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Sunday, October 9, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: An Overview

I spent Saturday at Zuccotti Park and Washington Square in Manhattan trying to get a feel for the Occupy Wall Street movement. For the past few weeks I've been a digital observer of the protests, knowing only what the MSM and Twitterati have told me through their collective filters. 
Zuccotti Park
Over the next few days I'll be posting  interview highlights and more of what I learned. It's a massive amount of content so it will take a while to edit it all down. I'll also be posting some things I learned about the messaging failure of Libertarians and the Tea Party, which if not corrected will spell doom for both.

Protest and discontent gave birth to America and what I saw yesterday was America at its best. This is no different than the Tea Party rallies last year. In fact, in many, many aspects, both sides are more similar than either would like to believe.

But before I get too far ahead of myself, here's a synopsis:
  • I interviewed 31 people, spoke with another dozen or so and took 172 photographs and 5 videos
  • Zuccotti Park is a small piece of green in Lower Manhattan, maybe 3/4 of a block in size (blocks in that area of Manhattan were laid out in Colonial times and are quite small)
  • There were maybe 900 - 1000 people there with an unknowable percentage of that number being tourists, gawkers and Reality-based Libertarian bloggers
  • At Washington Square there were maybe 1500 people with a fair number of tourists and neighborhood folks who were just spending a day in the park enjoying the extra entertainment 
Washington Square, looking south toward
the rising Freedom Tower
I spoke with one person -- a middle-aged hard-core New Yawkah who was originally from Italy and had a pierced nose and a ring in dat little knob of cartilage you got in front of you ear hole -- who was just plain ignorant and aggressive. When I finally ended our interview he laughed and said "typical of people like you" referring to the fact that he assumed he had "won" our interview. In a not-so-rare instance of unbridled smart-assedness I just said "I'm not moving on because you beat me, its because you bore me." Maybe I'm not so objective after all.

There was also one crazy middle-aged conspiracy guy who wouldn't stop talking, but if you hang out in Manhattan long enough, or for three minutes, whichever comes first, you're gonna get that.

Other than those two -- and this is important to note -- every  other person I spoke with was polite, easy to speak with, calm and open to discussion. I didn't feel threatened or out-of-place once. Well, maybe once, but that was when I asked a union guy across the street a question. The perception I got from the MSM and Twitterati of what was going on was pretty much the opposite of what my own lying eyes and ears saw and heard.

People who were angry at the government marginally outweighed the people who were solely against "corporations." There were morons in the crowd, and I did catch the occasional smell of pot, but then again, it was a Saturday afternoon in Manhattan.
Who doesn't?

If you put enough people together, whether it's an Occupy Wall Street protest, a Tea Party protest, Thanksgiving with the family or the weekly office status meeting, you're going to encounter morons, dolts, people who drink too much, or people who talk too much. There's no cure for stupid. But the morons were still a tiny fraction of the people who were there. "Dirty hippies" were also under-represented. Here's a cross-section of the people I either spoke with or observed:
  • A white female college student from Columbia university who was there for the day and then back to her uptown apartment to bake a cake for her dad's birthday
  • A black male college student from New Jersey who spoke at length about the Federal Reserve
  • A white 65 year-old retired UAW autoworker from Binghamton, NY
  • A black female 30-ish Wall Street looking person who lived downtown and thought the protests had something to do with "bringing the troops home" but otherwise had no idea why "all of these people are here"
  • A white 40-ish IBEW electrician from Colorado who really liked to talk and who had come east looking for work
  • A white frat boy from Rutgers who was handing out the Occupied Wall Street newspaper. He didn't know anything about its origins or what was in it, he just knew "some dude asked me if I wanted to volunteer and he gave me a bunch of these [papers]." He said he had come "to check it all out"
  • A white 30-ish mom who I overheard telling her 3-ish daughter "they have taken over our park" (Washington Square) but then got very defensive and insulted when I asked her what she thought of the protesters
  • A 20-ish Hispanic union laborer at a site across Broadway from Zuccotti who looked at me like he wanted to hurt me very badly or possibly kill me and then answered my question by saying "they don't bother me." He then just stared at me as he twirled his toothpick around with his tongue
  • A young female college student from Jordan who asked more questions about Capitalism and Libertarianism than I was prepared to answer
  • A 20-ish white guy from New Jersey who kept trying to hit on the above-mentioned college student 
  • A 30-ish white Tea Party activist who came to engage in conversation and possibly "see some fights like [he] saw on television"
  • A 30-ish white female mom of three with a nose-ring from Allentown, PA, who was concerned about her children's future and who laid the blame squarely at the feet of the Federal Reserve
  • A doctor from Manhattan
  • Two white twenty-somethings who were living on a "commune" in Poughkeepsie which really turned out to be a garage that was owned by a family member or friend or something. They didn't really want to say
  • A 60-ish Catholic priest who asserted that there was no viable political system and that maybe after the too big to fail government collapsed under its own weight a new system of cooperation and understanding would emerge
  • A 21-year-old farmer from Grafton, NH, who told me "Libertarians are trying to take over the government" 
I was expecting to see a bunch of white kids with dreads. I was expecting the place to be filthy. I was expecting to get shouted down when I told people I was interviewing them for a libertarian blog. I saw every conceivable type of person, the place was clean and orderly (in fact, I didn't smell urine -- which the MSM told me the place was being over-run with -- until I got back to the parking garage in Hoboken, but that's just the way the stairwells at the River Street garages have smelled for the 25 years I have been parking in them).

Clowns always disturb me. I have a hard time
feeling sorry for any healthy American adult,
yet an overhaul of the system is needed to
open opportunity back up again.

I saw one anti-Boehner sign that painted Boehner as a killer of something or other and one anti-Reagan sign that claimed Ron had some homosexual tendencies. In both cases I couldn't decipher the actual meaning and then I remembered my philosophy on morons.

I didn't hear the word "Obama" once, nor did I hear the word "Bush." I didn't hear or see the word "Democrat" once, but I did see one or two signs telling Republicans they are horrible. In spite of what some in the Tea Party would have you believe, I did see American flags there -- plenty of them. I spoke with a lot of people who are misinformed and unaware of the things Libertarians and the Tea Party believe in, but with the exception of the old-dude with the pierced ear-knob thingy, I did not speak with or encounter a single person who hated this country.

What I saw happening yesterday is not what I was told I would see happening. I didn't agree with everything I heard, and some of what I heard was bothersome, but none of it scared me. With a little dialogue to help bridge the gap, most people are not as distant from each other as we are being led to believe we are.

All photographs Copyright 2011 E.L. Sharkey

1 comment:

Donna said...

Thanks Jack, nice to hear that things and people are not as CRAZY as the hysterical media would like both sides to believe. After Wall Street, perhaps they could occupy some of the press rooms?