Portraits from the Revolution: Interviews with the Protestors from Occupy Wall Street, 30 September – 8 October 2011
E pluribus unum: “out of many, one”. The motto carried by the eagle on the United States’ seal sums up remarkably the paradox –one would say the magic- that was at work during the two months the “99%” occupied the Zuccotti park, besieging Wall Street, and what this institution stands for –the vested interests of the “1%”. Rob Couteau in Portraits from the revolution provides us with a gallery of portraits of a few of the “occupants”, through a series of interviews in which we meet the “99%”.
This was maybe the only possible way by which one can hope to get an authentic feel of what was happening at that time: any attempts to theorize, to synthesize, to put a clear-cut label on this movement would have lost completely what made it so special, what made it a cornerstone for protest movements to come. There was no clearly defined goal, no theory or program; these people did not unite behind a message that was already spelled out. The only tie these people had was a shared condition as humans, as citizens of a world, and a shared grievance: we have lost sight of the full meaning of what it is to be human, of what it is to be citizens of the world. Their message is not an idea but an emotion, the sense that something is very wrong, and that there is a way of turning things around if only we could, as one of the “occupants” put it, “let go of fear”.
Who better than a poet -and Rob Couteau most certainly is- could embrace that emotion and understand what was at stake in park Zuccotti? Who better than a poet could “move” us, in both meanings of the word: bringing us emotion, and putting us in motion against the plethora of realities we condemn? The Occupy movement does not call for an interpretation, for a political analysis: it is a diamond in the rough that would lose all value should it be cut and polished. Each “occupant” we get a glimpse of through Rob Couteau’s interviews is like a facet of this diamond –each has a special shine. And yet each one is so like us. That is maybe the paradox, or the magic, of Couteau’s Portraits from the Revolution: it is a priori a piecemeal assemblage made up of bits and pieces, of fragments of this “revolution” –and yet one cannot shake off this strong sense that there is somehow an underlying unity: these people are us. That is maybe Couteau’s master stroke: his deep understanding of the problem lying at the heart of any society –of our society more than any other- : it takes a whole lot of work, and a whole lot of faith –and maybe a little bit of magic- to make “one” out of “many.”