STERN: Occupying our place in the protests

It’s still a little surprising to me how close Yale is to New York City. I’m from Pittsburgh, which — while not on the other side of the country or anything — is prohibitively far from the Big Apple. On Saturday, I took advantage of New York’s proximity for the first time. For one glorious afternoon, I occupied Wall Street.

This wasn’t how I had expected to spend my Saturday. My decision to go was made in about 10 seconds ­— I was eating lunch when a friend sat down with a giant poster that said something about greed and bankers. Twenty minutes later, four other freshmen and I were sprinting to catch a train. Two hours later, we entered Zuccotti Park.

The protest itself is something to see — legions of unkempt, sign-holding hippies, hipsters and college kids, coexisting together in drab tents. Food was doled out in an Oliver Twist-like queue, and makeshift kiosks were set up distributing Marxist literature or copies of the Occupy Wall Street Journal.

Above all, there were people everywhere — talking, chanting, singing, smoking. They held signs that said, “We are the 99 percent” or “Read Your Zinn,” while others were too profane to discuss here. (Let’s just say that bankers aren’t that popular.) A man in some sort of rodent costume was sermonizing loudly, while a few yards away drums beat to the rhythm of an impassioned chant. In a word, being one of the occupiers was awesome.

I held a sign and chanted with the best of them. I was interviewed by several New York University students making documentaries about the protest. The remarkable thing about the Occupy Wall Street protest is that it is completely leaderless. My friends and I lined up and began chanting, “This is what democracy looks like.” Within a minute, there were about 50 people chanting and following behind us. Like I said, awesome.

But I wondered: Were we hypocrites for being there? As one of my friends said, “Yale is sort of like the fast track to become the 1 percent.” Obviously not everyone becomes an investment banker or high-powered lawyer, but our chances are pretty good should we want to. Does attending a top-tier university mean we are not part of the 99 percent?

Furthermore, was it voyeurism or protest-tourism for us to spend an afternoon at Occupy? There are people there living outdoors in the cold, neither washing nor eating well, just to keep the protest going. Many of their signs detail how they lost their jobs or homes and how they are at Zuccotti Park because there is nowhere left for them to go.

And, above all, is there a point to Occupy Wall Street? You can say what you want — I said a lot while chanting on Saturday — but the demands of the protesters are not exactly uniform or crystal clear.

It doesn’t matter that we were entitled college kids there just for an afternoon. It doesn’t matter that Occupy Wall Street doesn’t have a definitive list of demands. The protests are lawful, and they are calling attention to serious problems in this country — and every extra person there helps. Occupy Wall Street represents the vast majority of Americans — those who think realizing the American dream is getting harder and harder. It shows that it’s increasingly mainstream to want progressive taxation or financial regulation.

Our presence at Occupy Wall Street helped in some immeasurably small way to swell the ranks of the self-proclaimed 99 percent. Every extra person chanting and cheering, marching and sitting gives the protests more power. If Occupy Wall Street can survive the winter, and if it can get progressive candidates elected to office ­— as the Tea Party has conservative candidates — then it can accomplish some of its goals. The Tea Party has proven that protests don’t need clear goals to realize some change — as long as enough people are protesting.

For the record, I don’t want to end capitalism or oust every single Wall Street banker. But there is something wrong with our country when the wealthiest 400 people are worth more than the poorest 150 million people. There is something wrong with our country when the top 1 percent pays a lower percentage in taxes than the rest of us. There is something wrong with this country when the bottom 80 percent owns 7 percent of the wealth. This needs to change.

In 1968, protesters swarmed the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, demanding progressive change and chanting, “The whole world is watching.” Now, the whole world is watching Occupy Wall Street. New York isn’t that far away. Let’s show them what we the people can do.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    From a recent emailing:

    Warren Buffett, in a recent interview with CNBC,

    offers one of the best quotes about the debt ceiling:

    “I could end the deficit in 5 minutes,” he told CNBC.

    “You just pass a law that says that anytime there is a

    deficit of more than 3% of GDP, all sitting members of

    Congress are ineligible for re-election”

  • Wanderfus

    ” There is something wrong with this country when the bottom 80 percent owns 7 percent of
    the wealth. ” ” The wealth ” … ? Take an economics course.

  • LtwLimulus90

    this is the dumbest, most platitudinal thing I’ve read in the YDN in months. Who let this kid write an article? Every single one of these ideas has been discussed with more vigor by other columnists in this very paper for more than three weeks now-AND the other writers at least got their facts straight and understood economics beyond a conception of wealth generally developed by age 12. Thanks for giving us a middle-school interpretation of OWS protesting…a month after it was done the first time

  • RexMottram08

    Those greedy businessmen! How DARE they make money by selling items CHEAPER and CHEAPER!

    I liked it better when tube TVs cost $4000 for 30inches.

  • Woland

    Admissions mistake.

  • River_Tam

    > It’s still a little surprising to me how close Yale is to New York City. I’m from Pittsburgh, which — while not on the other side of the country or anything — is prohibitively far from the Big Apple.

    *Really*? *Really*?

    > For the record, I don’t want to end capitalism or oust every single Wall Street banker.

    Okay, how many “Wall Street bankers” (LOL!) do you want to oust?

    > But there is something wrong with our country when the wealthiest 400 people are worth more than the poorest 150 million people.

    Why?

    > The Tea Party has proven that protests don’t need clear goals to realize some change — as long as enough people are protesting.

    Erm, to the contrary, the Tea Party had some very specific goals – lower taxes, balance the budget, and reduce the size and reach of government.

    OWS is literally protesting to demand Stuff from Other People. Smash the machine! Re-elect the Democrats! Don’t worry, we’re just confiscating enough to have some Living Space for the 99%.

  • MapleLeaf14

    Waah…a bunch of conservatives don’t like to see OWS compared to the Tea Party! I, for one, thought this article was rather good and original.

    It seems to me that it’s easier for conservatives to attack Mr. Stern personally rather than address the huge issue of economic stratification.

  • RexMottram08

    I love the indictment of “Wall Street Bankers” as though M&A jocks were ramming through MBS trades.

    How to Fix Wall Street and Global Finance in 2 Easy Steps:

    1) NO BAIL OUTS- bad banks must fail

    2) GOLD STANDARD- the worst bank (the Fed) must be handcuffed permanently

  • MapleLeaf14

    RexMottram08, if you have ideas about how to reform our financial system (and I agree, it needs to be reformed), go join OWS.

  • River_Tam

    RexMottram08, if you have ideas about how to reform our financial system (and I agree, it needs to be reformed), go camp out with a bunch of unwashed hippies and annoy the crap out of your neighborhood by beating on drums at ungodly hours of the day.

  • MapleLeaf14

    Well said, River_Tam. I’m glad you also agree that protests for change–whatever form they come in (cough racist tea party rioters spitting at black congress-members cough)–are good!

    Luv ya

  • River_Tam

    > (cough racist tea party rioters spitting at black congress-members cough)

    Weird – no one spat at me last time I was at a Tea Party rally.

    Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

  • MapleLeaf14

    That is weird? Are you a black congress-member?

    Actually, I was referring to the time Tea Partyers spat at Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, called Rep. John Lewis a “n***ger,” and called Rep. Barney Frank a “faggot.”

    Check yourself before you wreck yourself…

  • twinkiegorilla

    What did you accomplish? What does *anyone* in OWS hope to accomplish by whoring themselves around Zuccotti Park? Why didn’t you protest in front of the White House?

    You wasted your afternoon, hippie. Nice job.

  • River_Tam

    > That is weird? Are you a black congress-member?

    Racists generally don’t care if you’re a congress member or not.

  • Aparent

    “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.” Excellent job, Scott! Bask in the ridicule that these right wingers are throwing at you! They are embarrassing themselves. Thank you for participating in the OWS movement, and thank you for writing this article. You are correct: “Every extra person chanting and cheering, marching and sitting gives the protests more power.” I live too far from New York to participate in the Wall Street happenings, but on October 15, I was at our local protest waving my sign. Our group included laid off nurses, frustrated teachers, senior citizens, union workers, veterans, a few disabled, some who lack health care, students, and a handful from fringe groups. More than half were over 40. In fact, our group had so much gray hair, I fit right in. Most of us cannot “occupy” (we leave that to the younger set), but we are as much a part of this movement as they are, and we support the occupiers with our donations. Our message has many facets, but is loud and clear to those who will listen. I will be participating further, and I hope you will too; it’s as easy as showing up at a general assembly on the Green.

  • RexMottram08

    OWS is the least followed news story outside of the northeast corridor.

    Those “flyover states”… yea, they’re too busy trying to get and keep a job to actually give a sh*t about children throwing temper tantrums in a Manhattan park.

  • River_Tam

    > OWS is the least followed news story outside of the northeast corridor.

    Now now, certainly you haven’t forgotten the “HERMAN CAIN’S CAMPAIGN MANAGER SMOKES” storyline, have you?

  • Aparent

    See what I mean, Scott? All they have to contribute is ridicule. Nothing more.

  • River_Tam

    > First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you.

    Sounds like what happened to Sarah Palin.

  • charlesdarwin

    YES, I was student at Yale 20-years… I Never, Never, Never thought academics do it for the Money.. There is little or no money in academic….. Academics do it in search for the truth or Knowledge.

    Yale, like MIT, should post All classes, online, for free free free.

    MIT, giving 2000-classes away for free free free

    Bill Gates/Warren Buffet: giving wealth away… give it away, we cannot take it with us.. .give it away…..100 million to 1000 million can see for free free free anytime/anywhere.. give it away for free free free free..

    PUBLIC / PRIVATE COLLEGE

    I’ m class of 1990… I remember many happy days lectures parties on the New Haven campus.

    Yale can be a “global university” in 21st. century…….

    As Anyone who has been to a college campus knows: there are good/bad courses… good / bad professors.

  • jocelie

    Scott and Apparent — congratulations on speaking up for sanity and common sense.

    It’s hard to tell if those who approve the current status quo (a) are so ignorant of economics and social relations that they actually believe things can continue the way they are in this country without a major financial or political breakdown; (b) are so incomprehensively and grossly selfish that they think it’s just great that our tax/economic/political system ends up letting 400 people amass wealth that equals that of 150 million people — and those 400 still don’t have to contribute a proportional share to society; or (c) are themselves currently profiting by this system (or hope to) and have learned how to look the other way when those around them are dying from the the ailments of poverty, joblessness, and hopelessness.

    There’s a famous definition of a conservative: “A conservative is one who, in the name of principles he holds inviolable, can look with equanimity on the sufferings of others.” It’s sad that there are those fortunate enought to go to Yale who have so little basic sense of fairness (not to mention even a rudimentary understanding of economics!); and that they sneer at fellow students who have such values.