Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan covers something less than a square city block, all granite, marble and cement, with a sprinkling of trees. No soft ground anywhere, no power, no bathrooms, no showers, no escape from the noise of the city. My biggest concern the Friday in late October when I arrived at Occupy Wall Street was, where would I stretch out my sleeping bag for the night without getting stepped on?
The long-haul occupiers are dug in. Defying Mayor Bloomberg’s edict, they erected a tent city the day after Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up to defend the occupation’s first-aid tent against the NYPD.
Detractors have complained that the occupiers are “dirty hippies.” Mayor Bloomberg won’t allow them to provide port-a-johns and recently confiscated their generators, so what would you expect? This ain’t no family campout. In fact, I’d say after more than five weeks of occupation, the park is cleaner than any group campout I’ve seen after a couple of days. We hear rumors of sex and drugs. The OWS Good Neighbor Policy declares “zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol anywhere in Liberty Plaza.” I never smelled pot in my three days there. As for protesters engaging in “free love,” the park is as about as private and romantic as the subway at rush hour. The occupiers run a community kitchen serving three surprisingly good meals a day to thousands – protesters, local homeless and the curious. A phalanx of police, NYPD squad cars, scooters, buses and mobile observation towers form a double ring around the plaza.
I am a middle-aged small town guy with a wife, kids, a job and a house. I pay my taxes. I believe in capitalism (regulated). I believe the limited liability corporate structure and financial markets have valid, even vital roles in a modern economy. I believe in the motivating power of profit incentive and the efficiency of decentralized free markets. I don’t smoke pot or play bongo drums. So what compelled me to drive 807 miles to sleep on concrete with hundreds of strangers in the middle of a monstrous city?
There are a lot of ideas swirling around Liberty Plaza (the occupiers’ name for Zuccotti), some of them pretty detached from reality and many I don’t agree with. What drove us all together, I think, was an overwhelming outrage at and rejection of the wholesale purchase of our representative democracy from under our feet. If you’ve observed our political process over the last decade, our government’s response or non-response to the greatest crisis of any of our lifetimes, the calls to action (unheeded) from a super-majority of Americans, it’s clear that the government doesn’t work for the people, the government works for the money. Wall Street is the logical and symbolic nexus of the Occupy movement, but the occupation is generally against money from any source that is swamping the system.
We’re three years out now from a man-made financial disaster that knocked ten million Americans out of work, the greatest swindle in our history, and nothing substantial has been fixed.
The message or more the mood of the Occupy movement seems to be, “We are here. We will be heard. Corporations and the super-rich can buy all of the Congressmen, Senators, Presidents, regulators and judges they want, in order to undercut the will of the people, but we are here, we will be heard.”
It’s hard to imagine a ragtag bunch of idealists prevailing over the richest and best organized mercantile juggernaut on the planet, but students of history can tell you, it wouldn’t be the first time. One thing I know for sure is, the team that doesn’t show up always loses.
Jim Magruder lives, works, and pays federal income tax in Greenville with his wife, two kids in public high school, and two dogs that occupy the best couches. You can see his photos of OWS at PolicyGrinder.com.