We got a mixed response to our latest poll, in which we asked readers to let us know what they think about the protesters camped out in lower Manhattan since last month.
Close to half reckoned the occupiers are a confused bunch (“I don’t understand what they want — and I’m not sure they do”), while almost a third reckoned they are drawing attention to an important problem (“They’re shining a light on America’s failed political/economic order”).
On a recent visit to New York, I stopped by Zuccotti Park to bump fists, rage against The Man and check out what the revolution looked like. Everyone seemed to be having a good time. One group of protesters was dancing to bongo drums and, when the rhythm moved them in the right direction, shaking down morning commuters for support; another bunch had found enough room among the mattresses and signboards to form a yoga circle and were busy stretching; while yet another group spread the word about the day's activities from a makeshift media centre.
There was lots of talk about the 99%, as well as jobs, debts, Ben Bernanke, Warren Buffett and the Koch brothers. On the face of it, Lower Manhattan is a strange place to vent spleen about taxes, unemployment and the gaming of the system by the mega rich. Blaming Wall Street types for all the world’s ills might feel good, but what exactly do the protesters want them to do about it?
Not much, as it happens. The movement has no leader and no list of demands, and its supporters have a broad range of reasons for being angry at the status quo — much like the Tea Partiers, with whom they share an obvious connection but little love.
Many in both movements are angry at a political system that they see as rigged in favour of rich and powerful interests who pay for access to lawmakers. Occupy K Street (the home of lobbyists and thinktanks in Washington DC) might have seemed a more sensible starting point, but it's hard to argue with the protesters’ success in getting their message (such as it is) heard around the world. It is unlikely that waving placards in Washington would have had the same effect.
Members of the 99% in cities throughout the world staged occupations of their own on the weekend of October 15, including groups in Hong Kong, Manila, Seoul (of course), Taipei and Tokyo. Of course, disgruntled Hongkongers have been banging and wailing outside banks and government buildings ever since Lehman Brothers went bankrupt in 2008. With such battle-hardened veterans to call on, it is no surprise that the Hong Kong occupation has continued under HSBC in Central for more than a week now.
On a separate note, Twitter phenomenon GSEelevator, which purports to betray conversations overhead in the lifts at Goldman Sachs, has proven a useful source for front-line reports from the occupation. Some of our favourites:
Overheard on Wall Street
#1: Apparently, the world population will reach 7 billion in the next few days.
#2: What’s that multiplied by 0.01? (Laughs)
#1: A guy yells at me, “Bankers have no imagination to actually create and make money!”
#2: At least you don’t have to imagine having money.
#1: Scary to think those angry proles are the same kind of people that prepare our food.
#2: Eat Subway. They can’t spit on it to your face.
#1: Why are we are getting vilified? Look at what Google or GE do. Booking revenue offshore and avoiding taxes.
#2: Heavy lies the crown.
#1: 9 out of 10 of those protesters would trade their life for mine any day. I’m on track to retire before my sons start Little League.
#1: Unemployment rate for people that voted for Obama is probably 25-30%.
#2: They get what they deserve.