Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Wall Street - A First Hand View From a Philadelphia Lawyer

Why I Went to Zuccotti Park

Not long ago, I saw Inside Job, an Oscar award-winning HBO documentary produced by Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. It tells the story of how Wall Street is largely behind the financial collapse of the United States, and thus the World. It is beyond compelling. I believe that every American should see this film. I started with my own family, and made it required watching of my 15 year-old sons, Charlie and Sam.

The NY Stock Exchange Bldg. - The Root Cause?
 When I heard about Occupy Wall Street, I became intrigued. I followed the movement peripherally.

Last Friday, October 14, 2011, I decided to take a day off of work for my busy practice, and to take the boys out of school for a day, so that we could travel up to NYC and check out what exactly is going on.

Sam, Dad, Charlie
 Where is Zuccotti Park and How Do I Get There?

Zuccotti Park is located about two blocks from the New York Stock Exchange Building, in the virtual shadow of the new World Trade Center (to get there from Philly, you take Exit 13 off of the New Jersey Turnpike, towards the Verrazano Bridge; that will put you on to 278e, and then you go through the Brooklyn Battery tunnel, and into the Financial District). In the attached Video that I shot, you'll see the new WTC in the background, particularly behind the shot of the Dove Flag.

The New WTC - Let Freedom Ring
Who are the Protesters at Zuccotti Park?

They are the great unwashed. As Wall Street has observed, you will not find a lot of middle class people sleeping in the Park. My expectation is that, like me, they are mostly working and raising families. The people that are there, however, are committed. We personally met people from all over the Northeast, and as far away as Sacramento, California and Columbia, South America.

A Brooklyner There From Day 1
There are many people with long hair and facial hair, wearing clothes that could use a roll in the washer. There are sleeping bags strewn throughout the Park and, when we got there, around 10 a.m., and throughout our visit, there were people sleeping despite the din.  At one point I looked at the scene, turned to my sons and said, "this is what the hippie movement looked like.  It wasn't people laying in fields of flowers...It was people sleeping on cement in the rain, in need of a shower, but resolute in their commitment to change."

If you want to see the scene captured in its essence, check out the Video shot by my son, Charlie.

Huddled Masses, Yearning to Breathe Free
The Drumbeat of Change (?)

Despite the disheveled appearance of the protesters, what I saw was an ad hoc community. It was clear that everyone that stays in the Park plays a role at various times throughout the day and night.

Take, for example, the drummers that are featured in my Video. Even during the 4 minutes that I shot, there was some degree of rotation amongst the drummers. Later that day, we returned, and there was almost a whole new set of drummers. Drumming is not easy, but one could tell that, to the protesters, it was essential to their movement. They play all day long, from crack of dawn until bedtime, beating out their incessant demand for change.

The use of drums is, to me, brilliant. As I expect you will find when you watch my Vid, there is a primitive, primordial rhythm created by the drummers that creates a sense of urgency, defiance, drive, purpose… It was and is among the most compelling things that I have ever seen.

In the Kitchen

We spoke with a number of people working in "the Kitchen." A young man from New Hampshire talked to my boys about having a state of awareness, to question everything that is told to you by authority/big business/politicians. He did not suggest or advocate fighting authority. Rather, he simply said that being aware that the Powers That Be do not always act with the best interests of the individual members of society was important.

New Hampshire Cook
Despite his long hair and shoddy clothing, he was a respectful, intelligent, earnest, passionate and impressive young man. He discussed Plato and the concept of critical awareness. I took his message to heart, and suggested to my sons that they do the same.

In a similar vein, I recently read the Newsweek article entitled "How Dumb Are We?"  In a Poll, only 62% of Americans passed the Citizenship Test.  In summary, the article concluded that our political divide is actually fueled by ignorance - the fact is, many of us vote based upon ideology without actually knowing the true facts.  Newsweek, like the New Hampshire cook, advocates that the solution to the problem is for each American to take it upon themself to learn the true facts before casting votes.  I might add, watching Inside Job is not a bad way to start....

What Do the Protesters Want?

Awareness, indeed, was the most common theme that I heard when talking with the protesters. They did not seem to have a sophisticated level of understanding of the Wall Street debacle. In fact, I spoke to about 20 people, and not one of them had ever heard of or seen Inside Job. They just seem do know that something was very wrong, and that some major changes had to take place.

When I tried to delve more deeply into what exact changes they felt were important (such a lawyer!), few seemed to have any answers. However, one man, a union organizer from Philadelphia, encouraged us to not use ATM machines or auto check-out kiosks at our local supermarkets. He explained that the more such automated machinery is normalized in our society, the less jobs there are for American citizens. He further encouraged us to find local banks to use, explaining that the monolithic major banks have far too much power in our Country.

Overall, it seemed to me that the protesters weren't able to articulate a unified message. There are lots of causes being advocated: the unemployed (particularly the 99ers), unions, international harmony, etc.  However, if I had to summarize, the major themes I heard were for peace, environment and encouraging heightened awareness of the state of the World.  But, to get it from the horse's mouth, read the OWS Call to Action, and the OWS Mission Statement.  These statements seem to more succinctly focus on the problem at hand:  the infiltration of our Country's polictical systen by Big Business - the same themes focused on in Hot Coffee and Inside Job

An Impressive Protester from Rochester - With His Message of Peace
Is Occupy Wall Street Organized?

The unionizer are also filled us in on something that was not apparent upon our visual inspection of the Park. The protesters have many committees. For example, they were planning to march on Citibank on the following day. This was a carefully organized march, involving many people who were responsible for things such as timing, location, participation from unions, bank customers, protesters and the general public, media relations, organization of speakers, etc. He told us that they had about 20 different committees. These committees have to do with everything from obtaining essentials such as food, clothing and hygiene, to non-essentials such as how to get their message out through various activities.

The protesters feed themselves, with significant help via donations from private parties and an ever-growing cachet of donations from private businesses such as Starbucks, McDonald's, etc. Obviously, these businesses have little to gain from their contributions, since anyone observing the protesters could see that they do not have a great deal of spending power. So why do they do it? Because they are humane.

One thing that I noticed missing was any toilet facilities. This created quite a burden on local businesses, such as Charley's and the Burger King you will see in the background. There are a lot of people, and it seems to me that Mayor Bloomberg should immediately get some Porta Pottys down there. I am sure that the City does not want to encourage this Occupation, but I suspect it is here to stay for a while and people need toilets.  A wash sink would be a good idea as well...

I will be writing more about my encounter with the protesters in the coming future. For now, I hope that you enjoy the Videos and pictures.

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