Sady Doyle has a good post over at In These Times that’s well worth reading, but I want to quibble with the way she compares and contrasts SlutWalk and Occupy Wall Street:
It was hard to ignore Occupy Wall Street that day. Protesters discussed it amongst themselves while marching; on the fringes of the protest, people handed out the Occupied Wall Street Journal. That protest—describing itself as a “resistance movement” against “greed and corruption,” and comparing itself explicitly to the Arab Spring, which if nothing else shows that overblown self-promotional language is not just a SlutWalk problem—was in its third week, and had survived bad weather, reported police brutality, and a false rumor that Radiohead would be playing a free show there.
I had been staying away from Occupy Wall Street. I wasn’t sure why; I, like every other progressive in the city, had been exhorted to attend, reminded that it was both my right and my duty. As a recession casualty, and a woman from a working-class family, I often thought that my lack of money controlled my life, and brought violence and suffering into it, just as much as my gender had. But the exhortations made me resentful, for reasons I couldn’t name. It was something to do with the big, sexy, non-specific targets; something to do with the language of duty; something to do with the fact that men who had routinely given me gentle or not-so-gentle crap for my own activism were now Tweeting constantly about the power of the people and the obligation of the masses to protest.
It wasn’t until I marched in SlutWalk that I finally got it. It was simply this: No matter how hyped SlutWalk had been, no matter how long the marches had been going on or how global their reach was, no one ever imagined we could book Radiohead. We had all known that wasn’t our place; it wasn’t a degree of recognition we felt entitled to, even in our fantasies. Even on the day we marched, we weren’t the biggest show in town. We had accepted that. We didn’t tell the Wall Streeters it was their duty to join forces with us; we didn’t express resentment that more of them hadn’t come uptown. We were just feminists, after all. We might well be the next wave, but to the progressive community we looked a lot like the feminist waves before us: A sort of women’s auxiliary to the real movement. Maybe admirable, mostly irrelevant.
I like Doyle a lot, and she’s generally pretty dead-on in her cultural analysis, but this is just getting the facts wrong. Occupy Wall Street was treated with scorn and disregard from the get-go. Everybody stuck around anyway. I remember reading a thread on Reddit, centered around the relatively minor police brutality that was occurring early on in the protests (nothing compared to the shit the NYPD is pulling now), and just gaping at how furiously the assembled neckbeards mocked those who would deign to take their complaints to the street. It was essentially an attitude of “Fuck ‘em, they’re a bunch of crybabies anyway, and they’re getting what they deserve.” Hippy-punching. It was silly naive idealists being given a dose of the real world. Nothing to see here.
The American press gave it almost no coverage for the first week and a half of its existence — despite the fact that it was growing larger by the day and that they would’ve creamed themselves over a similarly sized turnout from the Tea Party — and the coverage they’ve given since has been less than sympathetic. I mean, can you imagine the shit storm that would be raised by Fox, and lapped up by the rest of the cable news networks, if the police had pepper sprayed a guy dressed like a colonial settler with a three-corner hat and a musket? It would’ve been bananas. It would have been bonkers. It would have been the condemnation of Barack Obama’s White-People-Hating Police State, and it would have been really, really ugly.
That is, if the cop didn’t get shot first.
But that was all slightly tangential, and should probably be deleted, but whatever. Stay with me. Stay focused! My larger point is that Occupy Wall Street came up from nothing. Its promotion consisted of a campaign in Adbusters, a magazine that virtually nobody reads, a few shout outs from Anonymous, and then it just grew. Then it grew some more. And then it kept growing, to the point that it’s now swept the country, has received significant union backing (thereby substantiating it), and arrived at the point where Important People are starting to take notice. It’s been a grassroots groundswell, from a few hundred people standing in a park wondering exactly what they ought to do, to a movement that seems each day to hold its new “largest action.” It has become a festival. People go to festivals, they pitch tents, and they stick the fuck around.
SlutWalk, on the contrary, is a parade. Ephemeral. Look at the names of the two protests we’re dealing with here, look at how they preordain what kind of attendance to expect, should things go ideally in either schema. “Occupy” Wall Street. Slut “Walk.” The former is about inhabiting a particular place for an open-ended amount of time. The latter is about walking somewhere, presumably onward and out of sight. It’s not surprising that Occupy Wall Street, at this stage in its development (which was entirely unexpected, for what it’s worth), is garnering all the attention. By design, its function is to be a feedback loop. As it grows, it grows, and it grows, and it grows some more, until it (presumably) gets what it was aiming for and dissipates.
A parade doesn’t work like that, and neither did SlutWalk, again by design. A parade draws in a significant number of temporary onlookers (through heavy advertising, or cultural custom, or what have you), lasts for a few hours, and is complete. In its political form, its function is to draw a disparate group of onlookers together to consider a viewpoint they might not otherwise consider. If, as Doyle mentions later, she was able, at SlutWalk’s end, to successfully shame some of the male onlookers and photo-takers into running away from her own camera in embarrassment, then it served its function. It did what it was supposed to do. It raised the very valid and noble point that women aren’t on the goddamn planet to be ogled, objectified, and raped — and if you aren’t going to acknowledge that message, then get the fuck out of the way. That’s worth something.
It’s worth more than sour grapes, in fact, which is what I got from Doyle’s tone in that part of her piece. Feminism and the fight against entrenched oligarchy aren’t at odds with one another. They’re very much struggles of the same kind: to wit, toward egalitarianism and against the stratification of society into the haves and have-nots. The haves, in all fights against true injustice, are the people who don’t recognize their own privilege, and in failing to recognize it, defend it to the death, no matter how vile the arguments they’re forced to endorse in that defense. But what we see with the difference in attendance between Occupy Wall Street and SlutWalk doesn’t reflect that debate — that there are two parties going on doesn’t mean that the bigger party is oppressing the other. They can both be having parties! There are no have-nots in this situation; there are only haves!
Occupy Wall Street is as large as it is now because it was programmed to be. If everything went according to plan (or dumb luck struck) it would sweep the country. That’s happening. Sort of. SlutWalk went the way it went (and you’ll notice that here I use the past tense) because it was programmed to go that way. It was a one-off. And it went well. But SlutWalk was a parade. Occupy Wall Street is a festival. And there’s a difference between what each form is trying to accomplish.
You’re all on the same team, is what I’m saying.
As you were.