The General Assembly-- Occupy Wall Street's cross between the Politburo and a summer camp powwow-- held the Washington Square Rally to unify the protest's message and attract new recruits. The main effort of the Occupiers has become spreading the movement into every sector of society and promoting the occupation of every city and town. They are explicit about this, and they are serious.
At around 3:15 p.m., I nestled into the crowd of well over a thousand Occupiers as the General Assembly kicked off. The crowd practiced a human megaphone technique of staged repetition, which makes every speech three times as long as it should be. Even when Occupy organizers tried to keep it short, it reminded me of Castro's famous 6 hour long addresses on the revolution and sugar cane harvests to captive (literally) crowds.
But it was worth braving the inanity and pungent odors wafting through the crowd to learn the techniques and plans of the Occupy Wall Street movement. I now know first-hand their signals, working groups, and plans to bring down capitalism.
Despite early criticism of their fragmented message and lack of clear goals, the protest organizers made it clear to the crowd that they have stepped up their game. They have received help from Unions, media consultants, and donations from abroad. Now that they have solidified their initial beachhead at Zuccotti Park (Liberty Plaza) and want the Occupy movement to metastasize across America.
Organizers spoke about their various "working groups" such as Labor, Media, and Public Relations. All of these protest sub-units are intended to provide daily support for the protestors, unify their message, and coordinate "direct action." The direct action cell is responsible for coming up with activities that will force a police response, and garner more press attention when the batons and pepper spray inevitably come out.
The highlight for the Wall Street occupiers was a keynote speech by a man named Muhammad who claimed to be a veteran of the Arab Spring revolt in Cairo. Muhammad got the crowd fired up with these words below:
"I am an Arab Citizen from Egypt. I am coming from there, from the Arab Spring to the fall of Wall Street, from the Arab Spring from Liberation Square to Washington Square to the fall of Wall Street and market domination, and capitalist domination, many things separate us- national borders, homeland insecurities, armies, corporations, and police. They have their laws, they have their debts, and we have our Revolution."
You can watch the video of Muhammad from Tahrir Square rallying the General Assembly here:
Muhammad continued on to say in the second video clip: "They can cuff our hands, but they will never cuff our ideas and revolutionary souls... we have nothing to lose, except our chains. Long live Revolution."
After the crowd cheered Muhammad's revolutionary zeal, I wandered among them for a couple of hours, speaking to those with signs or who sought out anyone with a camera to explain their reasons for Occupation. In a nod to the various viral videos of quasi-insane, anti-semitic, or deeply ignorant protestors that have hit the web in the past few weeks, rally organizers yelled numerous times that all Occupiers should avoid saying things that hurt the movement.
Some of these students gave interviews to an eager press corps stretching from local New York outlets to international conglomerates. None of the students that I overheard ever asked "Why does college have to cost so much today?" Instead, the focus was always on the banks. Universities are apparently sacrosanct.
As I mingled, it was clear the Occupiers have a more unified message, and their presentation is much more slick than what I saw on September 17th. But at their core, the protestors' grievances were leftism a la carte. Their answer to every grievance was always increased state control regardless of the issue. Somehow in the midst of all this outrage at injustices large and small, from banks to student loans, I didn't hear one word, nor did I read one sign, that criticized the White House.
And as I left Washington Square Park, listening to the usual chants of "we are the 99%" and "Wall Street got bailed out we got sold out," I was struck by a new, insidious addition to the mindless slogans. It was something one of the chief organizers said to close out the General Assembly, and others in the crowd were repeating over and over again.
"Occupy everything," they chanted.