Having completed some business in lower Manhattan, transacted prior to the epic nor’easter which was bearing down on the city, I decided to look for a bite to eat before I left. I saw the sign I was looking for but there was one problem – it just didn’t seem like my kind of establishment. It marked the kitchen area for the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Besides, as a protest against those who were taking advantage of their hospitality and free food, the kitchen staff was serving only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The irony was completely lost on them, but I am getting a bit ahead of myself.
I had been by Zucotti Park before, but I have never really noticed it. It is about 2/3 of a block wide and a block long, the long part sloping slightly downhill from Broadway to Church Street. Mostly a granite plaza with trees, it’s nice enough – or was nice enough. The sidewalk in front of the encampment is now crowded with onlookers who slow to gawk at the scene, and a fair number of police officers who insist that they move along. The park and encampment are open – no barricades or obstructions – so I took the opportunity to embark on a self-guided tour. At that moment it occurred to me that I might be one of a very few people in the country that had attended both a Tea Party rally and the Occupy Wall Street spectacle.
The front part of the park has become the Legal Aid / Kitchen / Media area, along with what could best be described as various…ummm….”rustic” booths at some sort of leftist trade show. Milling around this area are the protesters, some carrying homemade signs with their grievances listed (WAAAAY too many words on most of them, in smallish print, getting more bizarre as I read, until I lost interest), and media types, clogging up traffic lanes by interviewing everyone who could put two sentences together. I calculated about a one to one ratio of protesters to media types and visitors like me. The area was fairly orderly and calm, with the air of some sort of field headquarters or disaster relief station. I was very disappointed that there were no drums, and wrote that off as either the result of the percussion instrument vandalism I had read about, or an homage to the people who actually do occupy Wall Street – the residents.
The lower part of the park – roughly the last 3/5 of the total area – consists of the living area of the protesters, which meant tents packed in right next to each other, bags of garbage and wet clothes, a faint but foul odor, and a few people on the perimeter who seemed to be either insane, on meth, or both. I took note of the situation, and backed away. Tuberculosis and used needles were not on my agenda for the day.
As I made my way back through the trade show area, some impressions began to form. First, I really didn’t have any sort of revulsion for the people there. It really didn’t look much different from any average college campus – earnest young people out to save the world, without the slightest bit of experience to guide them or any awareness of the world outside of that which had been described to them by their professors. There were other people who I felt genuinely sad for – people who believed with all their heart that they had something important to say, and could not for the life of them figure out why no one would listen. This was a place that made them all feel that they were doing something important, in spite of the fact that they weren’t. These people were the basic rank-and-file – the vast majority of the group.
Toward the front of the park, there were a few retread hippies who rolled in for one last hurrah and used their experience and attire to grab most of the interviews. There were three or four very angry people next to the sidewalk, screaming the names of everyone on Wall Street who they thought should be in jail. There was a small group of people who were clearly leaders and organizers, speaking with media and wringing every bit of publicity they could out of the situation. These were the people running the show, dealing out the cash, and taking orders from Soros.
In short, it was exactly what I expected. It was as boring as it could be.
As far as a movement or a force of change, Occupy Wall Street simply isn’t. It is a disjointed and fragmented effort, with no real agenda or policy position, three hundred people with three hundred issues stuck in the political netherworld of being looked at as either complete idiots or useful idiots, leaving everyone who comes in contact with it wondering what the point is and what the fuss is about.
As I left, a woman held up a sign that said “Next Step – General Strike”. I passed her, then paused. I turned to ask her the question that immediately popped into my head – if you don’t have a job, how can you go on strike? I thought better of it, since I really did need something to eat before I went to the airport, and time was growing short. I turned back just in time to see one of New York’s finest in the middle of a huge yawn. We smiled at each other and I went on my way, thinking that was the perfect reaction to what was taking place at the park.