This essay was originally published in N+1's Occupy! An OWS-Inspired Gazette
Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images via The Big Picture
A Tumblr of user-submitted handwritten signs with bleak personal testimonies first captured the internet’s attention. Presented are the lives of real people, unmistakable hardships, ready to reblog and retweet. But implied—by the faces, the faces, the faces —is that to sympathize you must show up. This time a Facebook “like” is not enough.
There is something twisted and belittling about the momentary act of tapping on Tumblr’s like button — a heart icon — when you are looking at the face of someone who has itemized his debt in magic marker for you to calculate. How much we have and what we owe is what we are typically raised never to discuss openly in polite company. These images of persons denuded of financial mystery request from the viewer something just as human; not a thoughtless mouse click. To properly commiserate with the enormity of this curated series of individual misfortunes, one must in person participate.
Around the globe, the “99 percent” sloganing rings effortlessly. This is a generation accustomed to encapsulating arguments into 140 character messages. It is also a generation experienced in negotiating private entities for public means. Zuccotti Park’s tenuous standing as a privately owned public park seems an inevitable metaphor for the questions of free speech, assembly, and property rights posed by so many virtual spaces. Brookfield is like Facebook, Bloomberg like Zuckerberg: their threatened park closure is like the ever-present possibility that Facebook will suspend activist accounts and group pages used to plan rallies and activities, for vaguely specified reasons.
"We must occupy real and virtual spaces,” Reuters’ Anthony De Rosa tweeted, quoting an occupier at the second Washington Square park General Assembly. Without one there couldn’t exist the other.