I come here twice a week. The subway lets me off in the basement of The Bank in which I work, just East of Broadway. In the morning I leave the building, crossing the street – further East – for my morning coffee. Very rarely do I venture West, where Broadway is clogged with tourists; and the clamber of the WTC re-build is loud enough to drown out the sound of a thousand industrial air conditioning units.
The last few weeks I have noticed a difference here. The door to my building is barricaded, everyone being forced through a single aperture where security guards look as if they are meant to be doing something. The main, street-level plaza is closed off. The protests are a block away.
One day last week I heard them beating drums and chanting in the street, 10 floors down. I cheered from my standing desk. Occasionally, in the hall I would mention to one of my colleagues that we should all go down and join the protest. I was met with stone faces.
Today, I arrived here and the barricades around the building were gone. The plaza was open and the suits were wandering freely in and out of the airy double doors. I decided today was the day I would walk West – to the protest to see what was happening.
I was scared. Would hidden cameras capture my likeness for a blacklist database? Would the protesters take one look at my purple gingham, button-down shirt tucked into my chinos and throw apples at me? Would there even be a protester in sight when I arrived, or did I miss the boat?
Cool morning light reflected off the tops of the buildings which preclude direct contact with the sun down here. I noticed shapes first. Shapes of bright colored plastic. Tarps and sleeping bags and other bundles of stuff were more evident than people. Either the few people who were there had an inordinate amount of possessions, or else most had gone around the corner for a hot brekky. A half-row of young men stood on Broadway, beating drums and chanting incoherently, stopping regularly to count “one, two, three, four..” and then launch onto a few more beats of the drum. Across the sidewalk, a row of sleepy cops lingered, staring blankly through the curtain of passing pedestrians. I walked into the square.
Piles of tarps were tucked away. A foppish young man was brutally weeding a bed of pansies which looked as patchy like a mangy dog. He seemed intent on his work and self important. A pretty young lady slung garbage bags near a long table covered with bagels and pastries. She smiled. A cordoned off area with a generator hosted a circle of macbooks manned by bleary-but-intent-eyes scouring some sort of information. The sign read: “Press Only, Please”. A row of books in boxes had been set up with a cardboard sign reading: “Library”. The library was organized by subject, including a healthy fiction section. Each book had “Occupy Wall Street” written on the fore edge.
Down the square further a stretch of signage lay on the ground. All manner of slogans had been painted onto all manner of materials, set out in a chaotic array. On top of these signs a young woman with a Black Flag jacket had thrown a plastic bottle which her pit bull was violently shaking. The young woman trod on the signs casually, with her Timberland boots, as she went to playfully remove the bottle from the snarling, drooling dog’s mouth.
On another side of the square cops were lined up at a breakfast cart. Behind them sat a circle of young people. A man stood in the middle holding a microphone and speaking. The microphone didn’t seem to be working and even standing at close range I could barely make out his words over the ambient rumble of a thousand air conditioning units, the huge construction site across the street, and the robust morning traffic. Yet the circle stared at him, attentive. The little I heard of his speech was something like: “…it’s that one officer, that one employee that we can change, that we can reach…”. I wandered around a bit more. Past gutter punks snoozing while photographer snapped their photos, smart-looking kids absorbed in eager discussion, and another circle of young people who seemed to be sharing ideas in the round. I sat for a while a tried to lend my physical mass to the cause, whatever it might be.
Though it looked much more like St. Marks place in the 80s than Tahrir Square, Zuccotti Park on September 30th, 2011 is all we have. The various injustices and initiatives espoused on placards and pamphlets are all valid, and though we all recognize their validity, we are complacent. Here on the 10th floor of The Bank, we are well nourished by the poisoned nipple. Even as I rationalize that fact in my own way I support the Occupy Wall Street protest, recognizing that we all wrestle with an ideological dichotomy. There is no way to drop out. We are group animals, highly intelligent and highly organized. We have created a very sophisticated society which has many positive benefits but is still a work in progress.
I am proud of these young people in Zuccotti Park for representing an initiative which can only be espoused by individuals, and will never be backed by corporate dollars. Even if they are not sure why they are there, or simply have nowhere else to go, they are together and organized. Nothing more is required in order to spring forth a new movement. What that movement is, and what it will be are unanswerable questions. There is no way of predicting what society will produce next. As the Nile valley rice farmer of the bronze age was not working toward computer-assisted derivatives trading, the protesters in Zuccotti Park have no idea where this will go. But, I do hope it goes somewhere, if only to afford us all a chance to find out where!
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