Cliché or not, it’s not often that you have the opportunity to be a part of history. On Thursday, November 17th, 2011 I cautiously took part of what #OWS, or Occupy Wall Street, deemed their “National Day of Action.” I am now presumably a part of history and, coincidently, what follows is not just a historically accurate picture of the scenes I saw but a disturbingly truthful portrayal of what I fear may follow.
I started the evening by leaving my apartment in lower Manhattan at around 5:30 p.m. Understand that I quite literally live across the street from the Brooklyn Bridge and New York City’s City Hall so it took a quick thirty seconds to see the scores of people who were beginning to gather out front of City Hall and the Brooklyn Bridge. The barricades were up and the NYPD were in full riot gear.
The first thing I noticed was the diversity amongst the protesters. These were everyday Americans: Black, White, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and anything and literally everything in between. It wasn’t quite chaos at first glance, but there was certainly an air of tension that fractiously brought out much emotion between the protesters and the cops.
As I found myself encircled by people whom I never would have otherwise met in my life, I quickly became consumed in a riotous battle which I had already felt was fruitless and what I would later learn would be dangerous. I first heard a very loud anti-Semitic slur in which I quickly took offense to and turned around only to notice that the man behind me to which the ignorant rant came from was a purported Vietnam veteran. I wasn’t sure what to do; I wanted to thank him for his service but quickly give him the dishonorable discharge when it came to his remarks. Conflicted, I remained silent. I stood still and observed the police, who looked like they were ready for ensuing battle — their shields and helmets reminded me that I was not.
Having done no pre-planning for my date with history, I acquired a sign off the ground that read “CREATE JOBS NOW.” I thought to myself, why, hell, that’s a novel idea — I could join this cause!
What a misleading caricature.
Using a borrowed marker, I decided to personalize my sign by adding a line beneath the “CREATE JOBS NOW” that read “But WE THE PEOPLE cant do that till Obama goes!” I was surprised I had in the courage to write such a jarring remark in the face of folks I deemed to be Obama fans. Once again, that too was proven to be un-true.
There were a bunch of folks handing out free socialist newspapers and trying to sign people up to join the “revolution.” I thought #OWS was supposed to be a revolution in itself, so I decided to ask the socialist man how his revolution would pan out. He told me “it would be a land of opportunity, of equality, where everything is free and everyone has healthcare and everyone has choices.” I once again remained silent. I wasn’t even going to begin to argue the fact that the words “choices,” “free” and “opportunity” totally contradict socialism. I swiftly passed by and threw his newspaper–or, rather, propaganda–to the ground.
As a crowd, the tens of thousands of us began to march towards Zuccotti Park. There were rumors we were going to try and take back the park. The original plan was to march across the Brooklyn Bridge but the cops made sure that wasn’t going to happen just yet. The NYPD told the protesters that they had to take a different route. I didn’t know a thing so I simply followed; ironically enough, this seemed to be a deeper theme within the #OWS ranks.
I witnessed multiple people talk about the great sex they had earlier in the day or the drugs that they acquired through participation in #OWS democracy. Clearly, according to these people the Constitution had been updated, but I certainly wasn’t going to partake in amendment one or two of my new bill of rights.
I can’t really recall the route along which we marched because we moved at such a slow stream with multiple interruptions that it was more like a green light, red light kind of game. Nevertheless, this pressure to move forward is what evoked the most emotion out of folks. The older people wanted to sit. The younger people cursed at the police. The middle aged just peacefully chanted. Once again, I remained silent.
The most common slogans amongst the protestors on their “National Day of Action” were: “FIGHT BACK NOW,” “WE ARE THE 99%” and, most disturbing, “KILL THE RICH, FEED THE POOR.” I was shocked. I was scared. I didn’t know how to react. I thought to myself that we are all human beings here and this was a peaceful display of democracy in action, but to have the guts, the chutzpah to utter such hate made me frightened for the march forward.
As a large group, we would often shout “mic check!” to make sure the tens thousands of us could hear the main speakers. They uttered words of wisdom that simply aren’t worth repeating. Their common themes were free healthcare, free education and, above all, to end the greed of Wall Street. I thought to myself, how about the FREE MARKET?, but then I realized that between the talk of socialism, the casual sexual encounters, the drugs and threats of violence, I woke up to the fact that these people—my fellow Americans and dare I say New Yorkers–didn’t want a FREE MARKET.
They talked about occupying wealthy people’s homes for the winter and taking over all foreclosures. There were some who blamed Jews for the cause of the economy. There were others who said it started with Clinton and needed to end with Obama. They had such conviction that as the winds propelled us forward, the passion of some, the anger of most and the belligerent wrongness of it all escaped all of our senses. It was nothing short of dystopia, and I was scared.
By this time I had been occupying the “other side” for a solid three hours and made the decision to head home. I said to myself, “I occupied, I witnessed, I partook and I am done.” The walk home was difficult. There were thousands of people and I could only say excuse me so many times. I will still, for the most part, maintain that everyone was extremely friendly. It was strange, though. There was pleasant music being played at random parts of the march, and yet a continuous booing of the cops at other parts when they passed by.
In the midst of what I gathered to be anger, disgust and heightened emotion, I remained silent once again. However, my thoughts were racing, and my first argument was why don’t they occupy Washington and tell Obama to end the corporate welfare? That was squashed by the many signs that reeked of hatred towards our President. Many of them seemed like they blamed Obama for the dire straits of the 99 percent. I wasn’t going to argue with them on that one. But remember—I was silent then; it is only now that I open up.
The reality of Occupy Wall Street is one of an unorganized angered populace and, dare I say it, they are right to be so! We have a president who has done nothing but wreak havoc on our economy. Our unemployment rate hovers steadily above nine percent and 99 percent of people apparently feel their voice isn’t being heard in Congress, let alone the White House.
What are Americans to do but take to the streets? Should we daringly ask for revolution? No. We have a balanced, beautiful Constitution, A framework that has built this nation into the benevolent empire it is and, if truly followed, would allow for continued success. We need not ask for revolution or even take to the streets; we need to educate and vote for the right folks.
I have learned in my short time on Earth, ironically enough most of it spent in politics, that most Americans are ignorant. They don’t know who they are voting for when November comes around. They take their party’s sample ballot and vote by party lines and shared last names. They vote by pressing buttons and seeing lights. Why not vote by pressing for progress and seeking results? This starts when the American electorate is aware of the policies and the stances of our elected officials. It should not be a shock to the 99 percent that the economy is where it’s at. I would have told you that before I could vote. Obama made it clear that his inexperience was his best asset, yet I bet his “hope and change” will be his ultimate defeat. There was no hope in the camps of the 99 percent, there was no change in Washington since these protests have broken out, and no one should expect any until Obama is introduced as “former president.”
Do not compare #OWS to the Arab spring or a seizure for true democracy. There is no sacrifice amongst the protesters. Sure, they may leave their jobs and the comforts of their homes and most are willing to pay more taxes, but there has been no sacrifice when it comes to what truly matters. The Vietnam veteran who uttered the anti-Semitic slur — I am sure he knows sacrifice, yet his ignorance has blinded him with hatred. The men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan and, now thanks to Obama, Libya and Uganda—they know sacrifice.
I am not urging the protestors to commit suicide for the injustices they see, or to seek out violence (enough of that has already been done). I want them to seek the truth. I want the 99 percent to realize that, until President Obama is voted out of office, until the regulations on domestic drilling for oil and natural gas are lifted, jobs will vanish, hope will fade and Obama will win. I will not ever say that President Obama wants to see our nation fail, but he has certainly put us on the unrighteous path of the anger of the 99 percent.
The 99 percent are not all anti-Semites or violent people. Much of what you see on the nightly news–when it’s covered, that is–has been violence committed by G-20-style anarchists who have infiltrated the camps. Like I mentioned, they were diverse everyday Americans whose sentiment of anger can easily be empathized with. I simply disagree with their particular pursuit of action, their hesitation to blame and seek change on the federal level and the idea that resonates above all—that something, some innate beautiful objective is owed to them. To only the 99 percent, and no other. No, that is wrong—very wrong. There are only three things owed to 100 percent of the American people, and that is once again thanks to sacrifice: “Among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”