Watching the livestream of the same event covered in the Times made the human diffuseness obvious. I was finally seeing something that was true to my experiences.
Especially at a march, there’s a weird meta attitude of being a piece of this spectacle that so frequently isn’t actually doing anything. You mill around. Chat with occupiers who are friends, or who you’ve seen a few times at marches, or who you follow on Twitter but never met.
You talk about the whole scene a lot. Think of a reason the police have been especially combative or friendly today. Speculate darkly about some too-aggressive people looking to cause trouble or too-passive people holding the whole thing back. Wonder aloud if anyone has planned what happens next. Say something about another occupier that falls somewhere between lovingly joking and outright mocking.
At a tense moment, you greet someone with “what’s up” and you both smile and think obnoxiously, what could be up that’s bigger than this?
Then, get bored. “What is the POINT of this march? I’ve got work tomorrow…”
Everyone loves to put things into a timeline. “We all really needed this,” someone says. “I think this is a rebirth, a renewal.” Speculate about when things are going to get really big.
The livestreamer calls out to someone, “Hey! Everyone really loved your facilitation teach-in the other day. Just wanted to let you know.” “Oh yeah, that’s great to hear,” she says, and runs off.
Then, there’s a confrontation. Police are lining up and it looks like they’re going to be pushing people back. Everyone lines up and puts on their best aggressive-but-self-conscious face. There’s whispering and maybe some huddling about tactics and what to do when the police start pushing, but nobody can really decide on anything before it starts, so there’s general confusion and maybe someone gets arrested or knocked over or beaten with a nightstick.
And it’s completely surreal. Because you know that guy! He usually runs the committee meetings you go to sometimes, or he always gets upset because he didn’t understand something at general assembly. And now apparently he’s done something so wrong that he’s on the ground protecting his head. Whatever brought the violence on couldn’t have been too different from the exact same thing you were doing.
Just like when you’re watching brutality on TV or reading about it in the paper, the precise details of how it started aren’t clear. But spend enough time around one of these communities and their slow-moving actions and it’s obvious that the people intent on being beaten or pepper-sprayed are imaginary. Our popular media aren’t capable of showing this. The violence is impossible to justify, if you’re watching closely enough.