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Denunciation and Disruption: The Vision That Drives Occupy Wall Street
Posted on Oct 25, 2011
It’s 4:45 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 15, the day Occupy Wall Street went global. The march in Manhattan is twin pronged on 6th Avenue, several blocks long on the east and west sidewalks of the street. It flows as juggernautish and loud and flashing as a flood in a canyon. The police don’t know what to do except keep it on the sidewalk, barricade it off the street with a line of scooters and hundreds of foot cops and dozens of cop vans directed by the dreaded White Shirts. These latter are the captains, the field commanders, feared because in the five weeks the occupiers have been at Zuccotti Park, clawing into the financial district with no intention of departure, the White Shirts have done the most cawing into bullhorns, have seemed the most pissed off about the occupation, and have shown the most willingness to bust heads and punch kids and break out the mace and the pepper spray when faced with the threat of young women.
I get swept in the boiling mass on the east sidewalk next to a man in a white linen suit coat who chews on a cigar and is chiding the cops mercilessly. “What’s next, officers? How about planting season? Time to plant drugs on these people!”
“Keep tawkin,” says a detective.
“Randy Credico,” says the man in the linen suit, turning to me. “Activist, political comedian. Ran against Chuck Schumer in 2010.” A little guy, spry, a cynic who likes to dress up in public as Diogenes, a New Yorker with one of those sinewy New York accents. We shake hands. Then the drums are upon us, the banners—“Revolt” and “Generation Revolution” and “Wall Street: The Enemy of Humanity”—and the shouting: “We! Are! The 99 percent!”
The goal today is the convergence at Times Square, where it’s said 20,000 people are already waiting.
The goal tomorrow is the toppling of the 1 percenters—the Wall Streeters, the socially useless financiers, the bankers, the hedge funders, the derivatives traders, the corporate lawyers, the big-moneyed class that, in a more muscular age of progressivism, say, a hundred years ago, would be denounced as the parasite class. The parasites in New York, at last count in 2007, took for themselves close to 45 percent of all income in the city. Forty-five percent of all income going to roughly 34,000 households. The occupiers know their addresses, and in recent weeks have visited their doors in a most disrespectful manner to make known that the parasite class is not welcome anymore.
That’s a good start, the act of shaming and ridicule. How the toppling of the parasites is functionally to be accomplished, the machinations needed to smash their power and put them on a rocket ship to an airless planet, is as yet unknown. Nor does anyone here much care that it’s unknown. What matters on a day like this is morale, and to find morale means to gather en masse to make a mess of the normal state of affairs—the politics of disruption for its own sake. The Occupy Wall Street movement has collaborators in dozens of cities—Occupy Chicago and Occupy Los Angeles and Occupy Seattle—but it is the occupation in New York, the most regressive city in the nation, to which Occupiers nationwide look for inspiration. The enemy is nested in New York, and it is here the battle is to be joined.
On the west side of 6th Avenue, a dashingly handsome black man in a white do-rag and corduroy jacket leads the flood. I find out later his name is Hero Vincent, a New Yorker, just 21 but seeming much older, a veteran at disruption. He gestures to his counterpart on the east sidewalk in an array of cryptic hand signals. Together they stop the march—who knows why, perhaps for the hell of it, perhaps to show they can. The police are hysterical in their bullhorns: “Keep moving! Keep moving!” No one moves. Vincent savors the stoppage, smiles gigantically—a flashing toothy calming smile you can see a hundred feet away—and raises his fist, which stretches out pointing north. The flood is back on.
Now 28th Street, 29th, 34th, Herald Square and Macy’s—the parting of the shoppers. They gawk, they wonder, some of them cry out in support, some are gripping grab bags of new-bought junk thinking the mob will rob them. The occupiers answer: “Join us, brothers and sisters! Join us! YOU. ARE. THE 99 PERCENT!”
But they don’t join.
A great moaning suddenly fills the air—Hero Vincent has been snatched by the White Shirts. The occupiers turn as one and chant: “Let him go! Let him go!”
In a flash, Credico has broken through the scooter barricade, is across the street, dashing among the White Shirts, his face grotesquely twisted, the cigar gripped tight, as if it would scatter all authority, the officers surrounding him, jabbing and pushing at him though he’s done nothing but speak his mind and wave the cigar. He’s demanding the reason for Vincent’s arrest. (I find Vincent later that night, at Zuccotti Park, and he tells me he was arrested for “obstructing traffic.”)
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