USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’
Gestures

Occupy Movement: hand signals

My informant was an active participant in the Los Angeles branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that came to life in Los Angeles in October of 2011. His participation spanned from its first day in Los Angeles, to the beginning of December.

An essential part of the Occupy Movement has been its General Assemblies (GAs). As Michael explained, the GAs are “a decision making forum where we got together every night to address the current issues at hand.” Each night’s GA has a set agenda and last for approximately 2 1/2 hours. Though there are Occupiers who help to orchestrate the GA for the sake of organization, no one person is in charge. Decisions are made only once everyone came to 100% consensus so as he stated, it is often be a very long process.

To help keep the GAs organized and minimize interruptions, hand signals are used by the audience so that they are able to non-verbally communicate with the current speaker. Each city generally has the same hand signals with some variations. The ones Michael described are specific to Los Angeles.

  • Agreement/support: To signify that one’s agreement and/or support of what the speaker is saying, one  raises one of both of their hands in the air and waves their hands and fingers. This takes place of clapping which can easily drown out the voices of speakers who do not always have access to a microphone.
  • Hard Block: A hard block signifies your vehement opposition to a proposal. Because decisions are made with a 100% consensus (Michael noted that it might be changed from 100% at this point in time, but that was the percentage needed when we was involved), if you were to hard block a proposal, it would keep it from passing. “It was supposed to be used only for when you were so against something that you would leave the movement if it passed, but [in Los Angeles] a lot of times people would use it just to show disapproval.” A hard block is displayed by raising both arms in the air and crossing them to make an X. Unlike New York and other cities, Michael told me that during his time at Occupy Los Angeles, no one really used the “disagree” gesture. The disagreement gesture is different from the hard block in that it is used to show that one is not happy with what is being proposed but it wouldn’t make you leave the movement. “I think that’s why people would use the hard block, even when it wasn’t something that would have caused them to leave the movement.” Disagreement is signified by pointing both hands down and waving one’s hands and fingers (the inversion of the agreement gesture).
  • Point of Process: “People would stray off of their topics a lot, so yeah, point of process was used to let speakers know that.” Because GAs are formally only supposed to last for 2 1/2 hours and there are always a lot of issues to be attended to, it is important for things to happen in a timely manner. If someone  strays off of their original topic, fellow Occupiers use the Point of Process gesture to let the speaker know. It is made by forming a diamond with one’s index fingers and thumbs.
  • You are repeating/wrap it up: To inform a speaker that they are repeating what they have already said or that the need to get to their point and have been dragging on for too long, one orbits their hands around each other.

 

Customs
general

Occupy Movement: Human Microphone

My informant was an active participant in the Los Angeles branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that came to life in Los Angeles in October of 2011. His participation spanned from its first day in Los Angeles, to the beginning of December.

“Durring the GAs [General Assemblies] or at protests, we wouldn’t always have access to a microphone, so the human mic was our way of making it so that a large group could hear what one person had to say.”

To initiate the human mic, the speaker (or anyone who notices someone is trying to be heard) yells out, “mic check”. To let the speaker know that they have been heard, individuals around them yell back in unison, “mic check”. This is repeated two to three times until the speaker has everyone’s attention.

Once the speaker has everyone’s attention, the speaker says a short phrase and then pauses. Everyone within ear shot then repeats that phrase in unison. From there, the speaker continues this process until their speech is finished. This amplifies their voice so that their speech is not limited to those within direct ear shot.

Humor

Occupy Jokes

My informant was an active participant in the Los Angeles branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that came to life in Los Angeles in October of 2011. His participation spanned from its first day in Los Angeles, to the beginning of December.

My informant explained to me that during his involvement in Occupy Los Angeles, he and his friends would regularly come up with Occupy-related jokes.

Common jokes involved plays on the word “occupy” such as “I’m going to go and occupy the bathroom right now” or “I’m going to go home and occupy my bed.” Another theme brought up was the use of pie. “I remember, at a protest one time, a bunch of us were, we were getting arrested and um, this one guy, he takes this megaphone and starts asking the cops what their favorite pie is. Cause… ya know, occu-pie? It was weird, but it lightened to mood.” Some of the jokes were more widespread than others. He said using plays on any of the words of Occupy Wall Street was really common. Occupy Sesame Street was a popular one he said. “There were the occupy sesame street signs–It had… um, The Count on it right? “Count the ways we have been fucked over” or, uh there was the cookie monster one that said “1% of monsters are eating 99% of cookies””

These occupy jokes had a purpose much greater than being told just to make each other laugh. These jokes were used as a coping mechanism. My informant described being a regular occupier as incredibly stressful, “the whole thing–it turned my life upside down.” By making absurd jokes all the time, he and his friends were able to make light of what was often a stressful and difficult experience. “We had to deal with being torn down constantly, by the cops, city, the media, even our peers–so we had to keep laughing as a way to deal with it.”

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