We all like stories, right? Let me start this post off with one. I’d promise that it won’t get dirty, but it’s going to. It’s just not the type of dirty you think.
Anyhoo, there I was last week, walking around the financial district of Manhattan. I had just tried to get into the World Trade Center Memorial, before the ONLY NICE PERSON IN NEW YORK (seriously folks, everyone in NYC is a jerk) let me know you needed a prerequisite visitor’s pass before you’d be getting in. Considering I had no such pass, I kept walking, knowing the New York Stock Exchange was in the area, which is obviously on every capitalist’s must visit list.
While I’m walking, I stumble upon a whole bunch of people in a park, with a bunch more lingering around the park, just watching. Intrigued, I walk on over and have a look. It took a couple of minutes to figure out what the hell was going on, mostly because I was too far away to really hear what the speaker was saying. But then, it hit me.
I stumbled upon the Occupy Wall Street guys.
It was kind of surreal. Because I was there on the first anniversary of the event, TV networks had sent reporters down there to report live on the festivities. All sorts of people were walking around with various anti-Capitalism signs, spouting slogans like “Wall Street Is Bullshit” and “People, Not Profits.”
Most of the spectators were guys from Wall Street, wearing their $1000 suits and frantically texting their friends on their smartphones. Most thought the whole protest was hilarious, especially when the more ambitious protesters would come up and try to talk to them.
I overheard talk about how the Occupy folks were going to go to the stock exchange, probably so they could stink up that street as well. After a few minutes of chanting, drum beating and not showering, the protesters started to stir. It was happening, they were going to storm the NYSE. I knew this was the place to be.
So I get ahead of the protesters, trying to find the street, partially because I want a good view of this and partially because I want to check out the stock exchange before all the hippies get there. As I walk, I quickly realize there are cops EVERYWHERE. There were hundreds of cops around the financial district. I bet the cop to protester ratio was pretty equal. New York’s finest were making sure their presence was felt.
After a few blocks, I find a street blocked off, with at least 15 cops guarding it. Glancing around the police, I glimpse what I came down to see. I didn’t even ask if I could get any closer, since it was pretty obvious everybody was on edge. Plus, I can see all the protesters start in my direction.
I quickly double back, trying to get a good spot standing on the sidewalk one block back, as quite the crowd was starting to accumulate. The cops ideally want all the curious onlookers to leave, but they’re willing to make sure that we all stay on the sidewalk.
Suddenly, the protest swings down a side street, I think 2 streets before the street the NYSE is on. I quickly duck down the side street 1 block before the NYSE, hoping to cut off the protest on the next block. I get down there, peek around the corner, and to my delight I see the crowd is only about halfway down the street.
Stuff is really getting exciting at this point. Cops and protesters are actively clashing, mostly yelling at each other. Other cops are shouting at the spectators to leave, which just attracts a bigger crowd. Official protest photographers are trying their best to document every minute of it.
I notice one protester getting arrested. He’s pissed at the cops because instead of using the handcuffs, the cop decided to tie his wrists with a zip tie. The cop is also being a little rough with him, shoving him up against a building as he ties his hands. Photographers’ cameras capture every moment, their audible clicks can be heard over the chaos.
“Record everything!” One protester shouts. “That way the cops will be held accountable!”
I’m standing on the opposite side of the road, watching the protest slowly approach, when 2 cops come and make sure all us spectators move along. Scared I’m going to join the protesters in the back of a paddy wagon, I do as they say, mostly because I’m a giant wuss.
Here’s my impression of the whole situation. What the hell was the point?
Nobody down there took the Occupy Wall Street people seriously. Most looked like they were homeless, either because they were actually homeless or because they were hardcore hipsters. At least half were dirty, unshaven, etc. My first impression was they looked like a bunch of whack jobs.
It’s hard to take people seriously when your first impression is that they’re insane. Just look at religious peddlers on the street. You laugh and them and nobody blames you because they ooze crazy. Any legitimate message that the protesters had was quickly lost in the sea of chaos and whack jobs.
This brings me back to the point of this post. What exactly was the point of all these protests?
Did they bring attention to the excesses of Wall Street? Not really. People just laughed at the protesters.
Did they change the culture on Wall Street? Hell to the no.
Did they influence government to create any new laws? Nope, that was all the financial crisis.
What exactly did they accomplish, anyway? Well, they drew some attention to themselves. And… that’s about it. Nice work, protesters. Now why don’t you go and occupy a job?