I don’t understand kids today. I’ve tried. But they are nothing like I was at their age. In my younger years, I did not swoon over effeminate beauties like Justin Bieber (we didn’t even have an equivalent in the mid-90s. We settled for a young Brad Pitt and we liked it). I did not have floppy hair. I watched black and white movies, was oddly obsessed with David Strathairn, and I really liked wearing sweater vests (it’s cool to be jealous, because I was awesome).
I was concerned about things, though. I remember that. Things like nuclear weapons and pollution and equality. Those memories of my youth, of a time when I got angry at things more substantial than some dude leaving his blind up on a plane, are what led me to Occupy Wall Street this past fall.
I’d just been to the London encampment, and found it to be idealistic and benign. I didn’t think they were necessarily accomplishing anything, but – at the time at least – it didn’t seem like they were hurting anyone, either. Except for maybe the good folks at St. Paul’s, who had to close their cathedral for a spell.
Similarly, huge sections of Manhattan’s financial district were closed off, too. Entire streets had been barricaded, with police guarding the area. I actually had to ask an officer where everyone was.
The protesters had been corralled into Zuccotti park, just around the corner, where they’d set up tents, tables, and chairs.
It kind of felt like a party. And it kind of felt like I was crashing it.
I wandered through the camp, feeling ridiculously out of place and square. I could relate to having once been young and idealistic – as these folks were – but they had far better hair and skin than I ever had.
I snapped a few pictures, and felt intrusive in doing so. I reminded myself that I needn’t feel like such an outsider. I wear converse! I have my nose pierced! And I agreed with a lot of the causes the protesters were trying to draw attention to.
Like, I also think health care in this country is waaaay too expensive, and people should be taxed proportionately to their income. I think vast social programs are nifty. And I really liked V for Vendetta, which seems to be the inspiration for everyone’s accessories at all of the Occupy protests:
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve woken up in the morning and said this exact phrase to my husband:
But I’m also a huge fan of the free market, and frankly I think capitalism is great. A lot of the messaging around the movement seemed to be about how it’s the root of all evil (I think greed is, but I don’t think that’s the same thing).
I was an outsider. And while I would like to think it wasn’t such a tangible thing, it seemed like you could see it from across the room (not unlike this clip from 30 Rock).
An imaginary dialogue played out between myself and the Occupiers.
Me: I’m one of you!
Them: No, you aren’t. You have health insurance.
Me: But I’m unemployed!
Them: And your husband is a CEO!
Me: But he’s a socially responsible CEO. His coworkers own stock and he donates his time to non-profits. I am ONE OF YOU.
Them: And yet you still refer to us as “them” in this little pretend dialogue you invented.
Me: THAT WOULD BE A VALID POINT IF I WASN’T WEARING CONVERSE SHOES.
I pressed on, despite my doubts. If Bruce Wayne, with all his money and privilege, gets to be Batman, I, the CEO’s wife, get to explore Occupy Wall Street.
I walked through the encampment (I might have been whispering “I am the bat” to myself). I tried chatting with a young man who seemed to be an organizer of sorts. He had dark hair with a few wisps of grey over the temples, and he reminded me of a younger, more jaded version of my husband.
Except that he was kind of an ass.
I suppose it wasn’t his fault. He’d clearly been coached to suspect everyone. His answers were clipped and evasive, and he played dumb a few times. He asked me who I was affiliated with. When I shrugged and said, “I’m just a blogger,” he looked at me, unbelieving.
I walked away, half expecting him to scream, “NARC!” as I retreated.
Every now and then, I saw something that held the same glimmer of utopia that I had seen in London. People sharing food, and conversations, and the human experience.
And I saw something that wasn’t in London. Something uniquely American. I saw the free market. People were selling everything from commemorative t-shirts to hot dogs. It was ridiculous: buy a souvenir at an anti-capitalist movement.
As a lover of absurdity and small businesses, I knew I had to buy something.
I walked up to an older gentleman seated in a chair, selling buttons for two dollars each. I picked out one that said “I am the 99%.” (technically accurate). I paid with a five dollar bill …
AND HE GAVE ME TWO DOLLARS BACK.
He counted them out. And then he started me down, almost as though he were daring me to say something.
“Everything okay?,” he asked.
“Yup,” I said, tucking the pin into my bag and suppressing a fit of giggles. I had just gotten ripped off at an ANTI-CAPITALIST RALLY.
Still reeling from the ridiculousness of the scene, I walked to the perimeter of the encampment and began chatting with a police officer (I’m a sucker for authority, it seems.)
He was open and approachable, with a faint New York accent and glacial blue eyes. He’d been on the force for nearly 20 years (I made a crack that he must have started young, and he smiled. If you’ve never flirted with NYPD, I’d rank it high up on the list of things you absolutely must do in New York).
I asked him what he thought of all this.
“If you ask me,” he said, “it’s all a bit commercial. That’s the irony of it.”
And I could not help but laugh in reply.
I bid him goodbye and walked away from a scene at which I didn’t truly belong in the first place. Away from the young people who believed things that almost aligned with my own views, but not quite. I headed back towards the shops and restaurants of Midtown, towards a world in which I felt infinitely more comfortable. With each step I took, my commemorative Occupy Wall Street button rattled in my purse, next to a wallet that was one dollar lighter than it should have been.