The Beats

The catch-all nature of the Occupy Wall Street protests has been a major focus of the coverage of the events. Depending on the perspective of the commentators, the diversity of demands is alternately perceived as a detrimental lack of coherence, evidence of far-reaching public discontent, or a model for radical egalitarianism. Many have distilled the diverse messages coming out of Zuccotti park into a single narrative that hinges on explosive frustration at the dramatic – and growing – income disparity in the US.

As I’ve meandered through the park, through rallies and amidst marches, I’ve more often than not been tongue-tied. I’m thrilled to be here and grateful – for once – to smashed up against hundreds of other New Yorkers. I’m not sure why I’ve been so reticent to shout, but I think it has something to do with the magnitude of my own frustration. Thankfully, I haven’t had to open my mouth, haven’t had to force half-formed ideas into speech that isn’t quite ready to be articulated.

Instead, I’ve sought out the impromptu drum circles that have become of fixture of the movement. It’s certainly not unusual to see and hear drums at rallies – they make a lot of noise. But I am particularly grateful for the musicians who have shown up with their instruments night after night at Zuccotti park and given the rest of us something to condense around, beating trashcans, slapping thighs and stomping cement.

I happen to love dancing to afro-beat and am drawn to drum circles wherever I find them, but this is something far deeper than musical taste. The beats are a powerful source of non-vocal expression, and for a movement that’s still-a-bit-ambiguous-and-totally-ok-with-it, they act like a channel for the energy of resistance. Once expressed – albeit non-verbally – the energy may take on a life of its own, engendering any number of creative, activist endeavors. But first it has to be expressed.

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