For a Tourist, Zuccotti Park is a Circus

The days I spent in and around Zuccotti Park last week showed Occupy Wall Street can be as exciting as it can be dystopian. Outside of the park’s political core, responsible for admirable demonstrations like last Wednesday’s Oakland solidarity march, I saw hippies, hawkish journalists and – worst of all – corporate marketing. All of these sideshows will only hurt the movement unless they are addressed soon. 

OWS needs to deal with the myriad hangers-on in the park or else risk losing vital credibility, as well as its position as the leading light of the anti-corporatist occupation movement. In the minds of many Americans – discredit New York and you discredit the whole movement. 

At one end of Zuccotti Park is the politicized core with the impressive organizational hub; canteen, public library, media and information center. At the opposite end, OWS looks more like a throwback to Haight-Ashbury freakiness with drum-circles and plenty of beard. It’s a show for the tourists, really, and while they have just as much right to be there, OWS should avoid being dissipated by hippie-types. 

However, I saw a handful of incidents more alarming than hippies jiving. OWS’s vulnerability to entrepreneurialism and agent provocateurs needs to change – fast. New York has already expelled some people from the park for “partying,” one man was ejected on charges of sexual assault. It might not be the nice liberal thing to do, but someone who harms a global movement because, for example, they want to take drugs – absolutely deserves to go. 

On my first visit, I met Danny Cline, “The Lotion Man,” who has made a name for himself berating passers-by, normally with comments concerning race and sexuality. He told me that calling someone a “nigger” teaches them about racism. 

Cline is either a total idiot, or he is the greatest agent provocateur employed by a police department ever. This will all play perfectly into the hands of those seeking to discredit OWS. Indeed Cline has already made his way onto mainstream conservative outlets like The O’Reilly Factor. The fact is, while conservatives will attempt to suggest otherwise, Cline is not typical of OWS. 

Meanwhile, 50 Cent’s marketing crew walked past, handing out free samples of the new energy drink, “Street King.” A percentage of proceeds from each bottle of Street King goes to the United Nations World Food Program. Last week 50 Cent tweeted: “I think the STREETKING [sic] business model is the answer. If major corporations used it there would be nothing to protest. Give Back,” he said. Street King’s website, meanwhile, claims: “Every shot sold provides one meal for a child. To date we have funded 3.5 million meals.” 

A good business model, or just an unoriginal rebrand of corporate social responsibility? Another example. Banks like HSBC and Britain’s Barclays promise to follow “consistently high professional and ethical standards”, and yet both have invested illegally in companies that manufacture illegal cluster bombs. 50 Cent is running business on the same hypocrisy – support OWS and hurt its standpoint. His message is: “Get rich or die trying to look like you’ve got a conscience.” It is duplicitous, market-friendly “campaigning” which has no place anywhere near OWS. The movement, meanwhile, needs to be much more protective of its brand. 

This is just around the edges of Zuccotti Park. These voices are marginal, but the press will do their best to make sure that isn’t the case. The Oakland Solidarity march was one of the most feel-good political protests I’ve ever seen and shows OWS is capable of meaningful protest, as the neighborhood marches they proposed that night began in earnest. 

It’s important to remember that every occupation has its core of dedicated men and women driving it, just as it does people who are just in it for the ride. Politicians and the press will jump on any opportunity to discredit the movement – they have vested interests in its failure. We shouldn’t help them by contributing to stupidity or the disproportionate coverage of it.

Photo Credit: Ethan Hofmayer