Posted by: trevormeers | October 28, 2011

Does This Tie Look OK for a Protest March?

If you’re curious about exactly how chronically uncool I am, this ought to sum it up: I wore a suit to a hippie camp yesterday. Yep, after several meetings with New York’s largest advertising agencies, I loosened my new tie and wandered downtown to rub shoulders with the earnest young folks of Occupy Wall Street.

Just when you thought it was time to retire that old tamborine, along comes Occupy Wall Street and a whole new chance for singing "We Shall Not Be Moved."

Unless you’ve been wasting all of your online time reading folksy blogs lately, you’ve probably at least heard of the fairly amorphous group known as Occupy Wall Street. Turns out, they’re not actually on Wall Street, and their occupation looks a lot like the crummiest tent sites at the end of a big country-music festival. But at least their message is clear. Sort of. They want the 1% of people who make up the country’s richest class to start giving back to the other 99% by way of paying more taxes and being more just with wages, benefits, etc.

Or something like that. It’s pretty tough to identify exactly what specific actions the collection of hippies in a park would like America to take. Quite a few of them set out buckets to collect donations for “the people.” But it’s hard not to assume “the people” will be spending whatever change they collect on Doritos around 1am tonight.

No matter how fuzzy the agenda, though, this much was clear: White guys in suits are squarely in the crosshairs. That’s daunting news for a suit-wearing 6’4 blonde dude who could look more like The Man only if I had gray hair and was chomping on a stogie.

But when I wandered into the crowd around the park in downtown Manhattan, I quickly realized I didn’t have a lot to worry about. This bivouac of the discontent seemed to be filled with hippies on their best behavior. The camp looked ragged, what with all the tents jammed next to each other and some Woodstock holdover in a flowered dress getting in one last round with her tambourine and folk songs. But there was no trash spilling into the streets and no smell of marijuana, and the 30 or so cops keeping an eye on things looked as bored as your average library security guard.

Sure, a guy in cool glasses and a tight black T-shirt stood on a low wall shouting about how Wall Street’s robber barons wrote the laws supposedly designed to regulate them. But his language was clean, and when one dude in a “We Are the 99%” T-shirt bumped into me, he apologized. (Yes, I confirmed that my wallet was still in my pocket.) All in all, the protestors are surprisingly formal about acting nice. A list of “good-neighbor” policies hangs on every wall around the park, explaining that they’ll be civil to the nearby businesses and won’t tolerate drugs or alcohol in their camp.

If The Man keeps up, we'll all wind up like Cage Girl (at least in some kind of vague metaphorical sense).

Granted, I’m not much of a protest expert. My experience is pretty much limited to the time I got kicked out of a conservative Christian university’s dining hall because I didn’t wear a belt with my Dockers. But I was a little disappointed with the level of post-modern self-awareness in the camp. It’s as if some of the protestors aren’t there for the righteousness of the cause as much as for the chance to get in a good protest while they can. Plus, it’s probably a lot more fun to camp out and gripe about how you can’t find your dream job than to go out and actually work.

I tried not to take pictures of all the characters I studied while circling the camp, because some would hold up a sign that said, “While you’re snapping, why not donate?” So I kept my phone in my pocket as I walked by the people in gas masks, the group meditation circle and the couple putting on a puppet show in which marionettes griped about imbalanced tax loads and then bopped each other on the head.

But I couldn’t pass up the girl in the cage. She was doing Sudoku while crammed into some kind of pet cage that represented The Man’s entrapment of the commoners. She looked pretty content in there with her tablet of brain-teasers, despite the soul-crushing oppression of corporate America.

Further down the wall, one girl held up a cardboard sign reading, “Guitar string broke in Iowa and had to leave it there while traveling here. Please help.” I wasn’t clear about why she had to abandon her guitar because of a broken string, why it’s imperative that she have a guitar now or how she could afford to travel from Iowa to New York, yet couldn’t afford a guitar string. But she seemed sincerely distressed about it all, so I didn’t say anything.

The poster child for today’s protestor seemed to be the scraggly kid who was contemplating what color to spray paint onto his brightly colored tent to give it a little more flair. “Blue on neon orange, huh?” he said while staring at the tent. Then he turned to the girl next to him and said with the uptalking tone of a tween girl at Claire’s in the mall, “Did anyone else notice that my tent still has dust on it from Burning Man*? I feel like such a horrible, sloppy hippie.” Then he smirked in my direction. The bragging rights of the whole thing seemed to be giving him such joy that I wondered how long he’d even been at this hippie thing. It makes me wonder whether he owned a suit a few weeks ago, too. Right before he ditched it in Iowa and headed to New York to stick it to the hedge-fund managers by playing Sudoku in a cage.

* For those of you who aren’t up on your alternative culture, Burning Man is an annual campout/art event held in the Nevada desert and capped with the burning of a giant effigy of a man.

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Responses

  1. Trevor, you always present information from a mind-expanding perspective! Enjoyed this blog very much…but then every single one is a great “read”.

  2. You are “right on”….. Perfectly writing what many of us (globbed into that 99% group) have been thinking and scratching our heads over. Thanks for another great column! They make my day!
    Susan

  3. I gotta believe there was a nice collective aroma of unemployment, laziness, body odor, pot smoking(I don’t believe the warning signs you mentioned) and nappy hair. Sounds like an average day in France!

    I don’t think these people have any idea what they really want other than a handout and a nice hit on a bong. God Bless America!

    Go Huskers!


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