Reporting Live from an Occupied Liberty Plaza

New York, NY: It’s an unusually warm evening, and drums fill the bathwater-temperature air. Every few minutes a joyous yell erupts from a cluster of people and ripples through the crowd. Bustling, even bristling with energy, this plaza is occupied. I can’t help but think of a ragtag rebel army gathering its forces.

The mis-matched accordion player, “over-educated” college kids, the anarchists,  dreadies, the middle age middle class mother with her two teenagers showing them what it means to stand for something you believe in, the out-of-work, the incensed, and the merely bored. This is indeed a motley crew, not so far off from the unruly mob some politicians and media call it. And at the same time, this is exactly what democracy looks like. This is a spotlit podium voicing radical discontent on the world-stage but it’s also a party. Smoke from a joint drifts lazily by, and rum is added to cups from a paper bag. Occupiers speak eloquently about an established system that promotes inequalities while others sprawl out on old couch cushions and plastic tarps looking like the aftermath of a D.I.Y. festival. It’s a dimly lit chaos of cardboard signs and squatters’ belongings. On one hand a disjointed mess much too random and unformed to possibly amount to anything, and at the exact same time it’s also the next spark-point in a global movement that is inspiring change-makers and spawning awakenings around the world. It’s both.

It’s the hordes outside the castle gates threatening to overthrow an empire without a unified vision to take its place. And it’s a glimpse of the new civilization, horizontally governed, operated by ethical individualism, participatory. An anarchy of personal responsibility and moral outrage. Recognition of injustice and inspiration that another world is possible. The scale is human. The drum circle never loses its urgency, but the rhythm does waver under the complexity of a hundred individual notions of where this orchestra may be going. But, through no single band leader, something higher above the circle, the groove locks back in and is greeted with rebel cheers. Each participates, and we make this energy our own. It’s small and fleeting. But it’s ours.

Just two blocks away, the New York Stock Exchange is calm and eerily quiet.  Police on horseback chat behind metal barricades. It’s not just the massive police presence that leaves the Wall Street blocks feeling oddly impenetrable. There is a certain security in the marble facades of these columned houses of global finance. The weight of history runs as deep here as the building’s foundations fused to bedrock. This island was sacred to the Manhattan Native Americans whose name has been appropriated along with much else. This island’s granite has made possible the building of impossibly high skyscrapers and the honeycombed tunnels of a modern empire.

The glass and steel of lower Manhattan is as grand as anything the Egyptians or Romans ever realized. And within its Mason-built gates are the Greco pillars and art nouveau ornamentation of this empire’s temples.

Churches also dot these blocks — but to the unbiased observer who pauses long enough to notice such things, it’s clear where the real energy lies, where our modern day rituals are enacted, the ones that still contain power. The sacred spots down here today are temples of finance.

During the day tourists dutifully make their way through barricaded walk ways and snap pictures of one another in front of the statue of George Washington marking where he gave his inaugural speech when New York was our nation’s first capitol. They snap pictures in front of the New York Stock Exchange and the Trump building next door. The tourists mostly pass by the unmarked JP Morgan building, where the bank’s founder arranged the merger of US Steel almost a hundred years ago, creating the first billion-dollar corporation.

But these institutions no longer serve their makers. The founders are long dead, reputations enshrined in bronze statues and boardroom portraits. It’s powerful history with powerful consequences, but it’s just that — history. Like the mall in Washington, Wall Street is a museum to the political and economic history that has dictated the trajectory of the planet earth in our recent times. And that history rests just two blocks from Liberty Plaza’s cacophony of drums and cow bells, of squatter-camp aesthetics and a Rainbow Gathering free-food buffet line.

If the Occupation does continue to build as seems probable, it will grow beyond its current confines. It will swell to neighboring plazas and to the church courtyard, the bank lobbies and to the barricades barring Wall Street. And what takes place when these lines meet will be a test of everything that came before. The rebel alliance at the gates of the empire walls. It will be a meager Daniel facing a self-assured Goliath. The battle will not only be decided by what police do or do not do — arrests or blockades overrun. Rather, the battle ground is the stories we all carry around inside of ourselves — the purpose behind the human being, the myths that live in the hearts of these untamed hoards and the tales that are carried out into the world hungering for a new civilization.

Jordan Walker

JP Morgan Column. Photo by Jordan Walker


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