The sound of drums rang out on Lower Broadway on Wednesday afternoon. Only it wasn’t the extraordinarily percussive and emphatic drum sound one associates with street musicians attacking big plastic five-gallon containers. No, this was different…more grating and disharmonic, more halfhearted and druggy.
This was a protest!
Another clue: the impressive police presence surrounding Zuccotti Park. It might even have been a phalanx. Their motorcycles—or maybe scooters?— weren’t particularly threatening, but they were super-shiny.
Finally, the people were rising up. It’s been a long time coming, we thought. The Tunisians beat us to it. Actually, the Iranians were first, right? And the Thais, with their color war that nobody seems to understand but everyone feels very, very strongly about (it’s true; we’ve asked Thais about this). The French. And the Egyptians, of course. The Bahrainis. The Syrians. The British. The Greeks. The Israelis, for heaven’s sake!
Watching all that unfold (on Twitter), one couldn’t help but wonder…what about us? What are our young people so content about? What were they waiting for, so politely, with their big headphones? What’s wrong with these kids?
Surely our society could use some reforming as well, no? Our political system is a nauseating farce. Economy is a mess. Two wars are still underway, and they’re not going super-great. Our leaders are letting us down. What more do you want? Back in the day, people went nuts over Nicaragua. Really! There were giant puppets, the works.
The Observer was thrilled. It was really happening! We decided to report from the front lines. We walked up to a protester, a young woman in a plastic yellow rain poncho.
“What are you doing here?” we asked.
“Oh, we’re just here, like, you know, protesting what’s going on,” she replied.
“Cool, what specifically?” we asked.
“Everything going on, I mean. Take your pick!”
Her name was Jenna. We secretly hoped she was from Portland. Turned out she was a New Yorker. She said she worked right down the street.
“So, what would you like to see happen?”
“I really want to send a message, basically.”
Hmm. Okay. She gave us a big smile. We considered interviewing the two guys who were sitting down in the lotus position. Modified lotus. But no. They seemed busy.
We asked Jenna if there was someone—not a leader, per se, or an organizer (we sensed it was best to avoid any buzzwords)…maybe a person with a leaderlike demeanor? Someone she might have heard articulating some strongly held belief or viewpoint of some kind?
“You might talk to that topless girl,” she suggested.
Of course! We headed down the steps into the plaza. It was drizzling. The topless girl was talking to another reporter.
It seemed awkward to just stand there. We approached a guy with his face painted like Heath Ledger as the Joker. He said his name was Esteban V., and he’d spent two nights in the plaza despite the fact that the cops were not allowing anyone to set up tents.
He was mostly protesting because of the mortgage crisis. “People getting kicked out of their homes is just fucked up,” he said. “We don’t even get paid enough to cover those bills, and they do it on purpose.”
He said he was from New York. We asked what he did.
There was a pause. It turned out he played music in a band, Gates of Despair. “The initials spell out God,” he pointed out. He was 19, and this was his first protest.
We goaded him into giving us his last name by saying, “Do you really think you’re going to be able to change the world if you’re afraid to stand up and give your name, when you’re not even really advocating anything?”
Vasquez, he said after a minute. Progress! We liked this kid.
A toughie: “So what do you actually want to accomplish? What’s an actual thing you’d like to change?”
“An actual thing…would be…” He hesitated like maybe this was a test. It was. “Common wealth for all levels of culture. You know what I mean? Like we’re the ones working the hardest, benefiting them, but then they just got too obsessed with their level of stature. What’s a big stack of money going to do for you when everyone dies around you? Is that going to give you pleasure?”
He made a face. “Communism! No! No, man. There are different levels for what people do. Not that everybody should be the same, but it should be more balanced out.”
That sounded good. We were going to say something about him not having a job, but thought better of it. Why bust on the kid? He promised he’d be out here all night, no matter what, even if he was the last one. That was pretty hardcore.
Meanwhile, we looked around for the topless girl, but it was starting to rain and there was always tomorrow.