The American Fall

I’ve spent a good deal of time the last few weeks in lower Manhattan’s Liberty Plaza taking part in the Occupy Wall Street Protests and watching what was, in late September, a small group of mostly students turn into a large, diverse and well organized group that has widespread popular support and has spawned marches for equity and economic justice in one thousand other cities.

While the protesters marching throughout the nation this month represent people from many different backgrounds and ages, it’s undeniable that the movement at this time is dominated by millennials, kids that were born in the 80s and 90s; a generation that until very recently had been given a bad rap.

Called narcissistic and technology obsessed, the prevailing wisdom on this generation often takes the form of lament: they are incapable of forming real bonds because they were raised in daycare and didn’t spend enough time in a nuclear family; were primed to be corporate followers because their education focused on ‘team building’ and loyalty; expected everything to be free and to easily find solutions to their questions because of the internet which has made them passive; and worst of all they were not ready for the real world because they’d been raised by ‘helicopter parents,’ who made sure their needs were always met.

Down at Liberty Plaza these millenials are showing the world just what all of these cultural traits really mean. Focus on their individual needs and on team building has helped create the most successful horizontally organized movement this country has ever seen. Their tech savvy has assured that their message stays out there, that police brutality is documented, that news and information is posted throughout the day and easily accessible. Their desire to keep things interesting and get information has meant the creation of a people’s library and hosting events every day from lectures by economist Joe Steiglitz and philosopher Slavoj Zizek, to art exhibits and visits from musicians as diverse as Kanye West, Jeff Magnum, and Tom Morello.

This core group of Generation Yers has yet to form affiliations with any political party. And a “passive” approach to dissent has resulted in meeting pepper spray and batons (for the infraction of standing on public property) with chants of “who are you protecting?”

But best of all there is a palpable sense that these folks expect to find solutions and get their needs met. These expectations are perhaps their greatest strength.

So far there’s been tremendous support for this youth-sparked occupation. People throughout the nation have sent $230 thousand over the last month and provided enough food, clothing, medical supplies, tarps, and sleeping bags to accommodate a rapidly growing movement.

And in exchange for that support people are putting their bodies and hearts and minds on the line.  This is what democracy looks like.