Guest Photoessay: Obama Youth League Rises from Occupy Movement's Ashes
Dana Milliband is a photojournalist and beat reporter for the New London Times. His work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Esquire, The New Republic, The Atlantic, and Coffee Drinkers Monthly.
The dilapidated shanty towns lovingly erected across America’s towering urban metropolises in protest of rampant Wall Street greed were until recently the sites of many a strident sit-in, raucous drum festival, and vigorous love-in. But the Coleman-covered encampments were not merely the makeshift assemblies of anti-capitalist contagion, they were the ramparts of a generation left out in the cold of free market madness.
Pacing the abandoned ghost towns, my footsteps crushing the discarded styrofoam containers, cast aside like so many broken dreams, I sought any signs that the weary youths were not hopelessly lost. Avoiding the excrement of their dashed expectations, I soldiered onward until there was the faintest sign of human activity ahead. Encircled around a rusted oil drum, some standing with their hands cupped over a blazing inferno, were a dozen youths of fiercely defiant visage. Unsheathing my Nikon D4, I set out to tell these broken warriors’ stories.
The air was chill, but not exceedingly so, as I cautiously approached Lynn, a Lesbian Rights Activist at New York University. One could tell from her skulking war cry, which she screeched out of nowhere, that she was in no mood to be trifled with. Red-dotted napkins littered the encampment, meaning the activists had either sacrificed a squirrel or the ladies were cycling together. Regardless, I plucked up the courage to strike a conversation with the young people, drawing on my sobering experience in the South American rain forests.
Lynn instantly calmed once I unwrapped a granola bar and slowly handed it to her as if we were making an illicit drug transaction (not that I would know anything about that). She was genial from that moment forward and warmed to the idea of interacting with the press. After giving her an extensive list of credentials, she agreed to let me photograph her and interview her for the article. The other brave souls agreed likewise.
The Occupy Movement, from all of their reports, was in a state of crisis. Lacking a clear set of goals or anyone who really cared about their non-negotiable demands, they decided to shift gears and become a political action committee: the Obama Youth League. Unfortunately, the Occupy movement had suffered from extremely unkind media coverage, and new recruits and donations were in short supply. The president didn’t even seem to want anything to do with them. The heart of the movement was all that remained, formed by a grizzled cadre of veterans who could spearhead a new campaign come spring.
Lynn passed an empty tuna can to Pat Walker, a transsexual anarchist from South Queens. Apparently, this was a way of signaling that it was someone else’s turn to talk.
The winds instantly picked up and peering over the skyscrapers, the overhead sky had faded from crystalline azure to bleached faded gray. Below me, a two-year old in a Che Guevarra T-shirt tugged at my khaki pants and was peering into my waste pack. Handing the boy a packet of peanut butter rice cakes, Pat instantly smacked my hands away.
“Don’t give my son any peanuts!” Pat exclaimed. “Miguel is extremely allergic to nuts and fish!”
“Oh, sorry!” I replied in shock, not knowing what such a fragile two-year old was doing out in the cold like this.
Picking up the package from the ground, which garnered a number of perplexed looks, I began to feel the cool drops of rain splashing on my neck. Forgetting where I was, and drawing sheerly on my maternal instinct, I casually offered for the gathering to come to my Manhattan apartment for a photo session. Shockingly, the entire band heartily agreed.
Hopefully, this would be my insight into the inner workings of the Occupy Movement. What drives them. Their hopes, dreams, and their expectations for America’s future.
Upon entering my beautiful apartment, “Mike J.” unzipped his canvas rucksack and passed a glass bong to a tall preppy kid simply called “Jonesy.” A college girl named Sarah peeled off her hoody and threw it onto the floor.
“So…” I interjected in a loud voice, trying to get a hold of the Occupiers before some kind of crazy mob mentality took over. “Before we move into my studio, I want to hear some of those high ideals that motivate you as a movement.”
“Obama 2012!!” came a shout from behind me. “What-what!”
“Excuse me?” I asked, not understanding.
“I don’t know. Principles…ideals,” I searched my memory for some of the platitudes I’d heard them shout early on in the movement. “Fairness?”
“Man, it’s all about free stuff,” said another kid. “Now shut up and toke a J.”
“No, I’m not going to toke a J!” I responded angrily. “Who gave you permission to smoke marijuana in here anyway?”
I snatched the cig from Jonesy’s hand and reluctantly took a hit.
“Can we just finish the photo shoot?” I exhaled after suck a hit in deep. “You guys can hit the showers… one at a time, of course… cause to be honest, yall are ripe.”
“Sure thing, dude,” Jonesy said. A couple of chicks were already rifling through my goth collection wardrobe. When they began making out, I wanted to tell them to stop. The words began to come out of my mouth but fell flat onto the floor like pebbles.
“Over here, big dawg!” I shouted, popping open a Lowenbrau from the fridge. “Check out my studio. Ain’t it pimp?”
“Man, it’s alright,” he said semi-impressed. “My dad’s a corporate attorney in New Jersey and one of his clients is Mick Tellsley. Went to his studio one time in Piscataway, and the man has some impressive chops.”
“THE Mick Tellsley?” I replied in awe. “Did you see his spread in Vogue covering Sundance?”
“Hell yeah, bro,” Jonesy replied. “April 2010, collector’s issue. Got it laminated and framed at my college pad.”
“Let me shoot you,” was all I could get out. “You’ve almost got fashion model good looks.”
Just then, a young lady dressed in retro Gothic attire exited the dressing room. She was marvelous. Hastily throwing together a canvass with Jonesy and Blaine, I put together my tripod and began snapping pictures.
Here was the soul of the Occupy Movement, not that emo-crap spread put out by Becky Weston of the Village Voice. Simply known as “Red,” she embodied everything one could want in a symbol of the future: doleful, dark, and depressing.
This was the Obama Youth League.
After telling me her life story, she disappeared to the dressing room and emerged looking like a goth angel. This was no longer about a political movement, but the spirit of America.
“Give me nonchalant!” I yelled enthusiastically. “Now, disillusioned!”
The shoot kept getting better and better. Inspiration was dripping off the photographs.
Moved by the experience, and possibly the cannabis vapors lingering in the air, I felt like joining these Young Turks protesting the system through their rebellious calls for bigger government and support of America’s historic president. Why not rally for free college tuition? Free healthcare? Free… whatever? The only thing holding us back is our imagination.
Finishing the shoot with Blaine, a friend of Jonesy’s, I was satisfied that I had captured the full spectrum of the Occupy Movement and it’s burgeoning Obama Youth League. I felt that these faces would serve the president well in his bid for a second term.
Author’s note: The above is satire. It is a fictionalized account intended to elucidate certain ideas and principles by taking them to absurd lengths. It is not intended to be taken literally.
Kyle Becker blogs at RogueGovernment, and can be followed on Twitter as @RogueOperator1. He writes freelance for several publications, including American Thinker, and is a regular commentator on the late night talk show TB-TV.