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October 2, 2011

Nina Berman at Occupy Wall Street: Beyond the Hula Hoop

Nina Berman sent me this photo immediately after I read Glenn Greenwald’s post last Wednesday titled: What’s behind the scorn for the Wall Street protests? The photo was taken Sept 20th, Day 4 of the “Occupy Wall Street” action, just before the pepper spray incident and before the encampment downtown had taken root.

In his post, Greenwald discusses how threatening the protests are to institutional forces in both parties — particularly progressive critics harping on tactical and organizational issues, including the lack of a clear message or media strategy. Greenwald’s rebuttal to this “lack of professionalism” is that “young people speaking their minds,” as the song says, are exactly the ones to reject formalities and methodologies and just take to the streets to “channel widespread anger into activism rather than resignation.”

Given the costs and risks one incurs from participating in protests like this — to say nothing of the widespread mockery one receives – it’s natural that most of the participants will be young and not yet desperate to cling to institutional stability.

These words, of course, are offered to insulate the photograph as I can’t imagine anyone looking at this street scene – progressives included — without at least some amount of eye-rolling. What I would ask you to do, however, just as an experiment, is to:

…Close your eyes for a second and try and look at this photo again as if the 60’s had never happened.

…Take another look at this photo without a shred of irony.

…Think about how much this marketing age has so divorced us from our own bodies and so turned us into objects — whether objects of obsession or objects of manipulation — that the sight of too much skin (beyond our own intimates, and outside the billboard, magazine, video or movie screen) can be downright terrifying.

…Look at this photo as if “game playing” was widely understood as a clever intervention that, in the discomfort induced, successfully shakes people out of their Stepford-like stupor for a moment.

If you can manage to do all that, what you’ll see — in a society that has otherwise shunned freeform demonstration — is not randomness, frivolity, disorganization or nostalgia, but rather the hip-shaking arrival of New York City’s “first responders” to the utter collapse of economic justice.

PHOTOGRAPH by Nina Berman/Noor

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for BagNews here.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been visiting this site for a few months, now daily. This is such a beautiful analysis. I’ve been watching the livestream from Australia. This ” freeform demonstration — is not randomness, frivolity, disorganization
    or nostalgia, but rather the hip-shaking arrival of New York City’s
    “first responders” to the utter collapse of economic justice.” And just in the nick of time. thank you/

    • Michael Shaw

      Thanks so much. The community, the discussion and the feedback is what inspires me!

  • Karen H.

    I love how the old white folks stand in for all of us on some level. Maybe many different levels.

  • Anonymous

    …Close your eyes for a second and try and look at this photo again as if the 60’s had never happened.

    A word or two on behalf of the 60s. Hippie-bashing is no more prevalent now than it was back then, there was just as much, just as loud, just as willfully ignorant vocal displeasure expressed in real time. This noise masks the fact that most of the productive change from the 60s came from regular folks doing their regular jobs. For example, Nixon’s first vice-president resigned and pled nolo to criminal charges involving relatively penny ante fraud because lower level government employees were able to do their job. Contrast with this century when the dim Bush’s vice-president shoots a man in the face and then declines to discuss the incident with local law enforcement.

    Young people in the 60s that didn’t understand or appreciate Woodstock grew up to be today’s Tea Partiers. Their loss, then and now.

  • Susan Hall

    Thank you for this well written analysis.   I took a walk down to  OccupyWallStreet on Saturday the 24th.  I am a 53 year old, college educated, white, government employee.  Myself and my co-workers are talking about this.  We want to have hope.  I don’t think this is going away.

  • Susan Donovan

    Thank you so much. I have been struggling with the negativity people have been spewing towards these protestors, by my heart is with them. If I did not have a job that might be impacted by it I would join them. I know they aren’t organized, they are speaking they aren’t just taking it like the rest of us. For some reason the contempt really cuts me… if feels personal for some reason.

  • Cobb Robert

    Then it was the “Military-Industrial Complex” killing our own drafted soldiers and the people of Vietnam for profit.  Today it is the Wall Street Gang, robbing young and old alike of their futures, openly and scornfully, in our own backyards. This time it’s different. This movement is in its infancy and the groundswell of outrage is growing by the hour. From rip-off student loans to the packaging of defective mortgages to unsuspecting investors, to pepper-spraying-white-shirt-police-thugs targeting peaceful, young female protestors. . .it’s all being played out on the streets in open view of us all.   No overturned, burning vehicles. No smashed and looted storefronts. No trash on the streets and no reasons for police riots. The 1% and their billions are sequestered in their own insulated worlds, still unaware that this is a groundswell that lifts and carries everyone with it, including those with pepper spray or batons or hoards of gold bars or political power. This groundswell portends change, deep change so uncover your caches
    and bring back the loot before it’s too late.

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