Occupy Wall Street

NEW YORK — One of the richest men in the world took a stroll
among the people of the protest group called Occupy Wall Street who were
encamped like Bedouins in the Lower Broadway park named after him. Not a
soul knew or guessed that John Zuccotti, 74, was that fellow meandering
anonymously along like everyone else.

A
young woman in her late twenties with long, wavy brown hair and the
fresh innocence of a Brown University graduate stood on the sidewalk
before a congregation of hundreds of people and as a “facilitator”
helped conduct a three-hour “General Assembly” in a style dubbed
“consensus democracy.”

A hand-lettered sign on a corrugated box flap proclaimed:

“There are no leaders here. Don’t ask for them. Get used to it!”

Reporters
sought in vain for authorized representatives to answer their
questions, and many groused about not finding any. Without leaders, they
grumped, who is there to question? Who presents the group’s talking
points and expresses cogent demands?

From
the handmade signs bobbing daily in a sea of humanity, interviews with
dozens of protesters and the ongoing public exchanges among the
thousands at Occupy Wall Street emerge the questions that are beginning
to resonate across America:

» Is
it fair for a tiny splinter of the population, allegedly just 1
percent, to own and control half or more of a nation’s wealth?

» Should
corporations be granted the privileges of “personhood,” via a Supreme
Court decision on campaign finance, when corporations don’t have a
conscience?

» Why have the world’s millionaires increased by almost nine percent since 2009?

» Why are bailed-out banks allowed to hoard their cash?

» Why can’t America eliminate the corrupting and destructive links between politicians and corporations?

The
thirst for answers appears to be gaining momentum. An Associated
Press-GfK poll released Friday says 37 percent of Americans back the
people gathered here. And 58 percent of Americans say they are furious
about America’s politicians.
A slender 27-year-old man, who calls himself Kwame, sat on a granite
slab beside a pale, plump, goat-bearded college professor and they mused
about the characteristics of the crowd.

For
one thing, roughly 99 percent of everyone within sight, no matter how
they are garbed, carries a smartphone. Except for a bronze statue of a
businessman hunched over his briefcase, neckties are scarce. Almost as
scarce are people of color.

Kwame,
who’s black, is working on his Ph.D. in music at Stanford University.
The question was raised, “Why is there just one percent black people
among the 99 percenters in the park?”

“Education,”
he said. “The higher their education level, the more likely anyone is
to be here. Blacks in New York are a shrinking minority and their
schools are not up to high standards. But as this goes on, there’ll be
more.”

There are
just about as many males as females. Many people claim to hold one or
more jobs and about two out of 10 say they can’t find one. People who
haven’t showered in far too long rub elbows with well-scrubbed travelers
from abroad. There are blue-dyed mohawks, a few hippie-ish longhairs,
tattoos of all colors, labor union workers, anarchists, musicians,
hundreds of blue tarpaulins, pillars of pizza boxes, plastic bottles of
water that cost more per quart than gasoline, and wave after wave of
curious tourists and “media” who invariably ask the question:

“Why are you all here and what do you want?”

The answer is both super-simple and ultra-complicated:

“Money.”

The
primary issue for almost every soul in the park — whatever their age,
spiritual faith, political leanings, skin shade, gender, ethnicity,
hierarchical rank, IQ level or social class — is an inquiry into what
money actually is, how money truly functions, what money is worth, how
money affects the way we are governed, how money is stolen and by whom,
how money affects the law, how to get money and how to spend it.

What
so fascinates people about the month-old iCreature called Occupy Wall
Street is that the Occupiers have brilliantly directed the searchlight
of world attention on the global subject of money. Almost everybody
cares about money. As Mark Twain put it, “Some men worship rank, some
worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, & over these
ideals they dispute & cannot unite — but they all worship money.”
n Zuccotti Park, the lefties, the righties, the middlies and the
politically perplexed have quite amazingly gathered to consider in a
unique 21st-century style the true role of money. In a wild and almost
weird collision of coincidences, Occupy has become the hottest ticket in
town.

The word “occupy” is now attached
to more than 1,000 cities (including Wilmington), states, nations and
locations globally. Plans are afoot for a massive, Internet-coordinated
“international” occupation of Central Park on the easy-to-remember date
of Friday, 11/11/11. A permit is required for large gatherings in the
city-owned park.

•°°

The
privately owned Zuccotti Park is named for a lively and thoughtful man
whose life story epitomizes the wildest American dreams of avarice.
Before becoming one of the world’s wealthiest real estate developers,
Zuccotti checked hats at a super-swanky 54th Street speakeasy with
zebra-striped decor called El Morocco, where his father, Angelo, was the
suave maitre d’.

Zuccotti
graduated from Princeton, earned his law degree at Yale and became one
of the 500 richest men in the world according to Forbes Magazine. He
served on both the National Republican Congressional Committee and with
Vice President Joe Biden’s 1988 presidential campaign. Zuccotti has paid
incognito visits to the park and friends say he was worried about the
disorder and mess, but he nonetheless smiled while strolling through the
plaza that carries his family name.

Then
there is an Estonia-born writer and documentary filmmaker named Kalle
Lasn, 69, the founder and editor of a popular Canadian magazine called
Adbusters, which probes and satirizes the ideas and consequences of
consumerism, an economic philosophy that Adbusters readers regard as
pernicious and fundamentally evil.

This
story began one day in a Vancouver supermarket. Lasn became infuriated
when he had to pay a quarter to rent a shopping cart. He jammed the coin
in the slot. It was his first act of vandalism against consumerism,
which he sees as an infernal machine that sucks coins from consumers’
pockets and seldom returns fair value. Adbusters soon became one of
Canada’s favorite magazines.
In July 2011, Lasn published an editorial in Adbusters (www.adbusters.org) that called on 20,000 people to “set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.”

With
what aim in mind? To investigate and eventually sever unscrupulous
links between politics and money and to force the government “to choose
publicly between the will of the people and the lucre of the
corporations.”

A
few dozen “activists” in New York City took note. On Sept. 17, a
Saturday, they showed up at the little–known, granite-paved Zuccotti
Park, about as big as a football field minus the end zones. It is two
blocks up Broadway from Trinity Church, at the top of Wall Street. It
is three blocks from the New York Stock Exchange and four blocks from
Federal Hall, the first capitol of the United States of America, where
George Washington was sworn in as the first president in 1789. Two
blocks to the west, the steel skeleton and glass skin of One World Trade
Center is built up to its 86th floor and will rise eventually to an
altitude of 1,776 feet above the ground on the spot where the North
Tower of the World Trade Center once stood.

Day
by day, that first encampment of vinyl tarps, overstuffed backpacks,
sleeping bags, umbrellas, guitars, drums, a seedy old sofa and
unspeakable mattresses began to grow like the gray matter in a brain
does, neuron by neuron, from person to person, from smartphone to
smartphone, from mind to mind, in a way that the iPeople have come to
call “going viral.”

By
last Monday, Oct. 17, the first month’s anniversary of Occupy Wall
Street’s un-immaculate birth, the “Occupus” had sprouted tentacles in
hundreds of cities around the globe and the number increased each day.
Boston, Baltimore, Washington, Chicago, Denver, Salt Lake City, San
Francisco and Los Angeles were “occupied” within a week or so. Within a
fortnight, the estimated numbers in marching crowds and occupied places
was greater on the West Coast than in the East, where Occupy began. Then
London, Rome and Barcelona joined in, and so on round the globe.
In the first few weeks, Occupy was paid scant attention by the media,
which is not surprising because New York City is awash in political
protests and this one seemed to many editors no more significant than
most. Then, on Oct. 6, Paul Krugman, the 2008 winner of the Nobel
Memorial Prize for economics and the “Liberal” op-ed columnist for the
New York Times, wrote:

“What can we say
about the [Occupy Wall Street] protests? First things first: The
protesters’ indictment of Wall Street as a destructive force,
economically and politically, is completely right.”

It
was the equivalent of a rave theater review. Occupy Wall Street
suddenly gained momentum. A squad of uniformed police was positioned
just outside the park, unthreatened and content on overtime pay. “We’re
minding the trust fund babies,” is how one policeman put it.

Now
the more mainstream media began to show up. Reporters immediately
noticed that there are no bathroom facilities in the park and personal
hygiene for the campers is rough. The McDonald’s across Broadway allows
restroom privileges for all (most visitors pay for the kindness by
buying at least a cup of coffee first). So do Trinity Church and an
Episcopal public meeting room called Charlotte’s Place that is decorated
with fresh flowers and offers sparkling-clean bathrooms, Wi-Fi and
tables for computers, and a free conference room where Occupy working
groups meet.

Because
social communication is what Occupy is actually all about, the biggest
obstacle the Occupiers overcame was the police ban on voice
amplification. To hold General Assembly meetings for hundreds of people
alongside the noisy bustle of Broadway without megaphonic help would
have been impossible without Mike Check! Mike is a superhero of Occupy,
which may be leaderless but is not without heroes.

Mike
Check! is the non-electronic human voice amplifier. It works very
simply, and is the primary means of vocal communication among the
participants in the evening plenary sessions, when hundreds of people
form a crescent of participants and onlookers on the Broadway side of
the park. For at least two hours each night, they discuss, decide and
take parliamentary decisions with all words sung full cry in a great
collective voice.
It works this way:

A person shouts: “Mike Check!”

Everyone
who can hear the shout yells back, “Mike Check!” and the crowd even
mimics the inflection and accent of the speaker’s voice.

The person shouts: “There’s a reporter from Coney Island …”

The crowd yells at the top of its voices: “There’s a reporter from Coney Island …”

The shouter: “who wants to interview somebody from Coney Island.”

The crowd: “who wants to interview somebody from Coney Island.”

Shouter: “So if …”

Crowd: “So if …”

Shouter: “you’re from Coney Island …”

Crowd: “you’re from Coney Island …”

Shouter: “Get over here.”

Crowd (laughing): “GET OVER HERE!”

Those
who know how to use Mike Check! best cut to the chase and talk in four-
or five-word bites. If a shouter uses overly long words or too-long
phrases, the crowd garbles them, which makes everything take longer.
Long-winded speakers are warned, “We get it … enough!” by a particular
hand signal from anyone in the crowd (circling hands around each other
like a football referee when he wants to keep the game clock moving).

Occupy
etiquette makes clear that no matter what the shouter says, or how
antithetical the words might be to local or personal beliefs, the crowd
is duty bound to echo the words at top volume.

The
Mike Check! system was born of adversity and is a concept that
fascinates group dynamics people. Mike Check! actually forces people to
listen carefully to what others say and perhaps apprehend precisely what
they are saying before interrupting with a response.

Another
hero of Zuccotti Park is the sanitation volunteer. There is a
cleanliness-is-next-to-godliness attitude among most of the Occupiers
(with a few swinish exceptions), necessary because littering is a
misdemeanor and could give authorities reason to kick everyone out on
public-safety grounds. On Oct. 14, Mayor Michael Bloomberg seemed about
to evict Occupy from the park to have it steam-washed by
“professionals.” But John Zuccotti’s company, the park’s owners, backed
away from asking for a confrontation that might besmirch the name of the
park and the property.
To keep the park clean, the volunteer sanitation squads patrol
incessantly with brooms and trash pans, and warn people to put down
tarps when they paint protest signs because spilling paint on the
granite can get a person arrested.

There
are numerous hand-drawn signs that proclaim, “DON’T DO DRUGS” and “NO
ALCOHOL.” At a General Assembly, one of the volunteer security detail
men holds up a black plastic sack. He shouts Mike Check! “There are
three bottles …

The crowd echoes: “There are three bottles …”

“… of liquor in the bag.”

“… of liquor in the bag”

“Alcohol will get us all thrown out!”

“Alcohol will get us all thrown out!”

“Don’t bring it!”

“Don’t bring it!”

By
day 34 on Friday, the Occupiers were revving up for yet another weekend
of chaotic protests and teach-ins. The nightly General Assemblies
carried on under their rules of consensual democracy and the “lack of
leadership” was being criticized by Bloomberg, who prefers to deal with
an organization that has a hierarchy and a chain of command.

Nobody
knows yet what Occupy will become. Will it get kicked out of the park?
Will it survive until Thanksgiving? Will it grow into an iCreature that
eats plutocrats for lunch? Will Kalle Lasn come to Manhattan to see what
he hath wrought? Will it end well, or end ugly? Millions worldwide are
tuned in to see.

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