You can’t evict an idea whose time has come.
For weeks I’ve been meaning to say something about working across the street from Liberty Square aka Zuccotti Park, and the encampment of protestors. Ever since the potential standoff on Friday, October 14; that’s how long I’ve been meaning to say something salient. I am one of the 99%. And I currently work in the financial industry. Back in mid-October I had dreaded the eerie silence that would follow the confrontation, the pepper spray and plastic handcuffs, the riot gear and police trucks. I had dreaded the sight of trash swept away, blue tarps and medical tents vanished, drumming and chanting silenced, barricades pulled back, and life along lower Broadway back to “normal.”
On that Thursday night before the "cleanup" was to occur, as I headed toward the subway after work, I overheard two guys behind me. Get out the fire hoses, just hose them all out of there, said one. Bulldoze ‘em, said the other. Shoot ‘em if you have to.
When I learned that the city and police and Brookfield had backed down, I was exultant. The colorful creative mass of protestors grew even greater in number, emboldened and triumphant. Events move too quickly, time slips by, I’m busy and what I might have said last week or several weeks ago no longer holds true. I didn’t formulate my opinion fast enough, and my opinion is ever in flux. But as of now, the rumored eviction, the one that didn’t take place three weeks ago, was enforced in the dead of night, tents and tarps and people cleared out by police in riot gear.
When the protestors first appeared, they seemed like an odd assortment of passionate people with disparate aims, which has been stated to infinity all over the news. A topic of office mockery, bare-breasted hippie women with anti-war messages painted on their chests, gray-bearded baby-boomers holding hand-painted signs, socialist worker party members, Marxists, Trotskyists, trustafarians, privileged anarchists and self-proclaimed freaks. My initial elation over the mere fact of a protest quickly deflated. The look of these people did not inspire confidence. What I felt instead was a familiar and unwelcome despondency, because no matter how dissatisfied I am with the immigrant-hating, budget-cutting, wage-reducing, public-sector-worker-bashing, oligarchic cronyism and executives-paid-to-fail environment of today, I couldn’t align myself with this motley collection of demonstrators.
When they marched, in those early days, they were a small and vocal group, outnumbered by police and laughed at by most of the people I work with, laughed at, that is, when they weren’t groused about for causing the inconvenience of metal barricades all over the neighborhood, forcing people to walk single-file through narrow passageways on streets that are already too congested. It’s the goddam protestors, said someone behind me as I headed back to the office one afternoon, clutching my overpriced sandwich from Pret. I usually weave through crowds but you can’t dodge your way through a sphincter. Granted, it’s annoying when a five-minute walk takes fifteen, and time is a precious commodity; but I never blamed the protestors. I blamed the outsized police reaction. It brought back memories of the republican convention and the massive overreaction to the protests then. It brought back bewilderment at the disproportionate response to the monthly critical mass bike rides that Bloomberg seems to despise with an irrational personal grudge, amassing riot trucks and armies of police and blocking traffic to chase down a quixotic anarchy of cyclers. I can go back even further to say that I was reminded of Tompkins Square Park and the destruction of its shanty town in the 1980s. But who remembers Die Yuppie Scum anymore?
Rather than disappearing back into the fringe, the protestors were joined by unions, veterans, college-graduates, nurses, doctors, teachers, retired people, creative people, unemployed. They not only multiplied at Zuccoti Park, but sprouted up in cities all over the nation. This is old news. By the time the Transit Workers Union joined Occupy Wall Street, the media had already captured the story. Celebrities had made appearances.
Whenever I visited the park, I noted that over half the people were photographing and filming, and not necessarily protesting anything. Tourists snapped each other embracing activists. The image of fringeness and obscure freakdom was replaced by “the 99%,” Liberty Square became a scene, and there’s nothing I can say about the movement that they don’t say more eloquently here.
Hostility toward the protestors persisted in my office and probably elsewhere (whiners, deadbeats, moochers, they smell, they’re dirty, they’re druggies and criminals and terrorists) but, for me, the antagonism became a background hum, exploding into the forefront only when I encountered men (always men) who heckled with particularly ferocious rage, usually back-office guys from working-class origins, employed in accounting or technology or some aspect of the financial industry. Get a fucking job! Get a job you bunch of fucking hippie losers. Go the fuck home! Not shouting once or twice, but an ongoing warlike rebel yell, a reaction so inconsistent with the peaceful gathering, and so contradictory to the soaring of my own heart that it frightened me, and I feared for the future of our nation. For, surely, there is common ground between these angry, threatened men and these people protesting against the status quo.
Mostly, it seemed to me, people had grown accustomed to the protestors. A falafel vendor on Cedar Street laughed while a woman with a puppet talked into a video camera in a high-pitched puppet voice. This isn’t a protest, this is a party, the vendor told me. In Egypt they were protesting in the face of guns. This! He shrugs and laughs.
How could you not love a movement that includes a sacred space? A medical tent? Food for the homeless? Chanting and meditating and drumming and dancing? I ordered pizzas, delivered to the protestors (the “occupie” special, what’s not to like?) Yet they've been swept out now, for the time being.
It can't end here. As stated on the website, You can't evict an idea whose time has come. Just before noon, the eviction was deemed illegal in court and the protestors were returning, en masse. Go, 99%!
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