I walked down to Occupied Wall Street the other day. Just strolled right on down from Chinatown. I wanted to see it for myself. Not hear about it from my hard left facebook friends, or settle for tepid media coverage. Especially coverage from men and women in business casual clothing talking about what all this means. Like they were even trying to understand it.
So I walked down to see it for myself.
The northeast is wonderful this time of year. This is truly the great season. When the fall gives you one of those bright clear days in October, you seize it. Far too often I watch through the glass of the office window, a passing mirage of sheer meteorological pleasure.
But when I walked down to Wall Street, I was firmly seizing the moment and the season. The weather was right and no further sense of professional responsibility was going to keep me in check.
First came the barricades. There were barricades everywhere. They were casually thrown up on sidewalks and in front of Dunkin’ Donuts. I was sure the heart of the political beast was around the corner, and felt a distinct twinge of fear as I imagined citizens with unchecked anger calling me out for merely passing through.
But I simply couldn’t find Liberty Plaza. So I took a corner near City Hall and there they were: at least two thousand people of all walks of life streaming across the Brooklyn Bridge.
They were clad in multicolored shirts and holding illuminated balloons. As they streamed across the bridge, dusk fell over Manhattan creating the most serene and majestic testament to peace and human unity.
I got closer. This truly was a middle class movement. Here were the ninety-nine percent in action: families, the elderly, school children. All were here.
Then I noticed something odd. They were being ushered across the street by volunteers in blue t-shirts with the words Barclay’s Capital plastered on the backs. The balloons too were branded. This wasn’t Occupy Wall Street. This was a walk for Leukemia! And god damn it was beautiful .
I pushed through the hordes of cancer protesters to get further south. There were dejected looking Wesleyan students coming against me. In there hands were hand-painted signs. Surely the protest was nigh!
On my right, the 9/11 memorial opened up. Goodness why has no one in the news thought it fit to mention how close the protests are to Ground Zero?! Perhaps that’s just a political nightmare waiting to unfurl. Perhaps it’s simply that in New York, everything is next to something else significant and historic.
The occupation was dark and feral. There were cops everywhere around the narrow park. But inside, the benches and fountains had been totally re-invented. It was what political theorist Hakim Bey once called a Temporary Autonomous Zone. Though the park is flanked by police and office buildings of banking firms, these people in the heart of Liberty Plaza believe they are a part of something new and different: they believe they are in the bosom of a new democracy.
Signs littered the pavement. You could comb through to pick the message you believed it and hoist it up for the world to see. That’s been the supposed problem with these protests: no unified message. But standing there with the signs before me, I felt that democracy does indeed work best when it looks like this. A hundred people willing to stand for something they believe in, or at least, listen to someone else who does.
This post was originally published in the Newport Mercury as a part of my ongoing column “Every 7 Seconds”