Wednesday, October 05, 2011

I am participating in the march today in support of Occupy Wall Street.
I have visited Liberty Plaza twice while the protestors have been there. The first time was on September 20, a weekday morning when it was raining. I didn't know where they were and I walked on Wall Street and around the NYSE. There were temporary police fences everywhere, on all the sidewalks, to limit where you can walk, and probably make marches impossible, and there were a lot of cops. I didn't see any protestors on Wall Street itself, which is a highly secured area all the time,especially in the past ten years. I walked up Broadway a couple of blocks past Trinity Church to the park that has the tall, orange Mark de Suvero sculpture. I finally saw the activists standing in a huddle together under plastic sheets chanting and apparently having a meeting, or listening to someone make a speech or lead a pep rally. I wasn't really expecting to see a tent city like from the 30s, but this looked humorous and sad, and not at all like a promising beginning of a grassroots pro-democracy movement to challenge the Corporate State. There were some people holding signs on the sidewalk. I had an impression was that there were crunchies and crusties about, but I didn't really investigate. The protestors were outnumbered by the police. I walked up to Vesey and had breakfast at the Stage Door Deli. I was surprised they remembered me there. The guy who took my order berated me for saying "scrambled eggs with bacon and potatoes and toast." I had forgotten the protocol. "You're supposed to say, 'scrambled eggs all the way.'"
I worked at the Borders bookstore between Pine and Wall Street until I was laid off in 2009 in one of their first rounds of dumping supervisors and managers to delay the inevitable bankruptcy of that badly managed company. I was still working there during the crash of 2008 and I wrote a satirical poem called The Financial 911 Was An Inside Job I also worked at the Borders at 5 World Trade Center, across the street from Stage Door, until the attacks. I was the opening manager that morning and was responsible, with another manager and a security guard, for evacuating the store. I wrote about that also: I often ate breakfast at Stage Door and often ate lunch in Liberty Park Plaza, before its name was changed to that of the CEO of the real estate company that owns the park. There were food carts there, and one in particular (Sam?) that had the best falafels. Except for a couple of miserable years at the Park Avenue store, I worked at Borders in Lower Manhattan for the greater part of what I call the Zero Decade and that neighborhood feels like home.
After breakfast I stopped at J&R Music and bought The Byrds Younger Than Yesterday, because lately I've been listening to 1967 psychedelic music. Sometimes I vary my listening and put on something from 66 or 68. Clearly I carry much interest and fondness for that decade, and look for something in that time that could be useful to a country whose soul has been trapped in a hole at Ground Zero, buried under the debris of the financial crash engineered by the lords of Wall Street. Clearly I wished for a movement something like the Arab Spring, or something like Paris in May 68, or even a slight shift toward a rational and just economic policy. Clearly I wanted to feel younger than yesterday. Occupy Wall Street seemed to have dwindled down to that group standing in the rain. Maybe more commute from the outer boroughs and Jersey when there is to be a confrontation with the police.
Maybe it was pretty much over.
I went down again Friday, the 30th. It was a much nicer day and I wanted to go in the afternoon and see what was happening. Then I read on Twitter a rumor that Radiohead was going to be there and play at 4:30. I thought that was unlikely, but I knew the rumor would guarantee a crowd. I took my camera: There certainly was more people than my last visit. Zuccotti Park was packed. I walked past the sign holders facing Broadway and around to the south side of the park and then into the multitude. It was obvious that Radiohead or anyone else was not going to be playing because there was no sound system. No microphone, no PA. There was a part of the crowd that was more densely packed and where collective attention was directed to some activity that I couldn't see. I never did get into the center of the knot of people that seemed to be the source of occasional messages that were shouted. I couldn't hear very well what was shouted, but people closer to the source passed it on by shouting it again, and people farther away repeated the shout. This must be the group shouting I took for chanting when I first visited. I always hate chanting at protest marches. The one exception was in Cleveland when we chanted "Bullshit!" to Reagan when he was campaigning for re-election. This wasn't really like chanting slogans. They were repeating a longer message, phrase by phrase, shouting each phrase to pass it on. I still misunderstood and took this for a kind of indoctrination practice, that "they" were teaching the doctrine of the movement. People around me were repeating the phrases and I thought, I can't do this. What if the next phrase is "Get the Jews" or "Kill the infidels" or "Ron Paul For President?" But some of these messages were not political statements but simple instructions to "Move back", because they were getting crushed by the crowd pressing in, or "Sit down." I later read that this was how they ran their General Assemblies, and carried on group discussions and made collective decisions. I ran into Adam, a former co-worker from the Wall Street store, and now also jobless. He had hoped to see Radiohead, but heard it was a hoax. We decided to hang out together and look around. It was unlike any demonstration I'd ever been to. Whatever was going on in that place that issued the messages, there didn't seem to be any leadership or program. The Radiohead rumor had motivated many, like Adam, who already were curious about the movement, to get downtown and see what was going on. I began to worry about it getting as crowded as a Yankees parade. Those crowds are scary. It seemed like it would grow bigger and bigger into the evening. It also seemed like no one knew what would happen, and that anything could happen. There were a couple of drum circles, a guy playing a saxophone,and the woman with the sign that read, "I said LISTEN, not LOOK." She was naked and mute. There were other geezers my age and older, but it was mostly young, but a variety of youth. Yuppie and hippie and worker. The excitement rose when a black man with a megaphone and a message arrived leading a coalition of the Transit Workers Union. "We are here with you! We are here for you!" Well good, I thought. Its the least they could do after we walked to work every day of their last strike. I thought they were going to take control and organize the crowd, but that didn't happen. I walked around Liberty Park (forget Zuccotti) and was sure this was the real thing, much more than rain-soaked hippies and activists. This is the populist movement the Tea Party claimed to be. Something is happening, a movement is starting right here, and no one knows what its going to be. After a little over an hour there it was time to go home and make supper.
I wasn't there for the Brooklyn Bridge march and the mass arrest of over 700 people who had transgressed into lanes meant for machines. I have been in a few big demonstrations in New York and have seen how efficiently the NYPD herds crowds away from some places and into others. I have little doubt that they could have kept these people out of the car lanes. But, if it was unnecessary, it seemed dumb, because the arrests would draw media attention and probably attract greater numbers. Sure enough, the mainstream media have started covering it.
We'll see about today's march. MoveOn is joining, and more unions will add their ranks. I just heard the NYU faculty have signed their support. The movement is now occupying other cities and the message has become viral in the global village. The message, despite what you have been told, is simple, its for a democratic America and against the Corporate State. Maybe this movement will be manipulated or co-opted by the unions, or the Democrats, or the Libertarians, or the truthers or worse. I'm sure it will not be all we hope it will be, and it might be another one of those things we'll forget about by December. But it looks like a nice day for a walk downtown.



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