Occupy Wall Street hand signals, an illustrated guide by Ape Lad

Link. Some context. A related video. A NY Mag article. A Boston Globe article.

Ape Lad is the guy behind this. I give it massive uptwinkles.


  1. One thing I am VERY happy about with OWS is that they managed to break the racket that a lot of the local “pro” protesters(e.g. Communist Workers Party aka World Can’t Wait, et al) have built up that are why most of the rallies I’ve gone to since coming to NYC in 2003 largely sucked, because they only allowed the same small tired group of people to speak, because they monopolize the prime locations (i.e. Union Square) and bully anyone else who tries to fund raise or speak. NYC belongs to ALL the people, not the cops or the mao-scateers.

    I also have to give HUGE props to the guys at theother99 for standing up to those assholes who were trying to tamper with the tires on police cars the night they raided Zucotti Park. Most of us are trying to save the world, not watch it burn.

    1. my experience in VT has been the local socialist party has had a very strong hand in organizing the OWS chapter. Which is fine by me. It was the anarchist bloc that kind of drew me gradually away. I fully support OWS but, like, chanting “No justice, no peace, disarm the police” isn’t really my thang.

        1. Chanting against police brutality is too radical for you?

          Maybe they were chanting ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.

          1. A Dagon shame. No matter how far we go, we’re right back where we started.

            Edit: Looks like Mighty Cthulhu is haunting my comments now.

        2. there’s not a lot of police brutality in vermont. I understand there’s many many places in the US where it is a major issue (Oakland and NYC, etc.) But seems kind of general and hostile coming from a bunch of white kids in friggin Vermont. Maybe “No justice, no peace, de-escalate police armamentation in a responsible manner.”

  2. I don’t know exactly why but something about these hand signals creep me out.  Once the police stoop making idiots of themselves and riling the protestors up I think they’ll get bored and go home.  The OWS is a show of discontent not a genuine movement.  It has anger but no direction.

    1. I don’t know exactly why but something about these hand signals creep me out.

      The fear of a system involving more than a yank on a lever every four years?


      1. No…  Creepy is perhaps too strong of a word.  Annoyance or perhaps scorn would be better.  The decision making of OWS strikes me as singularly ineffectual and these hand gesture are a cause and symptom of that.  Consensus decision making is one of those practices that sound great in concept, like communism, but are disastrously ineffective when implemented in a rigorous manner.  There are things to learn from the idea of consensus decision making and communism but taken as a whole they aren’t workable.  There is always room for improvements to the system but I don’t see it coming from OWS.

      2. I think there is something a little creepy about having “the wisdom of the crowd” micromanage every little decision, it’s like government-by-giant-ouija-board. And having too many specific policy decisions made by “the people” doesn’t always work so well in practice, look at how all those ballot initiatives have messed up California’s budget. You do have a point that a system where people are only engaged every four years isn’t great either, but I think an ideal world would be one where you do have elected leaders making a lot of decisions, but citizens would be a lot more engaged in putting pressures on them during the periods between elections. By the same token, I think this article makes a good case that OWS functions more effectively with some sort of leadership structure in place–that kind of structure doesn’t preclude plenty of input from people who aren’t the leaders (including input-via-hand-signals, which I’m not creeped out by in itself, just the accompanying rhetoric you sometimes hear that this should be the *only* basis for decision-making in OWS), but like the article says it’s better to be straightforward about the elements of hierarchy there than to pretend it’s a perfectly democratic collective (or that such a thing would even be desirable).

    2. No anger and no direction? Have you ever been to an Occupy action? The Divestment March in Houston had plenty of results and about 200 participants. #D12 at the Port led to the Port Authority CEO resigning.

      And what’s wrong with showing discontent and asserting power? I think the purest assertion of the rights of the people to assemble and petition is the first goal of Occupy. The message that we are citizens and have our rights is the primary message, other goals are secondary. We are not peons, peasants, or victims. We have the right to assemble on public land and assert our rights as citizens.

      Tranquility Park is ours until its over. This will be six to twenty years. We will resod the grass when we leave. There are women who sleep here with their children here some nights a week. When women come with children, you know a place is occupied.  Some lameoids say it’s not about occupying parks anymore. Hell no. The assertion of power to occupy public spaces is the core of this movement. Tranquility is ours. And I hope the trial by fire we gave to Occupy Now, a Dallas splinter group, will give you the courage to retake your public spaces and unify your groups. And thanks to Occupy San Francisco for the help with bail money. Y’all are awesome.

      1. I suppose most of your regular folk are apathetic about politics and see OWS as just another political player. It is  a bit maddening to these people that OWS, as a political player, insists on keeping its collective mouth shut when it comes to what exactly they want to accomplish (most basic one being, reform or revolution?). Traditional Americans are on the whole fine with protests, but they don’t like unruly mobs. OWS has fallen off the radar since they seem too much like the latter. Really, why should we take OWS seriously if they don’t even have the decency to clarify those objectives (or even imagine that some people don’t have constant access to the web). Most regular folk now see OWS as revolutionaries and not reformers. And let me tell you, nobody wants to deal with any more unsettling then we have already.

        We want jobs, not a whole new method of governance. Let alone one that mimes agreement and doesn’t actually reach it…

  3. They use a different “wrap in up” in Vermont.

    At one of the GA’s I went to an older lesbian was FLABBERGASTED at the “point of process” sign, apparently people worked VERY HARD to make it the universal symbol of lesbianism, and OWS co-opted it. I’d never heard of it.

    (there were older people there, at first.)

    1. It’s an unfortunate perpetuation of the hurtful stereotype that all lesbians are really into parliamentary procedure.

    2. Well, I’m sure a fair number of people did know about that. The question is: can you co-opt the hand-signal version of a three-sided geometric shape? In a completely different context?

      When everyone is signaling disagreement I don’t momentarily think they’ve all turned to zombies.

    3. It’s maybe a little late for that outrage, unfortunately, considering Ilene Chaiken co-opted it in “The Real L-Word” to signify the “power of the clam.” (With purple retro-rave lights zooming from the vertices.) 

      That was a few years ago and OWS’ co-opting of that hand-signal is miles more meaningful, useful and less destructive to lesbian political and social progress. Also, my younger gaymo friends consider I. Chaiken’s version a very lame, TV-stupid joke. What a shining knight of progress that gal’s been for the movement.(Caveat: I am a genderqueer dyke, but speak only for this single genderqueer dyke who’s not young, but not old, is an activist and supports OWS. And I have no idea whether I approve this message.)

  4. I like this a lot – like the human microphone, this gestural language is a response to the particular circumstances OWS faces.  And it’s a great way to share information and make sure people are heard without the chaos of everyone actually trying to speak.

    I know things like this often look silly from the outside.  The procedures for collective decision-making are often pretty obscure from the outside.  However, it sounds to me like these folks are really doing their best to make sure both majority and minority opinions are heard, and that they’re aiming for consensus.  That’s really, really hard to do – and the fact that they’re doing it is a sign that they’re running this movement according to their ideals.  That’s admirable.

    1. As a passionately-democratic CEO of several companies (for better and for worse, but mostly better, I hope), I share your admiration for these efforts at building effective languages and achieving consensus. It’s so easy to criticize this type of process that’s messy and extraordinarily challenging, and I’m very impressed, a bit awed really, by the achievements of the disparate members of this movement. 

      When I remember how terrifying it was living through the decade of comprehensive silence that choked this country’s democratic voice while we watched a series of dreadful lies and crimes pile one upon the other, I’m even more impressed at the incredible progress OWS has made over such an historically brief period of time.

      Or maybe the dizzying rate of the movement’s progress is simply a reaction to that unnatural silence that filled the brief spaces between the aggressively vacuous “0% Percent Down!” and “Mission Accomplished!” laugh-track of Cheney’s reign. 

      Whatever the driving force, I’m encouraged and impressed at OWS’ success and I’ll be doing whatever I can to support it. We’re facing what promises to be a wildly chaotic historical correction. Might as well do whatever possible now, bringing OWS’ initiatives and future candidates to our electoral system, however crippled, instead of mimicking pre-WWI Europe and waltzing into a massive self-conflagration.

  5.  All those vote signals are used at Occupy Houston. But there are a few differences on the other signals. Instead of the “wrap it up” hands, we use the tumbling arms. Information and Process are the same here as this picture, but we use the claw hand for general question. The “C” hand is a request for clarification, the peace sign is Friendly Amendment, and the upraised palm is a request to be added to stack if there’s room on stack. This chart also leaves out the all important Extend vote, which is signaled by stretching an imaginary rubber band above ones head.

    Loved how the red rubber tent at #D12 Houston went viral. It was indeed weird and scary. We have already purged the Alex Jones beople who tried to co-opt us. Still a few Communists around, but the are finding us a poor mission field. Even most of the truthers have left. Luckily we are beginning to do very well with pissed off middle aged white guy demographic. Thanks Joe from Katy for driving the troops from the logistics base in your big SUV. And thanks anonymous donor for the shopping trip tonight.

  6. Do they have a hand signal that translates to “I’ve never read the Guy Fawkes Wikipedia page”?

  7. I’ll leap in to say that “context” link above is well-phrased.
    “I have a question” is not entirely accurate (as Incipient Madness from Houston pointed out)and as Stairs said (in the link to the explanations given at GA and tweeted by @dirtythroop:twitter )we use [wrap it up] w/ great compassion…it means whoever’s speaking is already clear and should be concise and respect time allotted.”

  8. This seems as good a place as any to plug this video again : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyT1buoyTnY
    “Film the Police”, a modern take on NWA’s “F*ck Tha Police”.

  9. I helped organized the first Occupy Portland protest, but my experiences with the “consensus” process were anything but good. Extremists have figured out they can shut down groups they are in from doing anything they don’t agree with.

    Back to majority rule for me. I won’t join any more groups that use the consensus process.

  10. I’ve sat in business meetings with people who believed in consensus hand gestures.  (What can I say, I used to work with people who lived in communes.)  In my experience these meetings degenerated into madness quickly as some speakers would ignore them, others would use them to equivocate and backpedal endlessly trying to get full consensus, and others would simply be provoked by anything that wasn’t silence or accent. (Much like honking at someone can make them drive slower.)

    The problem is that I can’t tell if the above image is satire or not. Occupy needs to take a different cue from the hippies: Be the change you want to see. Take all this energy and make change, not campsites.

    1. Well that article says an O-shaped hand signal could be mistaken for ASL “vagina” but it doesn’t say what a correctly formed version of the sign would look like. I would think it would have the flat part of the triangle on top and the pointy part on the bottom, the opposite of the OWS signal, but maybe I’m just falling prey to the ASL version of onomatopoeia…

  11. The most useful handsignals to know are the ones used by the criminal underworld (detailed in Thrizzle by @MKupperman). I looked for a pic link, but could’ne find one. I wonder if these signals contradict regular sign language, so a deaf person may find a vendetta mask wearing protestor hurling silent words at them that instead of saying “wrap it up” for example could be read as “I’m gonna rinse you out like a couple of hot flannels”.

  12. Do they have one for “Please stop pummeling me with your nightstick.” ? 

    Or is the indicator for that just screaming? 

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