Published on

“I Want My Job Back:” Scenes from a Season of Protest

The other day in my Manhattan neighborhood, a woman passed me in the street. She was obviously headed for a demonstration somewhere in the big city, with a sign tucked sideways under her arm.  I could just make out the large black letters on a white background that said: “I Want My Job Back.”  And they claim the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators have no demands! 

Here are a few observations from recent trips to Zuccotti Park and various marches I’ve been on, including last Saturday when the Occupy movement went global with, the Washington Post reports, rallies in “more than 900” cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States.  Having been at many demonstrations in my life, here’s the strangest and perhaps the most striking thing I’ve noticed: I have yet to see a single counterdemonstration, or even a single counterdemonstrator.  Not one.  Nor a single sign expressing disapproval, outrage, or upset with the Occupy Wall Street movement.  This, believe me, is not normal for protests.  Talk about expressing the will of the 99%!

And the earliest public opinion polls reflect this.  According to an Ipsos poll, a startling 82% of Americans have heard of the movement, striking percentages are following it with some attention, and -- according to TIME magazine -- 54% of Americans have a favorable view of it, only 23% an unfavorable one.  Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising in a country in which 86% of those polled believe “Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” or in which median household income fell by 6.7% after the Great Recession of 2008 was officially declared over (9.8% since it began). 

I was at the edge of Zuccotti Park the other day when members of SEIU 32BJ, the building workers union, arrived, a sea of yellow T-shirts and signs.  With a new contract on the horizon, they had been demonstrating on their own in the Wall Street area and decided “spontaneously” -- so several told me -- to march to the park.  (As one SEIU organizer put it, “Our members really get it, the connection between this and us.”)  The energy was sky-high, the excitement palpable, the chanting and cheering loud as they looked down on what could only be described visually as a hippie encampment. 


Never Miss a Beat.

Get our best delivered to your inbox.

Had this been the 1960s, conflict would undoubtedly have followed.  I found myself with a burly white guy wearing a red Communications Workers of America T-shirt on one side of me and a young black woman with a yellow SEIU T-shirt on the other.  He promptly commented with indignation and accuracy: “You know, we were saying the 1% and the 99% for like five years and nobody paid attention because we’re unions, we’re the wallpaper!”  I braced myself for the coming diatribe against the Zuccotti Park protesters for appropriating the slogan and grabbing the glory.  Instead, he continued with unmistakable enthusiasm, “You know, it’s great that these kids have taken it and put it on the map!”  At which point the young woman next to me chimed in with equal enthusiasm, “It’s not just the unions any more!  It’s bigger than that!” 

It is bigger and could be bigger yet, 900 cities or not.  It could explode in all sorts of unknown directions in all sorts of unexpected places.  This weekend, at another spot, I listened to a group of young people from local colleges, for instance, talking soberly about the possibility of taking over campus buildings, only to be drowned out by arriving marchers powered by drums chanting, “We are unstoppable!  Another world is possible!”  In that same crowd, amid varied signs (“Arab Spring, European Summer, American Fall, Chinese Winter,” “Mink Coats Don’t Trickle Down”) was one that said, “My dad works for Wall Street and I’m taking a stand” -- and she was. 

Whatever other worlds are possible, few have pointed longer or more vigorously to the remarkable possibilities that lurk in our present world, in our moment, in ourselves than Rebecca Solnit, who long ago saw the hope that lay “in the dark” and whose moment this has to be.  And nowhere will you find a better or more moving summary of our “season” of global protest than in her latest post, “Letter to a Dead Man About the Occupation of Hope.”

Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt

nation_unmade_by_war.jpgTom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's His sixth and latest book, just published, is A Nation Unmade by War (Dispatch Books).Previous books include: Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (with an introduction by Glenn Greenwald). Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (co-authored with Nick Turse), The United States of Fear, The American Way of War: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's, The End of Victory Culture: a History of the Cold War and Beyond, as well as of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from here.

Our pandemic coverage is free to all. As is all of our reporting.

No paywalls. No advertising. No corporate sponsors. Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, traffic to the Common Dreams website has gone through the roof— at times overwhelming and crashing our servers. Common Dreams is a news outlet for everyone and that’s why we have never made our readers pay for the news and never will. But if you can, please support our essential reporting today. Without Your Support We Won't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article