News & Politics

Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Russell Simmons, Jeff Mangum -- Here Are Some of the Celebrities Embracing Occupy Wall Street

Beyond the celebrities, the endorsements, and more, is a feeling of wonder and awe at the difference in awareness these protests are engendering.

One of the aspects of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has contributed to its widespread appeal has been the spontaneous, creative, artistic vibration emerging from the folks camped out at Liberty Plaza--a vibration that has boomeranged back to bring the occupiers support from all over the world.

This quality of "permanent performance art"--from the stark visual power of the sleeping bags in the park and beyond--has allowed the movement to reach past the usual suspects and capture the imagination of a wide variety of  anti-establishment Americans who may not ascribe to a rigid political philosophy but are eager to take forward-thinking, symbolically potent action against the oppression they witness every day.

While some rally and march veterans will inevitably express scorn for drum circles and other "hippie" trappings of the goings-on downtown, the reality is that it's exactly many of these trappings--from the joyful, inspirational use of the "people's mic" to drumming, sign painting, a library and a day of zombie makeup artistry--which are garnering the most positive reactions from would-be dissidents beyond the mainstream and establishment Left, affirming the oft-repeated Emma Goldman adage: "If I can't dance, I don't want to be a part of your revolution." In fact, dancing is literally taking place downtown: here's a lovely little video of protesters making merry, shot by my colleague Sarah Jaffe. Rumors of further impromptu dance parties abound.

A long-term occupation needs morale to survive, and that's what the drummers and their ilk are for. And the morale they're boosting isn't just in the immediate vicinity, but everywhere that people are paying attention.

While international rock superstars Radiohead didn't show up last week (they did tweet their support for the protesters, though!) the place now known as Liberty Plaza has become a hub of musical and artistic activity in its own right, spreading out to a circle of supporters throughout the country.

One of the biggest moments thus far has been the appearance of reclusive but beloved singer Jeff Mangum, of Neutral Milk Hotel. Mangum arrived and played a full set for the folks in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza, and has returned to march with them, telling the occupiers that they're "doing a beautiful fucking thing." For fans of Mangum among the protesters, this was an unbelievably thrilling event and it "injected new vibrancy" into the occupation that night and for days. (The performance is embedded below.) 

Unlike stalwart and dependable activist acts such as Radiohead or Dave Matthews Band, Mangum hasn't in the past been known as overtly political or attached to a panoply of causes. His attraction to the spirit of the protests can be extrapolated to demonstrate the effect they're having worldwide. As this New York Timesarticle explains, it's a movement that's bringing new people into the fold of civil disobedience, and bringing old veterans back.

Another heretofore fairly apolitical indie band, Deertick, hosted a concert to highlight and raise awareness of police brutality towards occupiers.  "[Police] are there to serve and protect, and in theory, that's a great thing,"the band's singer told a Rolling Stone blooger. "But people should know that you can be self-empowered and you can call cops out when they act out of line. Cops aren't above the law."

Beyond the park borders, the use of Twitter has become a major medium through which artists can express their love for the movement and give it publicity. Lupe Fiasco, the hip-hop artist, has been a loyal booster of these protests from the very beginning, tweeting his support for weeks, and even changing his Twitter profile to the slogan "All Day, All Week, !!!." Like others, Fiasco has noted that these actions constitute  "a way of life" rather than a traditional political coalition.

The list goes on and on: hip-hop legend Russell Simmons has been showing up in person to support the activists and blogging and tweeting his thoughts regularly. Actor Mark Ruffalo has been doing the same. And they both cite the unique grassroots approach as inspiring them. Ruffalo went on Keith Olbermann this week to share his thoughts on the protests, saying "This is a movement that’s transcending political ideologies... touching people all over the United States" (their interview also appears below).

I spied Tim Robbins walking through Foley Square during Wednesday's community march downtown; his ex-partner Susan Sarandon has mingled with the protesters; and other occupations around the country are bringing in musical guests both local and more famous.  Talib Kweli took snapshots with the occupiers and played them a set; Kyp Malone from TV on the Radio has been spotted soaking up the atmosphere. This is truly a staggering number of involved artists, comparable to the major anti-war and Vote for Change movements of previous years--but so very different in its low-key, collaborative tone, in the fact that many of the artists are there not to simply perform but to absorb.

And that difference is key. Because beyond the unusual number of celebrity endorsements, performances and more, there is a bigger feeling of wonder and awe at the difference in awareness these protests are sparking, at the way the occupiers are digging in their heels and creating an alternative to complacence and one-off political actions. This isn't just about publicity, but about the heart of the movement itself, which is growing in organic and creative ways. The internet and technology are allowing everyone involved to create media and art without sponsorship or fame to get them noticed.

Elisa Kreisinger, a filmmaker and creator of feminist video remixes based in the city, notes that she witnessed a protester refuse to do an interview for a pleading Fox News team because, she thinks, protesters don't need corporate media. They are now capable of making their own narrative--via YouTube, Twitter, independent media and more. "I think we're finally creating the type of media coverage we want to see and no longer have to depend on commercial networks to do it for us," she says. "Additionally, people who aren't necessarily 'artists' are able to participate and that's an important distinction. The relatively low barrier to participation in the protest as well in media creation sustains civil disobedience, helping its presence spread among on and offline populations." 

Indeed, much of the "art" coming out of the occupation is playful and straddles a realm between homemade media making and provocative artistic statements. For instance, a group of artists are engineering a "Biennial" relating to the occupation. They're calling it an "Occupennial," "founded on the belief that artists have a crucial role to play in helping to elaborate and sustain the democratic public space that is currently being created by the occupation of Liberty Plaza." Groups of musicians have organized on facebook to play together for the protesters downtown.

Shamus Khan marched down to Wall Street on Wednesday with a group called "Artists and Writers Exhausted by Capitalism and Inspired by the Occupation," (there's a picture of them here) and thinks that the occupation itself could be compared to performance art.

"There is a kind of performance art to what's going on down there. It's about expression, about challenging alienation, about giving voice to one's experience. All of these things are resonant with artists and writers," he says. "There's also something powerful about it all, because it seems to be starting to make a difference. And if we think of this as 'performance art that changes the world' how can't that be inspiring? "
 
For artists--whether they're well-known or using their own time to write stories and upload videos--who are committed to truth-seeking and storytelling, often with little reward and frustration in the process, that message of "we are the 99%" resonates strongly.
 
"I think artists and writers have experienced what society at large has experienced: winner take all markets, where a tiny group seems to be able to seize almost all the profits of an enterprise," says Khan. "So we have billionaire authors like JK Rowling, while many have to quit their craft for lack of support. The result is one we hear fewer voices. And that lack of diversity hurts society."
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mangum performance:

Watch live streaming video from globalrevolution at livestream.com

 

Ruffalo interview:

 

Sarah Seltzer is an associate editor at AlterNet, a staff writer at RH Reality Check and a freelance writer based in New York City. Her work has been published in Jezebel.com and on the websites of the Nation, the Christian Science Monitor and the Wall Street Journal. Find her at sarahmseltzer.com.
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