Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

I asked Rob why he was here. I know him a little, recognized him, he lives in Jersey City.

“I care about the issue.”

“What issue?”

“The destruction of the middle class.”

This may look like the 60s, especially with the retro hippie hairstyles and garb and surprisingly optimistic vibe permeating the atmosphere, but I believe that is just an easy reference to make. Occupy Wall Street is not simply some revival of some bygone golden era of social activism. This is something very new, a new moment in history that we are seeing unfold.

I liked the basic theme of the protest when I heard that it was being organized, but I was skeptical. I’m simply not a protest demonstrator guy and I’m turned off by media stunts and anti-intellectual ideologies. Then I started to see the reports of police response, and realized they are in their second week. So I had to check out what was christened Freedom Park, which is only a few blocks from the WTC PATH station.

The park, basically a wide sidewalk with a smattering of trees and potted flowers, was transformed into a flea market and camp ground. It reminded me of a sober late 80s/early 90s Grateful Dead concert.

Pushcarts and vendors, who would normally be in the park, were shunted to one side. The perimeter of the park was covered with signs, hand written slogans on shards of cardboard and empty pizza boxes. The statements mainly revolved around the theme of economic justice.

If you make less than 250K you need to be on this side, is a good example. These are not the hell no we won’t militant assertions of yester-year. This is not your Daddy’s (or Grand Daddy’s) sloganeering. These are twitter friendly, texting phraseology at which this tech-savvy generation has perfected,. The sheer amount of signs was awe inspiring. I think I agreed with every one of them.

While the riffs were different, the theme – Economic Justice – was apparent throughout. These were not crazies with puppets and masks wreaking havoc for TV cameras at some WTO conference. They were talking about Glass Steagal – how many fools who voted Nadar in 01 could cite New Deal era policies. This is about the human right to be treated fairly in the wealthiest country in the world.

I was nearly teary eyed, finally some fellow New Deal Democrats.

I hope the Democratic Party and Unions realize what is taking place in this counter culture Hooverville; I hope the other liberal factions – Gay Rights, Environmentalists and Woman Rights to name three that come to mind – realize it is now time to form a coalition with these like-mind brethrens, put your own issues temporarily on the back burner and support this cause.

What is the end game? I don’t know.

One sign said, let’s work shit out. How long do they expect to hold out?

Another guy didn’t put a timeline, but said as long as they keep the park occupied, they have a chance. The numbers fluctuate because a lot of folks are commuting here, as well as lending out their pads for showers and warm food. The point is that the hundreds are not exposed to the elements 24/7 all once; they are almost taking shifts or something equivalent.

I’m not really sure how they are doing this but it was apparent that they have it worked and are peacefully Occupying this space and effectively making a statement relevant to all America. It was remarkable and damn impressive.

Inside the park, kids – and while they were some old leftist types, folks in the 40s and beyond –most were 20 somethings (thus kids to me). This is the generation currently denied entry level jobs and chances for a career. They reminded of me of the friendly and welcoming employees of Star Bucks, perhaps the best job they can hope in spite of their college degree.

They were hanging out, a few guitar players, some dude recited rap poetry. A couple kissing, another person napping, some dude listening to his MP3 player making a new sign… there were a few circles of kids, taking to each other, having discussions about what they were doing and economic policy. They weren’t doing drugs or playing video games or some other mindless activity. They were being nice to each other and engaging their minds and caring together about how they can make the world a better place. This wasn’t some counter culture replay of the decadent 60s, this is the real New Morning in America. It was inspirational.

What do you expect these kids to do? Grin and bear it? Or be like Gen-X and vote Nadar? The destruction of the middle class is not some kind of Marxist belief or radical notion. This was not the ethos of the Weatherman Underground or Yippies or even the naive and ineffective Green Party of the late 90s that denied the Clinton Administration its third term. They’re not Wobblies! This is the America that lifted us out of the Great Depression and brought us the New Frontier.

Among the signs, the food being served, the kids hanging out, were American Flags. The kids in that park, they’re you and me. A library was on one side – I noticed Tim O’Brien’s the Things they Carried – the most radical book (No Das Kapital, Soul on Ice or Steal This Book) was something about NPR. A library! Come, occupy the park, read a book! These are my kind of activists!

Something happening, yeah and while what is still not exactly clear, what is clear is that what was happening was new and while not without precedent, I am suggesting lets not over emphasize the precedents or just assume because of some similarities they are now being reproduced. This is new and different. It cannot be ignored or easily dismissed, which is what the media, both parties and the NYC mayor seem to want to do.

Ted from Queens told me that there were usually more people but twice day, during the opening and closing bell of the U.S. Stock Market, the bulk of the occupiers leave the park and march to the Stock Exchange to demonstrate.

Where is the Stock Exchange?

Wall Street.

Where’s that again? I rarely go south of the PATH station.

I walk to Wall Street in search of demonstrators. I couldn’t find them. The “Street” was only a few blocks away, but people were only allowed on the north sidewalk. Barricades had been erected, there was a significant police presence, alongside security guards.

I asked one of the guards, was this usual. No, there is always security he told me, but not the barricades. The actual street being closed off, just so demonstrators could be more easily dispersed, all in view of a fantastic statue of George Washington, was not just creepy, but a sign of fear. They made this block a mini-police state. They have lost. Impenetrable, of course but the threat is not one of attack, or even disruption, but questioning what are the basic values supporting the system.

I came back to Liberty Park; Cornel West was standing next to Ted, holding his sign.

Susan Sarandon was by, I was told. Tomorrow would be a big march, a walk out at CUNY, unions joining in. I didn’t think they would be here two weeks. I’ve been curious about the event since I’ve heard about it, and I came down here because it was a nice day, I had some free time and figured it would be a good blog.

The cops maced – uhh, I mean Pepper Sprayed – some kids when they tried to march to Union Square. That caught my attention and I felt I should show some support. What I didn’t anticipate how likeable it all was. Go down there and hang out, these are nice folks. Across the street were dozens of cops, they looked like they were starting a shift. It’s obvious the police have over reacted, there were some startling reports of pepper sprays, arrests and alleged police brutality.

The NYPD has a lousy track record with crowd control. This mayor and the last one hated protests or any public assembly that was not a sanctioned campaign rally. The right to freely assemble is not a right they acknowledge. They way police under Bloomberg’s order suppressed protests during the disgraceful 2004 Republican Convention at Madison Square Garden was appalling.

The cops looked sad down by the park. They’ve been over reacting and in their working class hearts, they know these kids are right. This is not a rowdy bunch and their issue is one we all share. The New York Police are part of one of the best, and strongest unions in the nation and they undermine their achievements, and rights as workers when they suppress the rights of these demonstrators. These kids are not troublemakers or disrespectful or anti-American. They are America, and from what I could see, most of them seemed like the young adults you want your kids to grow up to be. Most cops do not want to be brutes or thugs and if Mayor Bloomberg forcibly removes these demonstrators that will be the role they will be ordered to play. The police will not be enforcers of peace and stability, they will be storm troopers enabling the rich and powerful to oppress the citizens and the rule of law they’ve sworn to protect, in essence they will become the opposite of why they became police and why they joined a union to ensure their rights as workers. Well, if you want an easy job with easy decisions to make, don’t become a cop.

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Who knows how this will go, what impact it will make. The demonstrators said that solidarity was being shown in similar demonstrations across the country. Not only does this appear to be well organized, it is also smart, intelligent. It seems more about engaging and addressing issues than justifying mere ideological positions. We are at a turning point in history this may be moment it began to turn. I felt strange after I left the Park and realized what was strange. I felt optimistic. It was not a new feeling, but I can’t remember when the last time was that I felt it.

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