Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17th: conversations with the 1%, what next?

Awoke at 5 am. Rode along the Hudson, waking up in the pre-dawn, fast but groggy. I was headed to Zuccotti,  to be a bike scout for today's blockading of the Wall Street entrances. I was vaguely aware of what that entailed, imagining I would be reporting on the movements of cops and the construction of police baracades. The short answer was there were cops everywhere, barricades everywhere. An army of police in the constructed DMZ around the financial district. I lean into a blue-helmeted cop. "you guys must get called in from everywhere! Is everywhere else on a skeleton staff?" He grins. "40000 of us in New York." if you've had occasion to be wary of standing armies specifically or authority in general, that's a pretty terrifying thought. The cops outnumbered protesters easily 3 to 1. I felt like asking them what they were protesting, but remembered my ostensible position was to be discreet, and thought better of it. 

I watched a small number of people congregate near the park, feeling disoriented. I couldn't tell what the plan was, where this group was headed, or how i could help them. I stood around with a few friends, a rising urgency in my stomach. Had i once again signed up for what sounded like a fun job but was in fact edging me our of other effective action? The crowd began to rumble,  I stared to bike. 

I soon realized that my group was just one of 5 or 6, all swelling and congregating around the many entrances to the stock exchange. I lost my trepidation and, calling back to coordinate with the central group conference call, began informing the crowds. 

I would witness a paddywagon unload, a column of police march in, a group lose morale. In response I would floor it, dodging and swerving the stalled traffic, and roll up to another group. "mic check! Mic check! Bike report!" and in that fascinating passage from self to group, my words would be roared back to me in the people's microphone. The effect is thrilling and immediately humbling, I was compelled to keep my updates as factual as possible. People reacted, or didn't, but the fact alone that for brief moments a mass of people are able to act as one is a tremendously empowering thing. The lines of communication were open. 

I witnessed some arrests, some beatings, some notable quips and street conversations. I was shoved aside by a cop mid-message for being in the street, and the crowd howled, supporting me.  A young woman in business attire and I exchanged smiles. "Sorry, I work here, but I support what you guys are doing." "you aren't the enemy" I reply, obviously. "the thing we're fighting is a broken system, corruption, not people. We're FOR people."

Later, once my work feels done, I post up by a police barricade and watch wall street workers get upset at the heavy-handed and arbitrary treatment they receive in the hands of the cops. "This is an Exit only!" shouts an officer, much like a child when, having freshly made his own rules, he clings to them with unbreakable resolve. I felt like pointing out to the well-dressed men with thinning (yet *perfect*) hair the similarities between their situation and the everyday experience of palestinians or anyone else trapped the the mechanism of authoritarian bureaucracy, but I thought the point might be a little graceless under the circumstance. So instead I watched, and listened, to power argue with power. One elegantly dressed businessman was shunted out the exit, roughly.  "why are you shoving me, officer?" he held a neon green sign. It read, "Get a Job."

I had a chance to talk to this fellow a little later, after I heard him rant on camera about mismanaged government spending and rampant free marketeering being the root ills of society. He sounded like an OWS protester, but he couldn't have been angrier with them. "these assholes are just lying around a park, when the problem is policy in Washington!" He went on to say the group could be sending mass calls to representatives and frying their phone systems. He had a point. I argued diversity of tactics, and suggested her get involved in a working group through NYCGA. He wasn't interested. 

Later, from the other end of the spectrum, I was shouted at by a carpenter for suggesting that there was merit behind protesting a broken system. His argument also centered around the whole 'these bums should go get a job' tack. "I worked 3 jobs out college! I had 3 kids! These freaks just wanna do drugs!" We yelled at each other for a while and that was nice, but after drawing sone other bystanders into the conversation we were suddenly on better terms. He didn't think a single person under 30 would work hard with their hands. I assured him there were competent engineers and carpenters living in that park. He brought up a good point, within a limit: what people needed to do was work, hard, at whatever came their way, and be grateful for it. What evolved was a larger conversation on the lines we draw regarding personal needs and personal values. He saw the contradiction in hating that the US was losing jobs overseas and personally investing in an outsourcing company like Sysco (cisco? I'm too lazy to fact check on my phone), but he ultimately shrugged off the moral burden in favor of having a retirement. I, on the other hand, wasn't going to cede that getting a job at walmart was a solution, because of the systemically awful things they perpetuate societally and environmentally. Thus we talked, and I almost asked him to give me a job, until I quietly stepped back and reminded myself that I didn't come to New York to do construction. Thus passed another morning in the struggle. 

What both of these men were evidencing and getting close to articulating was the root problem the movement is facing: how do we stop whining, pointing, and counter-whining? How do we best take these core issues and work on changes to them? Through protest occupations around the world? Through intervention in political policy? Through education? Through burning the fucker down and starting over? 

The suit-and-tie's right: we need to move from protests to influencing policy, the carpenter's right: we need to learn the value of hard work, with your hands, and the protesters are right: we need some attention on these issues, and the whole thing's a mess. 

Diversity of tactics. Get in however you see fit, and get to work. 


Jenn said...

I have yet to hear it put better. Thank you.

mczachy said...


A well written contemporary expose. You have a bright future as a writer based on your grit. The voices of this cause unfortunately I feel are holding little political clout currently, Visa vie The implementation of gregarious strong arm tactics. I would love to hear more personal stories about specific individuals and their motivations to support this cause, as well as documented grievances. I'm all in favor for civil law suites to gain reparations for the violence, inflicted on Innocent citizens exercising solidarity and civil disobedience based on the freedom of speech and expression.

Best Regards, Zach Smith.

Davey D said...

Thanks Jenn, Zach,
Zach, in regards to personal stories, have you seen this Tumblr?:

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