The Man Behind Occupy Wall Street's Viral Marriage Proposal

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Brian Douglas, who proposed to his girlfriend in Zuccotti Park, talks a little bit about why he supports the Occupy movement

Brian Douglas and Deb Zep met in New York City in March of 2010. About a month later, Douglas said to her, "Am I allowed to like you? 'Cause I like you." 

Last month, Douglas proposed to Zep in Zuccotti Park at the Occupy Wall Street protest, thinking that the human mic system (when a crowd repeats the words of a speaker so that everyone can hear) would be a good way to involve friends and family. Some day, he figured, it would make for a great story to tell their son. 

But the next morning video of the proposal was on Gothamist, and Gawker picked it up later that day. Soon more than 100,000 people had watched Douglas getting down on one knee, asking Zep to "occupy my life." (Apparently viral videos run in Douglas's family. Over the weekend, a video of his niece playing Skyrim got more than 180,000 views.)

Viral video stars are always dealing with the judgments that people make about them from two-minute clips on YouTube. But Douglas and Zep's moment comes within the narrative of a politically charged protest, and questions about who they are and what they stand for have been running rampant. After I wrote a piece related to the video of Douglas's proposal, he reached out to me, saying that he'd like to talk to me about the movement. There was more to the story than the video.

"Ever since Deb and I went viral, we have internalized the struggle this movement faces in terms of perception," Douglas told me. "Plenty of people hostile to the Occupation took a quick glance at my long hair and Deb's affection for tie-dye to mean that we were jobless, anarchist hippies who would be having our honeymoon in a dumpster, when nothing could be further from the truth."

That truth will surprise you. Douglas has worked in advertising for more than 13 years, for corporations including GE, Merck, Pfizer, HSBC, CitiBank, and Wells Fargo. Zep is a video editor for Verizon FIOS. "We're not two people just screaming 'Corporations suck, because they DO, man!'" As a sign he brings to the protests says, "I have worked in advertising for 13 years. ... I know this beast and it is not human. End corporate personhood."

Douglas believes that the Occupy movement is "the only feasible vehicle toward achieving real change in this country." He says, "If the Occupation fizzles or burns itself out, I believe that it will instill a cynicism about direct action that won't be overcome for a generation. Beyond that, if the one percent can weather this storm and see no diminishing of their power, they'll realize that they can pretty much do anything they want from here on out." He would like to see are an end to corporate personhood, a subpoena-empowered commission to investigate the financial collapse and other instances of "corporate interference in government," as well as the public financing of elections. He won't call these demands though. "I refuse to accept [that] terminology. ... 'Demands' implies a situation where we have an excess of leverage or perhaps even a hostage. This is absurd. We have no leverage over our government."

Since the video went viral, Douglas and Zep have been working with a group called Parents for Occupy Wall Street, or P4OWS, which tries to help time-crunched parents find ways to support the movement. They've organized a sleepover for families at Zuccotti park, which brought in about 20 families to stay throughout the night (and many more joined for festivities during the day). "All of our actions are aimed at broadening the face of the movement," he explained, "so that it encompasses more than folks might see when passing through Zuccotti Park (or what's left of it)."

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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