ESSAY Matthew David Scott

NWR Issue 96

On Occupy USA

'Well, what's it like, then?' When you move to another country, this is usually the first question you get asked by those back home. It was certainly the question addressed to me most often when I moved to the USA last year. Of course I found answering it impossible, not least because I had only been in the country for about five minutes. However, it soon became apparent that even if I had lived here for twenty-five years dedicating my entire life to studying every facet of this fascinating nation, my answer would still fall short. This is not just due to the terrifying scope of the question itself. It is also because of America’s ubiquity in modern cultural and political life.

America is all around us, and this familiarity has bred not only contempt but, ironically, it has allowed a tacit belief to take hold that we already know exactly what America is like. This is when a question such as ‘what’s it like?’ really becomes impossible: when you cannot convince the people asking it that the answer isn’t exactly what they already imagine it to be.

But nobody, it seems, imagined Occupy Wall Street.

Before I go any further it should be noted that I began writing this piece in November 2011 on the day that police moved into Zuccotti Park, New York to ‘clear’ the OWS protesters. I will use this event as my cut-off point not because I think events have come to an end but because they are moving so quickly. To understand the speed at which OWS has moved, take into account that when I first arrived in the US in September 2011, protesters were still five days away from that first ‘occupation’ of Zuccotti Park. In the two months that followed, we saw the movement spread to major cities across the US and beyond, and its ideas discussed by everyone from Bill O’Reilly to the kids of South Park. For a fire like this to spread so quickly, fuel had to be plentiful so why did nobody see it coming?

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