Occupy Wall Street — Guest Post by William James Briggs

W.J. Briggs is your host’s number one son. He ventured among the perpetually dissatisfied yesterday and files this report.

A man poured a small bag of marijuana into half of an old clam shell. Casually, he picked out the stems and threw them on the pavement. He was sitting beside “The Altar of Peace” which, a few weeks ago, was just a tree in Wall Street’s Liberty Square Park. Now it’s the official meeting place for the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

I watched the man sort through his marijuana while the people around him busied themselves with protesting. To my immediate right there was a youth in an army uniform. He held up a sign that read, “Bradley Manning is Still in Jail.” To our left there were two older women having a conversation about Fracking. Behind us random protesters were yelling and chanting. They wanted to end corporate greed. Occupy Wall Street

On either side of the calm marijuana sifter, there was an anxious teenager. They were looking forward to a smoke. My staring was interrupted. A thin, pale, man in a tie-dye shirt tapped me on the shoulder.

“Have you seen my donation bucket?” he asked.

Behind his oval glasses his eyes had a distant, frenzied, look. Before I could respond a large, shirtless, gentlemen approached us.

“I’ve seen your donation bucket,” the shirtless man said.

The pale man looked delighted and threw his hands together. “Where is it?” he asked.

The shirtless man looked over his shoulder at his snickering friends. They were lying on dirty sleeping bags and picking at a plate of stewed carrots that the Occupy Wall Street kitchen had provided for lunch.

“I don’t know where your bucket is!” The shirtless man said and laughed. His friends started to crack up and exchange high-fives.

The thin man looked confused. “My bucket is black,” he said looking hurt, “there’s some white tape on it. Have you seen it? Have you seen my bucket?”

Quietly I stepped away and started walking east. I passed a sign that read, “The Gaiian mind is not a metaphor. It is a bio-spiritual phenomenon.” Below the sign a woman with overalls was showing a kid how to make noise by hitting a stick against a turned-over metal trash can. They were trying to add to the clamor of the nearby drum circle. Next to them another sign read, “No negative energy in this area.” I moved on.

The Occupy Wall Street protests started as an idea in mid July. Now, the “leaderless” movement has over 500,000 on-line supporters, raised over 40,000 dollars, and has spread across America. A large flat-screen TV connected to a laptop on the south side of the park advertises these facts. The screen also displays a live Twitter feed. A person called Olivia in Mexico wrote, “Let’s try to be humane.”

On the east end of the park there’s a red metal sculpture that looks like a tripod. It serves as the event space for the protesters. Under the tripod there were about thirty small children squirming around and trying to listen to a brown-haired woman.

“There’s contradictory information about Christopher Columbus,” she screamed with a knowing smirk on her face.

The adults surrounding the children shouted, “There’s contradictory information about Christopher Columbus.”

It’s a call-and-response technique the protesters use to make sure a speaker can be heard. They aren’t allowed amplifying equipment so they yell each other’s statements in unison. The children looked confused and pulled at their clothes and played with the loose gravel on the ground.

Alongside the tripod there’s another meeting going on. An olive-skinned girl gets up, her smile is beautiful and her skin looks clean. She yells, “They want us to be disorganized.”

The crowd around her echoes, “They want us to be disorganized.”

The young beauty clears her throat and shouts, “They want us to be dirty.”

She continues with similar statements and eventually reclaims her seat on the pavement. A young man takes center stage and repeats her message with different words but he manages to add more emotion. His face gets red and the veins in his neck bulge. The beauty looks at the man with wide eyes. It’s obvious they’re in love.

A grizzly, tattooed, man in a denim vest barrels into the center of attention. Around his arm a patch reads, “Street Medic.”

“If you have a drug addiction,” he booms, “Come see me and we’ll share our resources with you.” The group laughs, he smiles, and then walks into the crowd followed by a decent applause.

Someone screams out “Mic-check.” And the group roars back, “Mic-check.” The protesters are testing their call and response system and filling the silence until the next volunteer gets up to speak.

I wandered again and was handed a pamphlet called, “Anarchist Basics.” With nothing better to do, I flipped through its pages. The pamphlet helps teach Anarchists to do things like “organize a festive community-orientated event like a street party without going through the parks department.” And to “decorate buildings with revolutionary slogans.”

My reading is interrupted by a Chinese man who’s built like a bull-dog. He’s raging through the park screaming and waving his arms.

“You wanna get verbal with me?” he yelled at a middle-aged woman who’s following him around trying to apologize. He was just thrown out of a protest meeting.

“They don’t want to hear different opinions!” he shouted to anyone who bothered to listen. “All they want to do is mic-check!”

Across the park a group of people screamed, “Mic-check.”

Two protesters, self-appointed sanitation workers, clutched brooms and watched the tirade with derision. “He’s always such a d—.” One of them said. “Yeah, he’s an as——.” The other one said.

“Drugs and drinking, is that going to help Wall Street?” The Chinese man screamed.

A well dressed reporter noticed the crowd the Chinese man was attracting. He walked over with his camera man and introduced himself. The reporter got his assistant to strap a small microphone under the Chinese man’s Ralph Laruen polo and asked him a question.

The Chinese man calmed down, flexed his muscles, and looked into the camera.

“They have all these meetings here and on three separate occasions they’ve called me ‘disruptive.'” He said glowering at the camera. The reporter nodded in rehearsed understanding.

I decided to leave. I didn’t discover what the Occupy Wall Street protest was about, but I did see a lot of people try real hard to define why it is they feel so disenchanted with life, with the government, and with the economy.

But the anger, the drugs, the bad food, the dirty sleeping bags, and the chanting, made it hard for anyone to find words, let alone the right ones.

As I left I saw a protester wearing a camouflage shirt on Broadway practicing different mediation poses. He was intently watching his dim reflection in a McDonald’s window.

His name tag said “Aver” and he tired to stand on one foot with his arms extended upward. He stumbled and shook his hands with frustration. He tried again, but this time he held his hands together in prayer.


  1. Matt

    “decorate buildings with revolutionary slogans.”

    Only recently have I come to appreciate just how revolutionary the American Revolution was. If I could pick a revolutionary slogan to decorate with, I think it would be:

    Congress shall make no law…

  2. j ferguson

    I’m astonished that what your son reports is so similar to what i used to see and hear in the ’60s. Is it possible that progressives don’t progress?

  3. GT

    Indian Summer
    In the fever swamps will be
    Gone by New Year’s Day

  4. There was, on You Tube, a video of #OccupyAtlanta in action, doing the call-and-response, while Congressman John Lewis waited to speak (he was never allowed to speak).

    It was stultifying, listening to a person say, maybe, four words maximum, then waiting for the crowd to parrot the words. After that, it was pretty much rinse and repeat.

    In the comments section, one wag wrote, and I paraphrase:

    John is buying (John is buying)
    Two thousand rounds (two thousand rounds)
    Of ammunition (of ammunition)
    For his AR-15 (for his AR-15)
    On Tuesday (on Tuesday)

    I was falling over laughing while I read this comment. He went on to say that the purchase next Tuesday would bring his total ammunition to 4,000 rounds, and, of course, included the crowd’s responses in the same format. That’s funny, I don’t care who ya are.

    No, really, there’s no reason these protesters shouldn’t get their way. Of course, they’ll have to change the most basic components of human nature first. Should be a snap!

  5. I forgot to say thanks to W.J. for his venturing into the madness, and the most excellent reportage which resulted.

    So, here goes: THANKS!

  6. As an almost life-long conservative (rehabilitated 60’s radical) I am enjoying the occupy wall street protests. Of course, lots of what the media (and, W.J.) bring us is the laughable left wing loonies, I think there are some legitimate gripes being aired as well. Why have the architects of the financial collapse escaped scrutiny and prosecution. Bernie defrauded a few dozen for a few billion. We’re talking trillions here. Seems like the kind of red meat that would get a prosecutor or two moving in the right direction, even if the architects are politically well (wrist and ankle, I hope) connected…

  7. Lionell Griffith

    Nothing but Woodstock 2.0.

    Stone age savages would be embarrassed by such behavior because they would know they could not survive a week in the real world with it. Yet these sad excuses for human beings are protesting the very things that keeps them alive in spite of themselves. If they want to live in a cultural trash heap, make sure they get their wish. Sweep them up with the rest of the garbage on the street and dump them were everything is free for the taking: the local garbage dump.

  8. Hal

    I hope the Dems keep rallying around these folks. And I hope that the MSM actually interviews a wide spectrum of Occupiers, similar to what young Briggs encountered.

  9. DAV

    Shades of Haight-Ashbury. We all know how that turned out.

  10. I applaud WJB for a having the guts to go there, and for submitting such an excellent report. Kudos.

    @ Halflife’s comments at first read seem reasonable, except he misses the point that the whole home property boom was a fraud. According to Spengler’s The people’s Ponzi scheme banks have payed a higher price for their mortgage cupidity than American homeowners who – as a class, if not specifically – gladly accepted the fiction their property was more valuable than it truly was, and even today remain further ahead in the valuation game than the financial industry. Not saying the banks are OK on this, just that one needs to be sensitive as to who throws the first stone.

  11. Reed Coray

    Did anyone see a Charles Manson look-alike in the crowd?

  12. alcuin

    The idea for these demonstrations predated last July. I took a couple of courses at a local university last spring, and in one of them the professor was preaching revolution like St. Bernard preaching a crusade. No objective other than eliminating capitalism–I wonder what that would lead to. In the other course the professor was a bit more circumspect, merely emphasizing mob techniques that occurred during the 1776 Revolution and the importance of the lower classes in bringing it about.

  13. ras datsun

    That was sage that the person was breaking up in the shell which he also used to burn the sage I have been at the altar space and the police lining the whole area would immediately arrest anyone smoking pot there. Have you really never seen or smelled pot? It is white sage i have been down there since the altar went up.

  14. Craig Loehle

    Such a concrete goal: end corporate greed. What specifically do they think would be a response to that wish? Might as well occupy times square and protest evil. Most of their parents’ retirement funds are invested in greedy corporate bonds/stocks. The housing bubble was caused by federal rules forcing Fannie and Freddie and FHA to give X% of home loans to the less credit worthy, which likewise forced lowered standards. It is like saying you can’t flunk anyone in high school and then moaning about lowered standards. Even in late 2009 I know someone who got a home loan from FHA for 3.5% down. Absurd. And of course there came the group delusion, shared by homeowners and all of wall street and the ratings agencies that home prices could only go up. But mass financial delusions go back to the tulip mania in holland in the 1700s (1600s?) and have been ever-present.

  15. DirkH

    Capitalism is fine as long as people can earn money flipping houses, or have a construction job building new houses. When the boom goes bust, the same people who happily took the money during the boom suddenly discover that capitalism doesn’t work and that they want socialism now.

    I heard British colleagues turning socialist when their British bank shares dropped in 2008, and I see all the protestors in Spain… as long as they all had labor in the housing boom the system was just fine; now they are Los Indignados…

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