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Tension and Theater in the Picket Lines of #OccupyWallStreet

Protesters at the Occupy Wall Street movement in Manhattan's financial district this afternoon (all photos by author for Hyperallergic)

Today I walked the picket line with members of Occupy Wall Street who are in their seventh day of protest against big banks and corporations. When I first arrived at Liberty Plaza where the troops have been camping out and organizing daily rallies it seemed that things were slowing down. The rain had deterred many supporters from coming out, and the large street collage of cardboard posters that had transformed Wall Street into a gallery of political and economic strife was safely put away. Yet as rain clouds darkened, a group of protesters began to assemble and lead the way out of the Liberty Plaza, with several cops bringing up the line. I rushed across the plaza and followed.

An Occupy Wall Street protester holding up one of several signs and slogans made on cardboard for the event

A dense web of barricades in front of the New York Stock Exchange sectioned us off to only one street that we walked up and down repeatedly. Such a confined space brought us in close contact with passerbys just trying to make their way through, including confused tourists and Wall Street employers, many of whom looked extremely pissed off (although I saw one guy raise his fist in support). Protesters shouted “We are the 99% and so are you!” pointing at employees who watched silently from underneath the awning of their office buildings. Things remained under control and relatively peaceful, but there was plenty of tension in the air.

Members of Occupy Wall Street posing as I-Bankers in a skit across from Trinity Church

In the midst of the protest, a pop-up theater piece was also underway. Standing across from Trinity Church, about six or seven members of Occupy Wall Street posed as I-Bankers dressed in business suits, chanting “I-bankers against the middle class, no more middle class.” In a clearly planned skit, one protester expressed his grievances to the group about his lack of health insurance and unemployment while the “bankers” attempted to explain away these problems with business jargon and economic theory. A pedestrian who seemed to think that the protesters were actually bankers engaged one of the men in a heated debate, and the protester played along, calling the members of Occupy Wall Street “dirty hippies.”

Despite this comedy skit, the call for more artists to join the movement still stands. “There’s definitely a lack,” said one organizer when I asked her about any artists present at the rally. The absence of mainstream media coverage on Occupy Wall Street has also been perplexing. What will it take for these media outlets to notice? One law student I spoke to from George Washington University who traveled from D.C. to join the movement stated that in order to gain more recognition, protesters may have to bombard the barricades and risk more confrontation with the police. “It’s a crazy idea,” he said, but one that unfortunately could be right on the money.

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