I stood on a street corner with twenty other people on Monday afternoon, holding my cardboard sign so that drivers and bus riders could see--what? That I was dissatisfied? That the country is being dominated by corporate interests? That attention needed to be paid to the Wall Street occupation? Nobody seemed to know exactly why we were there; the most consensus I heard was that "Fuck the Banks" was the sign that everyone but me liked best.
"We need more laborers," one woman remarked as a passing garbage truck driver honked his horn in approval. "Laborers are working," I replied and she said, "I left work early." I swallowed any response that I might have to that, while thinking that was easily one of the more elitist comments I've heard at a rally.
An Australian I know recently remarked that protest in America is a ham-strung activity, allowed only so the US can say, "See--we allow dissent." After my foray into protest politics, I know he's correct. Policemen stood on the steps of the Federal Building; "You can't stand here," one of them politely informed me, "This is federal property." We also can't march without a permit or do anything more than stand on a sidewalk, holding our signs and preserving the peace.
"We need signs that are confrontational," one Occupier said in a gmail, "so we can get media attention." Apparently the revolution may not be televised but the protest has to be.
Confrontational signs aren't going to make a difference in public support, however, and there are people who may question the sentiment of "Fuck the banks." What about "Make them pay"? Now there's a sentiment that most struggling citizens would support, regardless of political orientation, but that doesn't seem to be the point. I'm not sure of what the point is--except while people are being ignored on the streets, the Senate has staved off a government shut-down with a temporary stop-gap measure.
The Occupations are keeping people preoccupied--more bread, more circuses, reactive, not active, much sound, little fury--and even less focus. Unfortunately more Americans are concerned with Facebook changes than with amorphous, polite and ineffective token protests. Maybe social networking is the new protest ground--it certainly draws more attention than do signs on a street corner.