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 http://yesireepublicnotary.wordpress.com/ 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.



I came across Troy again while walking on the other side of the protest line, and a few more of his signs were displayed. For those wondering "well, why are they there?" Troy's signs seem to make a few pretty strong points to consider.

They Have Perpetuated Inequality and Discrimination in the Workplace Based on Age, Color of One's Skin, Sexual Identity or Orientation.

They Have Taken Our Houses Through Illegal Foreclosure Processes Despite Not Having the Original Mortgage.

They Have Taken Bailouts from Taxpayers with Impunity and Continue to Give Executives Exorbitant Bonuses.

I've heard a lot about how the people Occupying Wall Street are a mixture of old hippies and bored college kids. Here's what I found.

High school students. College students. People just out of college, middle aged people, senior citizens, people who are white, black, Asian, Indian, Latino, Arabic, Native American, hippies, people in suits, people who came to the park after work and left a few hours later, people who had been living there for weeks, homeless people, poor people, middle-income people, well-off people, the unemployed, the underemployed, the gainfully employed. Schoolteachers and motorcycle gang members, waitresses and lawyers, people who had been New Yorkers their whole lives and people who had traveled from thousands of miles away to be there. Men, women and children. In sum, Americans.

It's everyone. It's every kind of American. It's Americans from everywhere. None of them have the same grievances to air, but they all have something. No one is there just to be there, no one I met is occupying just to be there. They have legitimate concerns about the way money is used in this country and they want to be heard.

It's not about a specific idea or goal. It's about our presence. It's about being there. It's about the message that is inherently sent by performing the act of Occupying Wall Street.

On the side of the park opposite that facing Wall Street, I came across a duo seated on top of the stairs, each holding a sign. Both were dressed in suits which probably cost more than my monthly car payment. They were both frequently checking their iPhones. These were not unemployed people desperate for work and coming to complain for free money. One had a sign which read My Job is Tough - Buying Politicians is Hard Work. I spoke with Dustin, who was holding a sign which simply stated Democracy, not Plutocracy.

Dustin: Well we were founded as a Democracy, but what we have now is a Plutocracy, where government benefits only the wealthy.

Me: And how long have you been coming here?

Dustin: I've been here since Sunday.

Me: So what do you see when you look around here?

Dustin: I see the people are angry, and they're here to do something about it.

Me: And do you, personally, think something is being accomplished? Are their voices being heard?

Dustin: Yeah, I think we're being heard. We don't have any specific demands quite yet to propose, but we're definitely being heard by the nation.

Me: Now, that lack of specific demands. I've talked to other people about it and they say it's a good thing, it makes it more inclusive. It means everyone can get involved. Do you think that's true?

Dustin: Yeah, that's true - anyone can get involved, as long as it has to do with the fact that our financial institutions have basically bankrupted our government.

Me: And how long do you intend to keep coming here?

Dustin: Indefinitely.

Me: Thanks Dustin, it's been great talking to you.

I found a notice board a short way back into the park, behind the kitchen, near the entrance to the park. There was a stream of information on it; the local weather forecast, the number of days the occupation had lasted (and a notice to use dry erase markers, no sharpies), and a count; the number of U.S. Cities Occupied by the movement was at 148, along with 28 cities outside the United States. Below that, a notice to observe quiet hours from 10PM to 8AM out of respect for neighbors.

As sundown approached, I was looking for one more person to interview before leaving the park for the day. I knew I wanted something different, but practically everyone was different, so it was hard to narrow down my choices. Then I passed by a discussion circle.

I found myself drawn in to find a middle-aged man with an intense stare engaged in a serious discussion about the nature of Wall Street. It wasn't long before he was approached by a boisterous and angry man who identified himself as being from Boston. The first man, as it turns out, was a former Wall Street trader there to talk with people about exactly how it is Wall Street makes money. As his discussion/disagreement with the Bostonian escalated (the Bostonian insisted the problem was that there's no production in the country - we no longer produce anything in our economy) his views were made fairly clear.

First, he was letting people know that Wall Street serves a useful purpose. The money which is moved by trading is facilitated by Wall Street, and that's useful for society and the economy.

Second, if you walked to the clothing store across the street, grabbed a handful of shirts and walked out, you'd be prosecuted. That's stealing. The Bostonian brought up the Glass-Steagall Act with the same intensity which Jacob had spoken of it earlier. The former trader rebuked this idea with the fact that repealing Glass-Steagall wasn't good, but it didn't make securities fraud legal. It didn't make tying mortgages together legal. The problem was that people get arrested for every day crimes, yet no one on Wall Street was getting arrested, there was no individual liability for people who defraud the system for their own benefit or that of their company.

Finally, underlying everything, he made a point to mention how the people in America regularly - I should say consistently - get taken in by rhetoric and vote against their best economic interests due to a woeful lack of education on the issue.

After the Bostonian had moved on, I managed to get a quick interview. He seemed like he wanted to remain anonymous, and I get that impression from his websites as well, so his name has been omitted.

Me: I'm standing here next to a sign which reads "Former Trader Discusses How Wall Street Makes Money." And you said you worked for 12 years in trading securities, is that right?

: Treasuries, treasury bonds.

Me: Treasury bonds, okay. So what brings you Occupied Wall Street?

: Well, since I left, I spent some time talking to people in government, and SEC, Department of Justice, etc., about how Wall Street makes money in the bond market, which I knew from my personal experience, and that is that there's a lot of front-running by dealers of their customers, meaning trading ahead at their customer's expense, and didn't get a lot of . . . it wasn't very receptive. Neither the SEC or Department of Justice very interested. I've talked to a lot of politicians, basically anyone that's on a committee that's involved in this, I've contacted them to say "hey, you might want to look at this."

I contacted the SEC again after the whole financial crisis to say "well, it might not have been interesting beforehand, you might want to look at what goes on in the treasury market because the treasury market is the most liquid and transparent market in the world, and that stuff is going on there, you can kind of extrapolate what goes on in the mortgage market, which is traded by basically the same people, same trading source, same firms, as the treasury market, and therefore - and far less liquid and transparent - and so by extrapolation it might help you understand what went on there.

Again, not much interest.

So, I follow anyone who's interested in questioning or attacking what happens on Wall Street, and so I thought I'd come down and take a look.

Me: And how long have you been here?

: I got here around 2:00 or so.

Me: This is your first day here?

: Yeah. First and last.

Me: So how has the discussion been since you've been here today?

: Well, I heard Jeff Sachs give a good speech, aside from that . . . I mean, there are people here with a lot of different interests, some of which I don't think are directly tied into Wall Street - which I guess is both good and bad. Because there aren't that many people who have the insight into Wall Street that I do, so most people here have kind of a . . . more diffuse sense of that things aren't going that well, which I don't disagree with, and I think it's important to understand it's certainly not healthy for the economy to have double the share of our nation's wealth that's gone towards finance in the last 30 years. Certainly hasn't helped things.

Me: And my last question for you today, and thank you for speaking with me, if you just had anything you might want to say to anyone who might be interested as to why you came here or more interested in what you have to say - I guess a general message, what would that be?

: Well, if you're interested in the specifics of the treasury market, I've got a website; http://ustreasurymarket.com/, kind of help you get going if you're not familiar with the bond market, and in terms of just general rants about Wall Street, I've got a website - http://efficientmarkets.com/. I think that - you know, I think it's just wasteful to have such a huge proportion of our country's resources devoted to finance when much of it really isn't doing much, this zero-sum gaming or outright theft, and a lot of these people - many of these people - are smart, hard-working talented people, and if finance didn't pay the most, they'd be doing something useful.

So I think we should try to bring finance back to where it was before, where - there are going to be a few people making a lot of money on Wall Street, because if you're able to be right about markets, obviously it's going to pay you very well. It's just that there aren't that many people who make money being right about markets. Most people make money being in the middle of a very dishonest and inefficient system. And that's - they're really kind of the longshoremen of this generation. There's a lot of graft. It's basically not that different from - basically, you know the mob - when there was a lot of freight coming into New York City and you brought a shipping container in here, they knew they were going to lose a certain amount of it to the longshoremen - to the mob. And these kind of attacks on the economy, it was - it's kind of the reason no one ships anything in through New York City anymore.

And likewise, Wall Street is basically attacks on the rest of the country's economy, and there's really no alternative. You can't really find somewhere else to go because they control all of it. Anything that reduces their share of the economy will both be good to reducing inequality which is bad from a justice standpoint and bad from a company standpoint, which - you just can't compete with these guys. Look at any - just take Universities. I went to school at the University of Chicago, look at the Board of Trustees. It's all guys from Wall Street, because who else has that kind of money? Who else can give $5,000,000? I mean, the occasional successful Steve Jobs can, or Bill Gates can, but in terms of just thousands and thousands of people who have a lot of money, you're talking Wall Street. And that's not good.

Me: Well thank you very much for speaking with me.

I left the park after speaking with the trader. I had a previous engagement with some friends, but I was eager to get back home afterwards and write up the report on all I had seen and done while Occupying Wall Street.

Then, on my way to the subway station, a horde of sign-waving protestors as large as the group gathered in the park came marching up the street. They passed by me, chanting "People! United! Will never be defeated!" The police had to shepard traffic away from them as they marched in their great numbers.

I realized that, compared to how much is happening on Wall Street right now, how many stories make up the Occupation, I hadn't seen anything in my all-too-brief stay. What's happening on Wall Street cannot be contained in a series of interviews, or on-the-spot reporting, or a heated discussion between two politically-dissimilar pundits. What's happening is a movement.  You've got to be there for yourself, stand amongst the people, talk to the people, to even get a glimmer of understanding as to what it all means.

And to the people decrying the movement, let me just say this; when hundreds of thousands of people come together to voice their outrage at the financial institutions of America, for hundreds of thousands of different reasons, and every one of them has some degree of legitimacy - that means there is a problem with our financial institutions, and you are likely on the wrong side of the line.

One thing I will say in conclusion, though. I have never believed in the idea that you could change a system from the outside. I went to Wall Street wanting to find out from the people there what their thoughts were as opposed to listening to others worlds away, literally and figuratively, tell me what was going on. I might have believed in their goals, but not necessarily their methods. I've long been of the opinion that if you really want to affect change, you have to become a part of the system and work from inside.

Experiencing what's happening on Wall Street though, and knowing it's happening around the country, it makes me believe that maybe there's an exception to that rule.

Until I see for sure, I'll keep going back, every weekend for as long as I can, and bring the words of Occupy Wall Street back to you.

Finally, a last note - it's a fatally flawed misnomer to call them disorganized. This operation runs like clockwork, and it knows exactly what it is doing, and are prepared to keep it up for as long as they need to.

They are the 99%, and the 1% can only withstand a siege like this for so long.

3 comments:

Adam Z. Winer said...

This article is now linked from the yesireepublicnotary.wordpress.com
website.

Vladimir said...

Good work brother

Miasma said...

Awesome. Good message- see it firsthand. Thank you.