What Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk Have in Common: Raw Emotion
Despite heavy criticism of both protests’ tactics, they’re serving their own important purposes.
If you live in New York City, this weekend was full of angry people out on the streets — which, admittedly, is nothing that extraordinary, except for the sheer numbers. Occupy Wall Street, which has been camping out on Wall Street since September 17, moved to take the Brooklyn Bridge and saw the arrest of about 700 of its protesters. Meanwhile, uptown in Union Square, women and men marched as part of SlutWalk, an anti-rape protest. (I was out of town over the weekend and wasn’t able to attend either, unfortunately.)
Both of these protests have come under heavy fire. SlutWalk has been criticized from feminists and antifeminists alike. From the feminist side, it has been rightly pointed out that there are complicated racial issues around the word “slut,” particularly for black women. There are also those who were concerned about the political efficacy of women “stripping down to skivvies” — even though the dress at the actual protests ranges from corsets to sweatpants. Occupy Wall Street has been most loudly called out for not having a clear list of demands, to which the response from some of the organizers — and others — has been to point out that that’s not the point.
Protests happen for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways. Betsy Reed, in her defense of the OWS protesters, remembered the last big March on Wall Street on May 12, which had big name backers such as unions and community organizers and a concrete list of demands that would translate directly to policy. As she recalls, it ended up being pretty much a “nonstarter.” I was also at a similar protest this year to protest the GOP’s attempts to defund Planned Parenthood in Foley Square of New York City. That protest, too, was organized by big name groups like Planned Parenthood and NOW. Planned Parenthood hasn’t had its government funding taken away (yet), so it may have been more effective.
But Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk are both different. They aren’t organized by brand name groups; they are sparked by raw emotion, specifically anger. They are not focused on specific policies or bills; they are about calling out the culture at large. And they are about putting an issue on the map that isn’t getting talked about enough. As Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren put it earlier today in speaking about the OWS protesters, “they’ve already won by garnering media attention and putting the issue of economic inequality on the national agenda.” The same can be said of SlutWalk. Say what you will about the use of the word slut and the way that word draws the media like a magnet, it’s one of the more visible, global feminist movements in a while and is serving to spark conversations about rape and sexual consent.
Some protests are well thought out, organized with a host of big name coalitions, and carry a neat list of demands or even policy prescriptions. They serve their purposes. But some are about people being pushed over the edge from anger to action and getting on the street to display it. You might say OWS and SlutWalk are the id to the ego of the other protests. They’re the raw emotion of a movement, as compared to the overly organized part of it. You need both in a thriving political movement.
I’ve honestly been amazed that it took this long for angry people, particularly the millions of long-term unemployed, to take to the streets in protest over the country’s current policies. Income inequality is raging, growing worse in the aftermath of the crisis. And don’t get me started on the absolute B.S. being thrown at women from Republicans and Democrats alike. Sometimes we don’t need to overly analyze the strategy of people raising their voices. Sometimes they just need to be raised.
Bryce Covert is Assistant Editor of New Deal 2.0.