For the last week or so, there’s been a fluctuating crowd hanging around Liberty Plaza Park (opposite Ground Zero and next to my office) under the banner of ‘Occupy Wall Street’. They’re not actually allowed to occupy the street itself, so they’re making do with camping and protesting here, and taking occasional jaunts down to Wall Street with a police escort, to be photographed by Japanese tourists who have no idea what’s happening, and ignored by traders who care far more about what’s on their screens than what’s happening below.
Whilst the cause no doubt had noble aims to begin with, and may even have had some intellect and intelligence too, it’s now a sorry carnival which serves only as a parody of itself. I’ve been taking five minutes, as I pop outside for an afternoon stroll and some fruit, to walk through and observe the protest, and I flit between amusement and annoyance as I see some of the sheer idiocy on display.
The placards on display range are amusing enough: there’s the misquoted, wrongly-attributed – Engels, not Marx – out-of-context snippet from the Communist Manifesto (above); the call to abandon capital markets in favour of a 1960′s music festival (below); and the range of bad spelling that I’d love to believe is a cutting admonishment of the educational system (but simply can’t). In amongst these are links to bands’ websites, placards to ‘free Troy Davis‘ (admirable maybe, but slightly off-topic) and general anarcho-liberal trash.
Not wanting to judge a book by its cover, however, I’ve stopped to talk to a number of the protesters within the park, and forced myself not to simply aim for the glassy-eyed specimens I knew would provide amusement (as I saw a crew of well-dressed bankers doing). Here, again, I was to be let down: I’ll give an example.
I talked to one lad, who seemed fit, healthy and about my own age, who told me he’d been at the protest for 3 days straight. He told me he had a degree with a ‘double major’ in Film and Media Studies and a minor in Middle-Eastern Studies, but couldn’t find a job, and so was here to demand the Government forgave all student debt. That’s all the voluntary loans he, and others, had signed up for and spent on more than just tuition. However, when I (smiling and helpful) mentioned that a couple of the construction crews on Ground Zero seemed to be hiring, or failing that, some of the shops along Broadway, he mentioned that he ‘only really want[ed] to work in media‘. Right.
I’m upset that these people are reinforcing the stereotype that those who campaign for economic reform are idiotic freeloaders. I’m upset by signs such as ‘tax breaks = homeless Americans‘ being held up by kids on a day-trip from their parents’ home, when across the street there’s a man who is nothing but grateful any time I can spare a banana from my 4 for $1 food-cart trips (and let’s face it, I always can). I’m upset that there are real, fundamental (if first-world) problems in this country, and that those opposed to solving them can simply point and laugh at this cacophony of nonsense rather than be challenged to defend their views.
Mostly, though, I’m just amused that they’ve picked a spot where the vast majority of people who’ll see the protest are tourists, happy to take some pictures and simply leave.