Bridges were choked; subway stations clogged up; and lots of Wall Street workers clearly got the message even if they didn’t like it.  There were equally impressive, but scandalously under reported, demonstrations in Los Angeles; Dallas; Portland; Las Vegas; St Louis; Chicago; Seattle; Miami; Detroit; Boston; Denver and Washington.  But has it changed anything?

The OWS movement has started to change the political weather and yesterday has ensured that, despite not being able to stand on the balconies of the stock exchange unfurling flags, they are influencing the topics which will form the core of the debates in the election.

They have managed this by keeping ahead of the curve, employing all the powers of the new technology and social networking to keep the authorities false-footed.  In the old days, when I was a student, the authorities held all the cards.  The Police estimated the size (or smallness) of the turnout.  They could lean on Newspapers and try to limit the coverage or twist it to their advantage.  They were also able to take photos of the demonstrators for identification later.  As for someone filming the event for people to watch – well dream on.

Now the tables are entirely turned.  The advertising and graphics for this movement are the best in a generation, as the poster at the top of this post shows.  Numbers can be estimated accurately or counted exactly, and the use of social media keeps those interested up to speed with movements, providing communication as effective as that available to the authorities.

And what the authorities continually fail to get, is that every demonstrator is a director, every group a film unit.  The phone of the least technologically interested student or protestor provides miles of footage for the use of bloggers worldwide.  Take, for instance, the photo above of a member of the publically funded Police, tasked with protecting his employer  you the taxpayer and citizen, losing it right there and then in front of the world.  His ruddy faced apoplectic rage has ensured his face, fleshy as a city bakers Halloween cake, is plastered right round the world.  Do please also note that he seems to have neglected to affix his collar numbers, which, in Britain, are the traditional way of making sure you and your misdemeanours are not identified.  Shame about that photo, sunshine – you are well and truly nicked.

So, all in all, the authorities, despite coordinated efforts across the nation to separate the protestors from their tents and hope that the harsh winds and oncoming snow would finish it all off nice and tidy like, were sadly mistaken.  The meetings on Thursday night in the open air were the largest ever.  It’s not the first time such tactics have been tried.  In nineteenth century Scotland, the Church split in one of its interminable schisms and the members of the newly formed Free Kirk, men women and children, were forced, week after week, throughout the winter to meet in the open air and all weathers, to worship.  It didn’t work then either.  The tactics did more to fuse a sense of commonality and purpose.

Across the world, Occupy continues apace.  In London the protesters who are still camped round St Pauls and Finsbury Square, took possession, yesterday, of a UBS Bank building where they established a squat.  They call it a public repossession.  In an action of superb absurdist pantomime a complete posse of British Bobbies promptly turned out to stamp about officiously complete with of all things machine guns and pistols.  At least until they were quietly told they were embarrassing themselves and slunk off.  So, courtesy of England’s squatters laws, they aren’t going anywhere fast, and could provide Occupy London with an all weather base.  Further north in Glasgow, protestors formed a second, second camp in Blytheswood Square, and in Edinburgh it looks like the authorities have just given up trying to be clever and merely asked the protest in St Andrew’s Square if they might please move over a wee bit to accommodate a Christmas feature.

Curtains?  Certainly if one accepts that what has happened to date is the overture, and the curtains are moving only to open the first Act of something very interesting.

Tellingly people are starting talking to each other.  What are we to make of the meeting in Memphis today between Occupy Memphis’s Mallory Pope and the Tea Party’s Jerry Rains?  Two organisations that have always as I have tried to point out here more in common that first meets the eye.

Copyright David Macadam 2011

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