McDonalds: Occupy Wall Street’s unlikely neutral zone
At lunchtime on a drizzly November 17, New York Police clashed violently with Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park. One protester suffered a bloody head wound in the confrontation; an officer was reportedly stabbed in the hand. In every street or square where police and protesters met that day, shouts of “You’re on the wrong side of history,” and “Shame!” could be heard.
Yet inside the warm, dry McDonalds just a half block west of the park on Broadway at that exact moment, protesters and police were getting along swimmingly. They stood in line together, respectfully waiting their turn to order Big Macs and McChicken sandwiches before saying “excuse me” as they made their way to chow down on their salty purchases side-by-side at plastic tables.
Perhaps this exhibition of tolerance reveals how tidily protesters and police slip into their expected roles once “the whole world is watching,” and then back out of them once the whole world is not. On the streets during a day of protest, the expectation of animosity breeds confrontation. But McDonalds is apparently no place for social unrest, unless it is the actual McDonalds being protested, and on this day, it was not (there are apparently more than a few OWS protesters who see no hypocrisy in decrying corporate power while at the same time patronizing McDonalds).
This behaviour also seems to reinforce the protesters’ constant chanted assertion that the police are just as much a part of the 99% as anyone else. As long as the police aren’t taking away their right to assemble, there’s no need for animosity.
Outside of McDonalds it’s a performance, and a necessary one, but one that ends when the players step off the stage and into the food court. This isn’t to say the performance isn’t real, but it’s fascinating to see how quickly the polarization can melt away with a simple change of venue and a growling stomach.