Saturday, October 8, 2011

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.

After speaking with Troy, I moved along the camp of the protestors to see a little bit about how they were living after three weeks inside a park. Almost immediately I saw they had set up what appeared to be a free and fully functioning kitchen staffed entirely by volunteers, men and women of all age groups preparing and handing out food to a long line of hungry occupiers. The buffet line, for lack of a better word, was filled with donated fruits, vegetables, bread, and even chicken wings. There's a compost heap for the sanitary disposal of food waste. Despite what that article Fox News has posted regarding the way the protestors are treating the park, there are signs posted by the Occupiers alerting people not to disturb the park's flower beds.

Several times I saw the occasion arise for someone to make an announcement, be it to notify people about a general meeting on sanitation duties or to let someone know they left their glasses in the kitchen. Every time someone would shout a few words and the crowd around them, without instruction, would immediately echo what was just said to ensure as many people could hear what was going on as possible. For what I'd heard described as an unorganized movement, there was a pretty substantial level of organization.

There was also what appeared to be a yoga class happening, and New York City's own Naked Cowboy was on hand. I did not stop to interview the Cowboy.

I had moved outside the protestors line now to read the signs and hear some of the conversations happening  It was there I encountered Jacob, a gentlemen who looked to be in his mid-fifties. He was holding a sign lamenting the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. The repeal of that Act by Bill Clinton during his second term is cited by many as the catalyst for today's financial instability, but Jacob was the first person I had seen with a sign specifically referencing it. My interview with Troy had been brief, to the point, and informative. This was to be the opposite.

Me: Hi sir, what's your name?

Jacob: My name is Jacob Josefs.

Me: Hi, Jacob. Your sign says "Mr. Bill Clinton, Why Did You Remove the Glass-Steagal Act of 1933?" And I was hoping -

Jacob: And read the other question.

Me: (The sign goes on) "And Mr. George Bush et all, Why Did You Help Rape U.S.A?" Very good questions, and I was wondering if you would say a few words to people who aren't here to occupy Wall Street, people I'm trying to get the message out to, about what repealing Glass-Steagall meant for America.

Jacob: Well, when they repealed the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, technically, it was done under the last term, the lame duck term, of Bill Clinton. And they always forethink - they can see what's going on in the next five to ten years. That's how they work. And, uh, ah, Bill Clinton, he committed the biggest sin he could have ever committed. He disrespected the old-timers, the grandparents, of the FDR administration. Congress, his . . . grand-Congress. Family. Parents. By repealing that Glass-Steagall Act when it was specifically created because that was the last legislation to prevent . . . from what happened. With the JPMorgan Chase people, with the robber barons people, they learned about this, all this inflating stocks, and monopoly, blah, blah, blah, and that's why they wrote the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, so that they could prevent the very . . . result that happened here in 2007, 8, and 9, and we're seeing this, and, uh, shame on them so Clinton technically in the 90s, late 90s, repealed it, or removed it, ahh, and then George Bush did the raping. And that's what we have here.

Actually, everybody in Congress, everybody, uh, all those nepotists, all those . . .ah, example of what we're talking about right here at Ground Zero and New York State we have a New York State Senator, his name is Chuck Schumer. Why should he be a Senator for 30 years? We need term limits here. Or, for example, let's take that idiot Weiner, Anthony Weiner, flashing his, his, his uh, underwear, on the uh, Twitter websites. He overstayed his job, uh, as a Congressman. And even - I pulled for him. And, uh, the thing is we need to change. So we've got Clinton, he undid the Steagall Act, flouted the uh, grandparents, and they said "you can't undo it," but he did it, so it shows you that they do what they want to do and we have no more voice, and we're rising up today here, and we're gonna - we're not gonna stop til' . . . I don't care if it's 1% or 2%, 3 percenters, 4, uh, whatever it is, we're gonna prevail, and we're gonna change the system, Congress is gonna have to . . . ah, make room for um, sacrifice. And heads are gonna start rolling, and we need uh, Gradarian* Democracy.

What is Gradarian Democracy? Gradarian Democracy is uh, instead of having the stock exchange representing corporations, entities, like people, but we'll have what they call People's Exchange. And uh, what this entails is, uh, the floor of the Congress will have a People's Exchange - a ticker - that represents every zip code of the Union, the 50 states, and also, in the floors of the Senate. And what Gradarian Democracy means is that 16-year-olds - because of the internet - and 17-year-olds will likewise be able to vote parallel to the 18-year-olds. And then, what we will do, we don't have to go and waste time, and start pulling levers somewhere in some, uh, school-place where they have voting booths, or we have to trust ourselves with these, uh, these, the new computers that they have - I mean, it's enough we learned from Florida - and, uh, you know, so, the point is we can literally, you know - even Green Card holders - Green Card holders shall have the right to vote. They could vote, say, for the governor. Of the state they're in. Okay? We can limit that, and/or they could vote for the President.

*I'm not sure this is a word, I couldn't find it anywhere, so it may be Jacob's own idea.
Me: (Finally getting my tape recorder, which he had taken from me, back) You think that anyone who is affected by policies that states pass should have a say in those policies? A say in their representatives?

Jacob: Say that again, I'm sorry.

Me: Anyone who lives in a state and is going to be affected by policies that state is going to pass, should have a say in who their representatives are? Be they teenagers or green card holders - anyone who lives in America.

Jacob: Yeah, well, you know - but, we're talking about the mature audience. The 16-year-olds today are very mature, they're very advanced for their time, you know - due to the internet. Not only that, the TV and stuff, they, uh - and you know, they're taller than they were 50 years ago, they live longer than they did 50 years ago, and uh, and uh . . . they need a voice. The 16, 17-year-olds need a voice. They're part of this. And the, the, the green card holders should be able to vote, too. And, uh . . . pardon me . . . but, as I was saying, Gradarian Democracy will be such that we'll have a certain day of the month, we could call it the Votery Association Day, and what we'll do is, what we'll do is, we'll uh, we'll actually uh, vote right from our living rooms, right from our TVs. And the question will be; it will be the Congress, and/or the President, who can get all the Senate, the leadership of the - that, or the Congress - and even the President can come to us and say "hey, should we make war with Iraq? Yea or nay." That's it. And we'll see it up there like a ticker. Like a - on the People's Ticker. We'll see where all the yeas come from, and all the nos. And it will be final. That's it. You don't have to make your job seem like it's so complicated. It ain't complicated. My 16-year-old could do your Congressman's job. Senator. It's all really, it's all, it's super - it's really deceit, is what it is. And, and really, they can't fool us anymore. Period.

So, God Bless America anyway. I'm looking at the, uh, uh building - the World Trade Center Two area, from Liberty Street, I'm looking at that building, I know the One World Trade Center is about on its 87th floor, or - no, 83rd floor, and believe it or not, America's gonna rise again. Remember that. America's gonna - and really, when it comes to 19 - uh - 2014, that's when it's all gonna happen. And uh, excuse me, but . . . excuse me but, vote for Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney. He will be the first President to have a woman Vice-President, and he's gonna be the President to make 16-year-olds, or 17-year-olds, or give them the right to vote. Anyway, be healthy, be well, hugs and kisses to all the brothers and the sisters.

Me: Now, I just have one more question. Mind telling me how long you've been here already (My meaning was here at Occupy Wall Street)?

Jacob: I came from Israel when I was uh . . .five years old. I'm 56 years old, I grew up and lived in Coney Island most of my life, my parents came to this country from Israel as immigrants in 1960 . . . my parents had a choice to come to Australia or America, my father chose America. We came here by ship, and the first thing we saw when we - as we were approaching New York Harbor, my father touched me on the head and takes me out on the starboard side, and he says, "Yakov" - Jacob, Jack - "lo and behold, we've just landed." And as we're walking into the harbor we see the parachute jump in Coney Island, you know, moving, up and down, and uh . . and that was amazing. And actually I became a U.S. Merchant Seaman, I traveled all over the world. And I studied all 5 of the world's major religions - all the major religions of the world. So, I'm, I don't consider myself Jewish anymore. I consider myself as a, ahhh, a hard word, but, it's called an Apocalyptarian. I'm an Apocalyptic figure, not pre-Apocalyptic. I believe we can't walk on H2O, we can't just uh . . .beam down, or beam up by photons. You know, the biblical life story, that's their story. That's pre-Apocalyptic. The people walking on water story, that's their pre-Apocalypse story. Not my story, so, uh, we're waking up. America's gonna rise again, and the dollar is gonna be supreme.

Me: Alright. And how long have you been here occupying Wall Street?

Jacob: I've been here - I used to work in building one, room 8411, it was a general communications corporation, I worked for Chinese people, and what I did was - I used to promote . . . it was a Microsoft school. They had a contract with Microsoft to promote and teach hands-on, people who wanted to learn Microsoft, and they would get certificates for the products - you know, like Professional, stuff like that, and uh . . . but I've been here since Monday. I do business in this area, Department of Consumer Affairs, right down on Broadway, and uh, I was affected by this, and - the election is coming. The election is coming. The election is coming.

Me: Jacob, thank you very much, it's been great talking to you, and I will get your message out to the people.

And so I did.

The difference between Troy and Jacob couldn't have been more pronounced. Troy is a young man with questions to ask and the desire to open up a dialogue with the organizations he is protesting against, and he readily admits he doesn't have any easy solution. Jacob is in his mid-50s, and he not only has solutions ready to propose, but he seems to have thought them through in great detail. Troy was brief, succinct, and stayed very much on the topic of why he was there and what he had been doing. Jacob went on an extended rant and bounced around from topic to topic as they occurred to him. Two entirely different sides of the spectrum, both pulled in to Occupy Wall Street by what they see is a legitimate chance to make some real change happen. But was the rest of the park filled with more focused, level-headed Troys, or more scattershot, ranting Jacobs? As with any movement so large, with tens of thousands of people involved, I'd have to guess that you'd find a pretty fair representation of both.

But is that a strength or a weakness? Does the presence of such radically opposed reasons for being in Zuccoti Park undermine the movement by creating a lack of cohesion, a vagueness of message, a confusion of why people are there in the first place?

I'd get the answer to that question in the form of a sermon from one Reverend Billy, which will follow in Part Two.


Anonymous said...

David Pratt said...

Thanks Anon! Those are exactly the signs I was talking about. Any other pictures from the event or discussions about your experiences if you're an Occupier would be great!