On a rainy New York night, as my friend and I approached Liberty/Zucotti park, eagerly, to Occupy Wall Street (OWS), the first thing we heard was a small group calling out "Don't give away the sharpies!" The slogan spread immediately, more people repeating the call. We puzzled over its significance -- sharpies is a popular American brand of felt markers.
Only after we'd hung out for a while, taking in the mantra-incense-shakti vibe in one corner, the laptop glow of the media centre in another, the man whose dog carried a self-sufficient backpack with a water dish, individuals who'd joined in with their sleeping bags and placards (Banksters got Bailed Out-The People got Sold Out; The Heart wants What the Heart Wants), chatted with Emmy, the lovely red-haired lawyer working on the Right To Information, that we realised the calls were a"human megaphone."
The administration had barred sound amplification, so people devised a human amplification system. Fifteen people call out a message and it's passed on 15 people at a time till everyone in the park has heard it. It was working with the need to hold onto felt markers. It had also worked when Joseph Steiglitiz, former World Bank Chief Economist, or Naomi Klein, author of No Logo, had spoken at the protest, one human megaphone sentence at a time.
In the weeks since it began, OWS has attracted diverse solidarities. Workers and teachers unions, human rights lawyers, environmentalists, communists, out-of-work middle class individuals, university groups, writers, even some corporate types came to the protest. Cities around the world created their own versions.
Someone started the 99percent blog, with individual stories of people suffering under an economy that favours a 1 per cent elite. Someone started a (superb) newspaper, naturally called The Occupied Wall Street Journal. The mainstream media ignored much of the vibrancy of these anti-capitalism protests but social media were buzzing.
In the midst of the euphoria, fair questions are raised. Can this be sustained? What's the focus? To change the world? Equality? What about flying pigs? These are unimaginative questions. The important thing about OWS is that it's not only a beginning.
It's also an episode in a continuing chain of events where diverse issues and activist approaches, where single-issue or localised responses to a globalising economy and the politics that bolster it, are now coalescing around a common understanding -- that much of the inequality, injustice and corruption in the world comes from an economic and political ideology, a sociopathic form of global capitalism, which normalises a culture of rapacity, greed and selfishness.
That people have come to this common framework through their various ideological and non-ideological trajectories and the idea of a "leaderless movement" presents us with a design for a newer, principle-based but non- dogmatic activism; one not propelled by Messianic tendencies (such as the Anna movement, or the deification of Obama, by a religiosity peculiar to American culture) and the conscription-adherence based moralities that accompany these approaches on left and right.
Like the open-source software idea, it allows for political approaches to co-exist and cross-pollinate, critiques to constantly refine and redefine themselves, rather than become static and consequently fascist (or stupid). It reminds us that theory also comes from action not only vice-versa. It raises an argument that, for now, focuses on the ideas, not the dogmas.
Sceptical? So, you know where those Liberty Park protestors, camping out for a month, pee? The 24-hour McDonalds, across the street. McD's is cool "as long as "we don't sing Kumbaya" a protestor grinned. Put that in your peace pipe and smoke it, baby. Smoke it real good.
Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at http://www.parodevi.com/.
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper.