Sunday, October 09, 2011

Here's to the Crazy Ones

Here’s to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. - Apple's 1984 commercial "Think Different"

Still think Occupy is dumb, embarassing and/or and counter-productive? Go down to one and see for yourself. Might surprise you.

That's what this former Obama campaign consultant did:

My first reaction to Occupy Wall Street was a sigh. Is the left in this country so anemic, I thought to myself, that we need a Canadian magazine to tell us to protest? It bothered me that the usual suspects—the dreadlocked, bandannaed bongo drummers—were the ones who answered the call and set up first camp in Zuccotti Park. Why couldn't some clean-cut, American-flag wavers—folks who wouldn't immediately, viscerally alienate mainstream America—be the ones who occupied Wall Street? Why did it have to be those people? I was angry at them; I was actually rooting for them to pack up and go home. I thought they would embarrass the left and further alienate the mainstream from the cause pragmatic progressives like me care about: getting money out of our politics and creating a more equitable society.

And then, like many pragmatic progressives, I watched them persist, I saw the unions join them, I saw nondreaded folks—and even some folks in suits—march along side them, and my attitude changed. Yesterday, I decided to attend the march from New York's City Hall to Wall Street.

I intended to be more of an observer than joiner, but on the train ride, it was hard to keep my reporter's hat on. I saw a group of older women, professors at the City University of New York, who were talking about the march, and I asked one of them if they were heading to Wall Street.

"We are! What about you?" she excitedly replied.

"That's where I'm heading too."

She turned to her colleagues and said, "Look at this guy: He looks like he works on Wall Street [I was coming from a meeting and wearing a blue blazer], but he's coming to the march too!"

A guy with a black hoodie and a chain wallet who looked like he might be an anarchist got on at the next stop; the woman ask him if he was heading to the march, and when he replied affirmatively, she pointed at me and said, "He's going to Wall Street too!" The guy must have thought I was going to work, because he glowered at me and said, "I hate people who work on Wall Street." The woman replied, "No, he's with us!" and I felt an undeniable surge of solidarity.

But the crowd disappoints him. It's full of nuts and freaks and one-issue cranks - everybody that the "respectable left" blames for the rise of the reichwing.

When I got home, I heard that Steve Jobs passed away. I was much more upset about his death than I expected to be. I'm not sure why but I immediately went on YouTube and looked up the "Think Different" commercial. My younger, more radical self hated the ad for exploiting Martin Luther King Jr. to sell computers, but I was moved this time around. "Here's to the crazy ones," the narrator reads, "…the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."

I thought about the drugged-out dude with the banjo: one of the crazy ones. And the dude with the upside-down flag and the one with the severed head and the anti-fracking obsessive and the people jonesing for a confrontation with the cops: all crazy ones. Crazy ones who sparked the first mass outpouring of left-wing activism in years, who have finally provided a visible counter to the free-market fanaticism of the tea party. Crazy ones who have reignited a conversation about class in America.

The pragmatic progressives like me didn't start this movement. We thought about the long-term impact for the left and the short-term electoral optics for Democrats. When the economy collapsed, we were quiet, the tea party spoke up, and the rage the country felt was directed toward government, not Wall Street. In short, we were afraid.

Thankfully, the crazy ones weren't.

And in spite of all I saw that I didn't like, there were clear signs that the movement is maturing, getting more organized, coalescing around a message: "We Are the 99 Percent." Like the protesters in Tahrir, there are clean-up crews keeping Zuccotti as spiffy as possible. Organizers are even enforcing message discipline by urging supporters on Twitter to shorten protest-related hashtags from #OccupyWallSt to #OWS.

Perhaps it's a natural evolution, but it also seems likely that the movement is changing because the seasoned organizers and pragmatists are working alongside the radical idealists who were there from the start.

The only reason those pragmatists are there is because the crazy ones took the first steps.

Find your nearest Occupy protest here. Go down there, talk to the crazies and make up your own mind. Bet you'll end up thanking them, if not joining them.

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