Praxis Makes Perfect

Top 10 Memes of Occupy Wall Street

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Protesters in Zuccotti Park, October 2011, Image: J. Gleisner

The nature of people demands that most of them be engaged in the most frivolous possible activities—like making money.”

“News, far more than art, is artifact.”

— Marshall McLuhan

Somewhere in the ether Marshall McLuhan is smiling. The oft-quoted maxim of the Canadian futurist — “The medium is the message” — has been reified by the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protest is the medium; moreover, protest is the message.

To the annoyance of its detractors, Occupy Wall Street has avoided articulating its own agenda. The singular, most resounding demand of the protesters is the simplest: to be heard.

Protesters, 2011 was your year. Still many ask, what exactly have you accomplished?

In brief, you reinvigorated America’s roots as a protest nation, you extended the Occupy movement beyond New York’s Zuccotti Park to 900 cities worldwide, you cajoled celebrities (Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore, Russell Simmons) into action and you moved musicians (Lupe Fiasco, Kayne West, Jeff Magnum, Tom Morello) in Liberty Plaza. Most importantly, you have made the phrase “income inequality” a political hot-button for the upcoming election year.

As this year crawls to its end, media coverage of Occupy Wall Street has slowed to a near halt. This movement began online and it could have easily ended there. It didn’t.

However, the new year must bring with it a new phase of the movement. At present let’s look back at Occupy Wall Street — not its message per se (or lack thereof), but at its media; not at its dreams, but at its memes.

The Top 10 *Memes of Occupy Wall Street

*I am liberally defining “meme” to include all the viral internet media — posters, catch-phrases, photos, images, street art and videos — that have defined the Occupy Wall Street movement.

1. America’s “Tahrir Moment”

July 13, 2011 – The Canadian anti-consumerism magazine Adbusters proposed the following:

“On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.”

– From “A Shift in Revolutionary Tactics,” Adbusters, July 13, 2011.


Buttressed by social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, talk of the “Tahrir moment” went viral within two weeks. Two months later Wall Street was occupied.

2. “The Ballerina and the Bull”

September 17, 2011 – Protesters were entreated, they tweeted and they accreted. On Saturday, September 17, The New York Times announced the beginning of the movement. Protesters arrived, singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” and dancing around the movement’s unofficial mascot, Arturo di Modica‘s 7,100 pound bronze sculpture Charging Bull on Broadway.

This bull is featured prominently in another widely-circulated poster from Adbusters (below).

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As if to prove that anything really is possible, a ballerina danced atop this sculpture in early December as the poster illustrates.

3. “We Are the 99%”

August 23, 2011 – An anonymous post on Tumblr by a 28-year old New York activist named “Chris” (last name, unknown) voiced the collective frustrations from underpaid and overworked Americans. The post, like the media generated by Adbusters above, rippled through cyber space. The poignant expression from the We are the 99 percent tumblr became the movement’s slogan.


Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention We Are the 99 Purrcent.

4. Kaylee Dedrick

September 24, 2011 – 24-year old protester Kaylee Dedrick was pepper-sprayed by NYPD Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna. A Youtube video that captured the incident was viewed by millions.


5. Shepard Fairey Invites You…

October 15, 2011 – The artist behind the iconic 2008 “HOPE” poster (and the equally famous lawsuit that ensued), Shepard Fairey signed on to the cause and created several posters for Occupy Wall Street. Like other imagery connected to OWS, this poster appropriates symbols from the 1960s Black Power Movement.

6. Hanging Banker, Occupy Miami

October 25, 2011 – In Miami, Florida the street artist known as Above presented the grim fate of a Wall Street banker, hanging above the painted text: “Give a Wall Street banker enough rope and he will hang himself.” This installation located off Highway 1-95 was part of Primary Flight, an annual project that transforms Miami’s urban spaces.

Hanging Banker, Image: Miami Daily News

7. UC Davis Pepper-Spray Incident

Lt. Pike Image: NY Daily News

November 18, 2011 – UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike was caught on video as he nonchalantly emptied an entire can of pepper spray onto a line of Occupy protesters on campus. Pike was subsequently suspended.

8. An Endless Stream

November 19, 2011 – The image of Lt. Pike was forever etched into the immortal memory of the internet as his likeness was recycled into an endless stream of Pike-themed memes.

Check out the Pepper Spraying Cop tumblr to see Pike stroll and spray his way through art history!

Lt. John Pike, occupying Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People"

9. Police Brutality Coloring Book

November 25, 2011 – Ministers and students, beware! Police brutality — by way of pepper-spray and excessive force (see numbers 4, 7, and 8 above) — has been all too present in the protests nationwide. Forty-six artists (listed below) have responded by collaborating on a zine.

Police Brutality Coloring Book

For $12 you can purchase the 48-page, child-inappropriate coloring book here.

The artists include: Noah Becker, Tim Biskup, George Boorujy, Kevin Bourgeois, Paul Brainard, Sam Crees, Daniel Davidson, Joel Dugan, EHF, Steve Ellis, Shepard Fairey, Ryan Ford, Dawn Frasch, Brandon Friend, Eliesha Grant, Rebecca Goyette, Maya Hayuk, Liz Insogna, Aaron Johnson, Emily Noelle Lambert, LMNOP, Alfredo Martinez, Lorenzo Masnah, Jason Mitchell, Adriano Moraes, Daryll Peirce, Taylor James Pierce, Jonathan Podwil, Pork, Quel Beast, Nic Rad, Ron Richter, Christine Rucker, Michael Scoggins, Scott Sjobakken, Harley Smart, Andrew Smenos, Adam Suerte, ErlandTait, Pamela Tait, Sam Trioli, Trustocorp, Erik Volet, Chase Winkler, David Yow, and Joe Heaps Nelson.

10. The Bat Signal

November 18, 2011 – Following the eviction of the protestors from Zuccotti Park in the early hours of November 15, the “bat signal,” as it was deemed by its creator Mark Read, beamed the messages of hope onto a building at 375 Pearl Street. Max Nova and JR Skola of the art group Dawn of Man designed the graphics (seen below).