I don’t mind the sun sometimes

On my fourth day on Wall St. I decide I’m gonna stop and say hi to the protestors.  Show a little solidarity, support.  I figure I’m here anyway, and despite the Powers That Be’s best attempts, the whole Occupation thing seems to be taking off.   There aren’t that many of them, only 90 or 100 people at any given time.  There are bouts of activity, but for the most part it’s a lot of sitting around, chatting.  The cops, and there are a shitload of cops, look bored.  I walk through a knot of them all dressed in matching black NYPD slickers.  A tall, youngish cop is playing Scrabble on his cellphone.  Two others talk about football.

In the plaza itself, the protesters are milling around.  There are stacks of signs, many nonsensical, piled on the benches.  I get awkward looks – the bulk of the suit and tie crowd are conspicuously avoiding the park, crossing Broadway to stay as far from the protesters as possible.  I half expect to be confronted, assaulted as a collaborator as I conspicuously walk towards Wall St. with my blazer and briefcase, but no one approaches me.

An older woman, 60 at least, hands me a flier.  I look it over – it’s got slogans about injustice and human rights.  There’s weird phrasing about Spiritual Liberty and the Love of the World.  It’s heavy on exclamation points, light on content.  It’s certainly not a financial-crisis-for-dummies primer.

Three guys behind me are playing hacky sack.

There’s a bearded guy in a NY Jets parka, blinking and very obviously nervous, talking to a television crew.  He keeps glancing up at the thick clouds and wiping the mist from his face.  I can’t hear what he’s saying.  The reporter, a short woman in laughably tall heels, nods deliberately.

A white girl with dreads and bad teeth asks me for a cigarette.  I tell her I don’t smoke and she steps away.

So much for the revolution.

I look at my phone and see I’m late, so I walk out of the park.

—————————

I leave the office at 3 AM the next morning, another long night.  Two protestors are taking pictures with the cops on their iPhones, laughing.  The cops are laughing too.  One gives a big thumbs-up.

I cut across the park, and the rain lets up.

————————

Three days later I leave the office at 10PM, which seems almost reasonable.  The west entrance is blocked by the cops so I cut out the back, through the delivery entrance.  I can hear the roar of the crowd out of the far side of the building.  Chanting, shouting.  I can’t see much from the Wall St. side – 90% of Wall St. is blocked off by metal barriers and construction equipment, so all traffic is confined to a narrow sidewalk.  A wall of cops blocks the Broadway intersection, their backs to me.

Getting closer, I can see the teeming, moving river of people beyond them.  The rumble builds to a roar.  The crowd is large, much larger than the regular park contingent, and mobile.

I can see the appeal.  I can feel it.  There’s a rigid, tangible tension here.  Thousands of people shouting themselves hoarse in unison, pushing like a tide against the cops and the barriers.  It’s the kind of raw, mob emotion most of us never see outside of college football stadiums.  My own reaction surprises me – I’m exhausted, and haven’t eaten since breakfast, but the fierce, almost dangerous force of the huge crowd makes me forget.

A cop turns and sees me waiting.

“You gotta go around.  Not this way.” he shouts at me, although he looks sheepish afterward.  It’s just me here, standing, and he’s using his crowd control voice.

I turn and walk down to a subway station to cut through underneath the blockade.

—————-

A couple hours later I see videos online that make it look like a real protest, the first evidence I’ve seen to that effect.  Videos of the same corner, but taken from the other side of the line.  Nightsticks are out.  Cops wade through the crowd with riot shields and mace.  The word Brutality is applied liberally.  A 24 year old white girl, probably some arts graduate from Boston College, gets a kick in the chest and a couple of ribs broken.

As tired as I am, tired enough to feel delirious, I look out on the city from the apartment window.  The rain’s stopped, and I hear sirens and shouts from the glass canyons below.   This thing might be getting serious, I think for a moment.

—————-

In the morning, there’s no evidence of the previous night’s conflict when I hit the street.  Fifty or more cops stand in front of the Bank of America building, and traffic is at a standstill, but other than that things look unchanged.  The crowd in the park has swollen a bit but I don’t see any corpses or burnt-up cop cars.

I am vaguely disappointed.

I go to work, as usual, and fourteen hours later I go home.

——————-

By the time I’m back in California, the ‘movement’ has spread.  I see the (much smaller) SF protest as I drive up Larkin.  I know a couple people in the crowd, rumor has it.  I don’t see them as I speed by, of course, but word gets around.  Friends, friends of friends, the jobless and bored.  Nobody who knows anything, just excitable folks with a vague understanding that they’re getting fucked by the powers that be.  A girl I knew in high school posts fifty pictures a day from the protest in Oakland; she’s full-time now.  Left her kids with her mom, I suppose.  I think about calling her, briefly, and don’t.  She’s got no fucking clue.

The protest will last as long as the Indian summer does.  Bad weather and ambivalence, the status quo’s staunchest allies, will shut the hippies up, in the end.

I talk to Molly online, briefly, and she asks about Oakland.  The OPD, in typical fashion, has decided to swat a fly with a machine gun and forcibly evict the Oakland protestors.  Some Marine’s got a fractured skull, she tells me.  I haven’t kept up.

“No surprise.  A leaderless and critically under-staffed police force gets out of hand?”

“Yeah…”

She seems more sympathetic than I.

“Their hopelessly ineffectual hippy hearts are in the right place, I guess.” I say.

“It’s too bad we’re not Europe.  They can get a million people on the streets over a couple vacation days.  Those people know how to protest.”

It’s too bad.

—————-

“You fucking idiots.  Do you know what the Glass-Steagall act is?”  The girls look at me.  “I didn’t think so.”

The Blue Angels roar over us.  One of the girls, the shorter, drunker one, tries to look offended.  “It’s about inequality, ass.  That’s what.”  We’re in line for the one bathroom in someone’s house in Fort Mason.  The girls are wearing short German Barmaid skirts / costumes, the kind of silly sluttish costumes that would seem wildly out of place anywhere but the Marina.  I can’t remember their names – one is someone named Nicole’s roommate, I think.  I don’t know.  I’m not even entirely sure how I ended up at the joint Fleet Week / Oktoberfest party, or whose house this is, but the beer is free and people I know seem to know others.

“So you go carry around a sign downtown, and what?  The CEO of Citibank miraculously realizes the err of his ways, and gives back the billions they’ve stolen?  The B of A board of directors swear vows of poverty?”

“We’re raising awareness.”

Motherfucking hippies.  I can feel myself turning red.

“You don’t even know what the fuck you’re protesting!  You don’t think at least a layman’s understanding of the roots of the collapse is worth having?  You’re out there because you’re bored and you think it’s cool.  You may even understand you’re getting screwed, but you don’t know why, or how, so you’re worse than useless.”

Now she’s mad.  Her cuter brunette friend’s given up listening and is now mumbling into a cell phone.  Someone comes out of the bathroom and we all scoot eight inches down the hall closer to the bathroom door.

“You don’t know that.  We’re making a difference.”

I laugh. “How?  How are you going to stop them? Are you going to righteous-indignation them to death?”

“Fuck you.” she says, and now she means it.

“Listen, listen.”  I start to feel guilty.  “I’m just saying that no amount of excited discontent is going to fix anything.  That’s the rub.  None of the people that are in a position to affect anything give a shit about you or your anger or what you put on twitter.  You’re still using your Chase credit card, you’re still gonna vote for the same lobby-owned assholes in November.”

“We’re out there every day.”

“So what?  So what?”

She has no idea how to respond.  She’s crossed her arms and is staring at the blank hallway wall across from us.  Eric walks by us, nodding as he passes.

“Your friend is an asshole.” she tells him, pointing at me.  He nods and turns around to high-five me.

“We’re having an important socio-political discussion in this here bathroom line.” I tell him.  “I’m disabusing this drunk chick of her misguided hippy preconceptions.”  He leaves.  I turn back to the short girl.

“Seriously.  It’s a shame you can’t change things.  It is.  But the only way you’re gonna change something as fundamentally fucked as the US is with votes or violence.  But you don’t know who to vote for, and you don’t look like you’re ready to start beheading executives.”

She ignores me.

It’s finally my turn for the bathroom, and I lock the door behind me.  I climb out the window when I’m finished pissing and rejoin the party.  The jets roar overhead again, their screams drowning out everything for a few moments.

I wonder how long she’ll wait outside that door.  Fucking hippy.

————

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