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.

I spent some more time walking through the camp, and found a dry erase board with a list of notifications from the General Assembly. It had the minutes from a meeting the day before, needs of the people living in the park, planning for the space, and announcements from people all around the country whom had come to list grievances. The detail was incredible considering that it came from what appeared to be a meeting with open participation in a crowd of thousands. Maybe it wasn't a list of specific, agreed-upon demands, maybe it wasn't a detailed list of solutions to the problems they perceived, but it was a structured and organized plan for how they intend to continue Occupying Wall Street.

Among the things on the announements;

"Transparency is becoming an issue, info desk needs to know meeting times."
"Suits don't equal lack of support, treat all with respect."
"This is a drug-free park, it endangers everyone else."

I was hoping to get some time to interview some of the kitchen staff, but unfortunately the volunteers were heavily burdened by the line of Occupiers. They moved with constant and frenetic energy, moving from one task to the next and only stopping when a brief pep-talk needed to be called to go over duties and keep everyone together.

Despite the pressure on them, I didn't see one who was short with anyone else, or snippy to people in the line, or express any outward signs of anger. In fact, anger was a hard emotion to find in the camp. Discontent, of course, frustration, perhaps, but if I had to sum up the entire atmosphere in a single word it would be . . . open.

An increasingly good feeling about what was happening here coming over me, I moved on to my next set of interviews, where I met a public notary and a Wall Street trader. But more on that in Part Three.

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