First the smell.
One doesn’t require an Orwell-like preoccupation (“the working class smells”) with the olfactory sense to be fixated on the stench issuing forth from ground zero of the Wall Street protests. The familiar dog-urine smell of the subways mixes with the body odor issuing forth from the unshaven armpits of the female placard-wavers and the eye-watering effluvia of defecated-upon cop cars.
Then the appearance. There are those who follow the current fad of deliberate dorkiness–Clark Kent glasses, baggy clothes, carefully torn sweaters. Mingling with them are cigarette-wavers in mobster leather coats and the aged with their wire-like hair and the pitted, sallow complexions of the old crones by the guillotines of Revolutionary France. They are all dressed warmer than the weather warrants, as if they are in another, colder city like say, St. Petersburg. For a group so worried about what Wall Street is doing to their America, they exhibit no worry lines on their foreheads; instead they have snarl ones.
I came to New York after a ten year absence (I left in August 2001), expecting that Sept. 11th had made the city into more of a police state, especially with the anti-libertarian Bloomberg in charge. The violations I left the city over were still there: tickets were still issued if you ran out of gas, sat on a crate, smoked a cigarette in a restaurant. To me the establishment of New York was a mix of corporate types and screaming lefties, all united in the sentiment of money as the measurement of everything (once in a grad school seminar, I heard a self-described Trotskyite insult a conservative opponent by showing that she owned a better quality backpack than him).
That kind of fashion snottiness is still there among the protestors. Anyone staring at or questioning them receive a bellow about their terrible haircuts or bad ties. But there is a palpable fear in the air among segments of the establishment. There are cops who seem to want to lash out, but there are others who seem to hide behind their plexi-glass shields. The favored gesture of the New Yorker is holstered among the corporate types attempting a day at the office.
They seem aware that the Left no longer owns the media.
This gives rise to a Pol Pot-type preoccupation with fashion as an idelogical identifier. Anyone wearing dockers and a button-down is a Fox News plant. Not mingling, even for those who are dressed like them, is suspect. I myself, as carefully grunged as a forty-four year-old white male could be, was asked, because I clung to the sidelines and was seen scribbling in my reporter’s notebook, what government security agency I was working for and where I was wired. They know what not to say. One protestor witnessing a comrade being questioned by a reporter about what economic system they hoped to replace capitalism with, advised, “Don’t say it, man.”
They are clearly not readers, their literature is youtube and television. They don’t know if they should applaud when the older quote Eugene Debs and FDR. They do at the mention of Jon Stewart or the appearance of Micheal Moore and Susan Sarandon who do a drop-by (the older reveal an ability to anticipate the charges of the other side, evidenced by them blocking camera-views of the limos that bore the stars to the protests). I asked one protester why he was wearing a Guy Falkes mask. He looked at me as if I were the dumbest thing on earth and said, “Man, that’s V For Vendetta.” Some of them wave signs whose content that don’t know the meaning of. I asked one protestor waving a sign characterizing Wall Street Workers as “little Eichmans” who Eichman was and was told he was a Republican. Another holding a sign saying Christ was against Wall Street told me the Son of God once “kicked the ass of those Jew money-changers” (anti-Semitism is clearly fashionable; one protester, questioned by a yarmichal wearing citizen, told him to “go back to Isreal, Jew.”)
But someone who has a read a book has coached them. Wall Street workers are “fascists” rather than crony capitalists (the coaches might have feared that this description might have tracked back to the president who bailed out the corporations in the first place).
Despite their media-savvy, blemishes of their movement slip out.. Question them and they alienate Middle America. I asked them what methods they would use on Wall Street and they sounded like Soviet Purge Trial enthusiasts: “the government has to use force.” What specifically I ask. Omniously, one says, “whatever is necessay.” They exhibit the same kind of hypocrisy that keeps citizens at home and not in theaters watching Sean Penn. Corporate workers are “Nazi fags” (this against the backdrop of Act-Up signs).
Needing fresh air, I tried to wrap up my infiltration with a good question. I asked a girl so attractive that not even layers of grime could hide it, why, if they were so worried about unemployment, were they trying to wreck the group who did the most hiring in society. Her answer gave me the kind of end sentence every conservative journalist wishes for: “That’s the government’s job.”