W.J. Briggs is your host’s number one son. He ventured among the perpetually dissatisfied yesterday and files this report.
A man poured a small bag of marijuana into half of an old clam shell. Casually, he picked out the stems and threw them on the pavement. He was sitting beside “The Altar of Peace” which, a few weeks ago, was just a tree in Wall Street’s Liberty Square Park. Now it’s the official meeting place for the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
I watched the man sort through his marijuana while the people around him busied themselves with protesting. To my immediate right there was a youth in an army uniform. He held up a sign that read, “Bradley Manning is Still in Jail.” To our left there were two older women having a conversation about Fracking. Behind us random protesters were yelling and chanting. They wanted to end corporate greed.
On either side of the calm marijuana sifter, there was an anxious teenager. They were looking forward to a smoke. My staring was interrupted. A thin, pale, man in a tie-dye shirt tapped me on the shoulder.
“Have you seen my donation bucket?” he asked.
Behind his oval glasses his eyes had a distant, frenzied, look. Before I could respond a large, shirtless, gentlemen approached us.
“I’ve seen your donation bucket,” the shirtless man said.
The pale man looked delighted and threw his hands together. “Where is it?” he asked.
The shirtless man looked over his shoulder at his snickering friends. They were lying on dirty sleeping bags and picking at a plate of stewed carrots that the Occupy Wall Street kitchen had provided for lunch.
“I don’t know where your bucket is!” The shirtless man said and laughed. His friends started to crack up and exchange high-fives.
The thin man looked confused. “My bucket is black,” he said looking hurt, “there’s some white tape on it. Have you seen it? Have you seen my bucket?”
Quietly I stepped away and started walking east. I passed a sign that read, “The Gaiian mind is not a metaphor. It is a bio-spiritual phenomenon.” Below the sign a woman with overalls was showing a kid how to make noise by hitting a stick against a turned-over metal trash can. They were trying to add to the clamor of the nearby drum circle. Next to them another sign read, “No negative energy in this area.” I moved on.
The Occupy Wall Street protests started as an idea in mid July. Now, the “leaderless” movement has over 500,000 on-line supporters, raised over 40,000 dollars, and has spread across America. A large flat-screen TV connected to a laptop on the south side of the park advertises these facts. The screen also displays a live Twitter feed. A person called Olivia in Mexico wrote, “Let’s try to be humane.”
On the east end of the park there’s a red metal sculpture that looks like a tripod. It serves as the event space for the protesters. Under the tripod there were about thirty small children squirming around and trying to listen to a brown-haired woman.
“There’s contradictory information about Christopher Columbus,â€ she screamed with a knowing smirk on her face.
The adults surrounding the children shouted, “There’s contradictory information about Christopher Columbus.”
It’s a call-and-response technique the protesters use to make sure a speaker can be heard. They aren’t allowed amplifying equipment so they yell each other’s statements in unison. The children looked confused and pulled at their clothes and played with the loose gravel on the ground.
Alongside the tripod there’s another meeting going on. An olive-skinned girl gets up, her smile is beautiful and her skin looks clean. She yells, “They want us to be disorganized.”
The crowd around her echoes, “They want us to be disorganized.”
The young beauty clears her throat and shouts, “They want us to be dirty.”
She continues with similar statements and eventually reclaims her seat on the pavement. A young man takes center stage and repeats her message with different words but he manages to add more emotion. His face gets red and the veins in his neck bulge. The beauty looks at the man with wide eyes. It’s obvious they’re in love.
A grizzly, tattooed, man in a denim vest barrels into the center of attention. Around his arm a patch reads, “Street Medic.”
“If you have a drug addiction,” he booms, “Come see me and we’ll share our resources with you.” The group laughs, he smiles, and then walks into the crowd followed by a decent applause.
Someone screams out “Mic-check.” And the group roars back, “Mic-check.” The protesters are testing their call and response system and filling the silence until the next volunteer gets up to speak.
I wandered again and was handed a pamphlet called, “Anarchist Basics.” With nothing better to do, I flipped through its pages. The pamphlet helps teach Anarchists to do things like “organize a festive community-orientated event like a street party without going through the parks department.” And to “decorate buildings with revolutionary slogans.”
My reading is interrupted by a Chinese man who’s built like a bull-dog. He’s raging through the park screaming and waving his arms.
“You wanna get verbal with me?” he yelled at a middle-aged woman who’s following him around trying to apologize. He was just thrown out of a protest meeting.
“They don’t want to hear different opinions!” he shouted to anyone who bothered to listen. “All they want to do is mic-check!”
Across the park a group of people screamed, “Mic-check.”
Two protesters, self-appointed sanitation workers, clutched brooms and watched the tirade with derision. “Heâ€™s always such a d—.” One of them said. “Yeah, he’s an as——.” The other one said.
“Drugs and drinking, is that going to help Wall Street?” The Chinese man screamed.
A well dressed reporter noticed the crowd the Chinese man was attracting. He walked over with his camera man and introduced himself. The reporter got his assistant to strap a small microphone under the Chinese man’s Ralph Laruen polo and asked him a question.
The Chinese man calmed down, flexed his muscles, and looked into the camera.
“They have all these meetings here and on three separate occasions they’ve called me ‘disruptive.'” He said glowering at the camera. The reporter nodded in rehearsed understanding.
I decided to leave. I didn’t discover what the Occupy Wall Street protest was about, but I did see a lot of people try real hard to define why it is they feel so disenchanted with life, with the government, and with the economy.
But the anger, the drugs, the bad food, the dirty sleeping bags, and the chanting, made it hard for anyone to find words, let alone the right ones.
As I left I saw a protester wearing a camouflage shirt on Broadway practicing different mediation poses. He was intently watching his dim reflection in a McDonald’s window.
His name tag said “Aver” and he tired to stand on one foot with his arms extended upward. He stumbled and shook his hands with frustration. He tried again, but this time he held his hands together in prayer.