Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Occupied Wall Street (Part Three): The Notary, the Suit, and the Trader

A short time after I finding the giant dry-erase board with the minutes and  issues from meetings of the General Assembly, I came upon a curious sight. A woman sitting on the ground underneath a tree, behind a small table she had set up. Above her, a sign which read "Public Notary." A handful of clipboards and a stack of forms sat beside her. Wondering what it was she had set up, I decided to ask if she'd be open to an interview. She agreed, as long as I filled out one of her forms - the purpose of which she was about to explain - in exchange.

Me: Could I have your name again?

Caren: My name is Caren Dashow, otherwise known as Yesiree, the public notary.

Me: And how long have you been here at Occupied Wall Street?

Caren: I've been coming down every few days. I just started doing this the other day.

Me: Now "this" is - you're sitting under a sign that says "Public Notary" and you've got these manifestation forms here. Could you tell me what it is you're doing here specifically?

Caren: I am asking people to write down their visions for the future, and then I will notarize them - and they have to show proper identification - and the idea is to get a legal manifestation, a compilation that can be a document, and that could be used in different ways. It could be used as a document for the Library of Congress, it could be used by the General Assembly, however it is that we want to do this, but it's a good way to - kind of like what you're doing - to get a smattering of what different people think, what is our vision, what it is we want as opposed to what it is we don't want.

Me: Now, the message that I've been getting from the outside media sources covering the event is that this is . . . unorganized, it's divisive, it's . . . Americans against Americans, class warfare gets thrown around a lot. What's your impression of the attitude here (unrelated cheers in the background) besides the obvious brotherhood happening behind us?

Caren: Okay, well I think the disorganization is the strongest part. I think this is beautiful that for three weeks these people have been negotiating and figuring out ways that they want their future to be, you know? And . . . and the world is changing, and this is a big say in the way people want the world to change.

Me: What would make - you say you've been coming here about three weeks -

Caren: Yeah, off and on, not the entire time. I'd come when I could and I was trying to figure out what I could do to help this, and I thought "well, what I don't see is, not just a list of demands, but, I want to be able to see what it is people really want." So, this was a way to individually get voices to figure out what it is people want, and then I could do that, but also, as you're saying, to get that out, get that information out.

Me: Well thank you very much Caren, and I guess I'll fill one of these out now.

And I did, and she notarized and recorded my statement. It might even be up at one day.

After almost two hours of wandering around Occupied Wall Street I had yet to even really scratch the surface of the amount of diversity present in my interviews. The ways people had found to coexist peacefully and productively in the throng of humanity was nothing short of remarkable. I found myself at what sounded like a drum circle from a distance, but turned out to be just a handful of individuals banging away constantly to the cheers of onlookers and the consistent outbursts of pro-Occupation chants.

What I noticed a lot of as I made a lap around the park was the number of people with recording equipment. Voice recorders, camcorders, video phones, television cameras and sound equipment; there was no shortage of people going in amongst the people and trying to hear what they were saying and get the message out. It's a wonder to me I haven't heard more of the voices of the people in the mainstream media, because there is a wealth of recordings which must exist if what I saw was any indication. If you're looking for coverage of why the people are doing what they're doing, what they're saying about their reasons for being there, what it is they want, simply go to the scores of people - some, I'm sure, amateur reporters, others perhaps more like me, curious as to what people will say and wanting to spread their words to the outside - who have been covering the Occupation and posting their results on blogs, twitter, or YouTube. The age when the media could black out an event is over. The people can be their own media now.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Occupied Wall Street (Part Two): The Gospel of Reverend Billy

After my talk with Jacob I spent some more time going through the camp, but it wasn't long before my attention was taken by a figure in a white sports jacket, white dress pants, white collar and black shirt. He sported a mass of bleach-blond hair atop his head which waved back and forth rhythmically as he called to the audience gathered around him. Cameras were on him. A crowd had formed quickly. Every few words of his spirited sermon, he would pause, and just as they did when someone was making an announcement, the crowd would repeat everything he had just said loud enough for everyone outside the circle to hear.

He was passionate in every word, and spoke with a voice that infused the crowd with energy. This was my encounter with Reverend Billy of the Anti-Consumerist Church, and this is what he had to say. Ellipses added wherever the crowd shouted back what he was saying.

"To my daughter Lina . . . back in Brooklyn . . . Amen!

I'm Reverend Billy . . . from the Stop-Shopping Church (applause, cheers). I've been talking to . . . sooooome people! Arooound New York . . . and arooound the world. And some of them . . . laugh, and loath this thing we're doing.

And some of them . . . they go "ohhhhhhhh . . . I don't know!"
"Ohhhh . . .how is that gonna work?"
"Ohhhhhhhh . . . it's kinda . . vague!"
"What are the . . . specific demands?!"
"What do they WANT?"
And I say . . . the answer is . . . to occupy Wall Street!"

Let me share with you . . . what I believe . . . and the people in my Anti-Consumerist Church believe . . . that occupying Wall Street . . . could not be more specific!

(Extended cheers)

Living here . . . living here on this square . . . exercising the freedoms . . . of the First Amendment . . . Speech! Worship! Press! Peaceable gathering! And protest! The First Amendment . . . has not been in public space . . . in New York City . . . since 9/11!

We have it here now.

(Cheers, applause)

We are living in the First Amendment! It is a part of the occupation . . . speaking and singing . . . feeding and making media . . . and being surprised by people. People arriving from everywhere . . . for a thousand different reasons . . . is completely specific.


I'm losing my voice . . . but you have many voices.

Those freedoms . . . Americans have died for . . . and now we . . . are living those freedoms.

And this force . . . will cross that sidewalk . . . and go up that escalator . . . and walk into the corner office . . . where they keep those financial formulae . . . that victimize us . . . our living . . . will dismantle . . . their mathematics.

Thank you, people."

I kept getting hung up on his emphasis on what about the protest was, in his words, completely specific. Thousands of people from thousands of places coming for thousands of different reasons, all because they heard of the Occupy Wall Street movement and said "yes, the thing I am concerned about directly relates to that. This is where I need to go."

And the Reverend was right. That is very specific.

Occupied Wall Street (Part One)

The last 21 days have seen the birth and growth of a movement which has come to be known as Occupy Wall Street. Thousands of protestors from around the country have gathered in the nerve center of America's financial institutions to protest . . . well, that's the question, isn't it?

I have heard a lot in recent weeks about what the protestors stand for, or don't stand for. I've heard them called a mob, heard them called divisive and un-American, heard that they're instigating class warfare. I've even heard from potential Presidential candidate Herman Cain that they're just jealous. The country's largest news organization, on the front page of its website today, lent two stories to the protests; one about how they're dirtying up the park, and another criticizing their criticism of banking based on frozen donation funds. On the other side of things, people have extolled to me the virtue of what's happening, that this kind of revolution taking place is exactly what the country needs. People are angry at Wall Street and the way business has been done in this country, the disproportionate wealth, the unfair and unscrupulous business practices, the influence of corporate money in our politics, and more.

What I've been told more than anything though, from people who both support and detract from the movement, is that the movement has no direction, no cohesion, that it's disorganized and rudderless, and without a specific message, they're not going to get anywhere. It's great (or terrible) that they're there, but they won't accomplish anything until they propose some solutions or list some demands. Without that, they're just a bunch of angry college kids.

So I decided I'd heard quite enough from people outside of the occupation about what was happening within it. Today, I went into Occupied Wall Street to bring the message from the people there out to rest of the world. These are some of those messages.

It is October 7th of 2011 and I am on my way to Wall Street to find out exactly what the protestors there want from the financial institutions of America. At 3:50 PM, I enter the occupation and look around for people to talk to. After some time spent just getting my bearings in the camp staked out at Zuccoti Park, I came across a pair holding up two particularly well-made signs. As you might imagine, the protest area is awash in cardboard and posterboard, rampant with slogans ranging from scathing to humorous, along with a solid mixture of both. This pair, however, were holding up two professionally-made banners which caught my eye. That's what prompted me to approach Troy, a twenty-something Occupier and, I found out, the maker of the signs.

Me: Hi, would you mind saying your name?

Troy: My name is Troy Kreiner.

Me: Troy, how are you doing today?

Troy: Doing well, how are you?

Me: Good. So what brings you to Wall Street? To Occupied Wall Street, specifically.

Troy: To ask questions. And to help hand out statements from the General Assembly's declaration, which is like the one I'm holding above me and the one my friend is holding next to me. I came here last week, I noticed a lot of people voicing their concern of not understanding why people are here, and saying "well, it's all unorganized," and, uh, I wanted to, you know, make some signs for people that they could define themselves with, something that they could gravitate towards, so they could have something that they'd want to associate with. So, I've been handing out some of these signs, and this one associates with myself, and the one next to me probably associates with other people as well.

Me: Now, I don't have a camera, so do you mind if I just read what your sign says? (He answers no). The sign Troy is holding says They Have Held Students Hostage With Tens of Thousands of Dollars of Debt on Education Which is Itself A Human Right and the sign next to him says They Have Poisoned the Food Supply Through Negligence and Undermined the Farming System Through Monopolization. So, if you had the chance to send this message, or a message, directly to Wall Street, to someone who had some actual influence over these things, what would you tell them? What would you - if you had just an argument to make or a solution to propose, what would you say?

Troy: This is the thing - I don't have a solution yet. I'm just scratching the surface and asking questions and - trying to start a dialogue. I don't have an answer yet, and . . . it's okay.

Me: It is. That's actually the best answer I could've asked for.