Eyewitness to History!
Hanging out with Spooky the anarchist, Amy the gender-bender, Sid the Nazi, and other occupiers of Wall Street.
Oct 17, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 05 • By MATT LABASH
My recounting, mind you, does not duplicate their entire list. And even if it did, their entire list keeps its options open with a footnote specifying that “these grievances are not all-inclusive.” So what do they want? Besides, seemingly, to complain a lot about corporations, the very entities that provide so many of the jobs that our economy is sorely in need of? What are they advocating, besides their right to assemble publicly for the purposes of bucket-drumming and eating vegan quiche in the free chow line? Well, according to another posting on OWS’s website, they want a universal single-payer health care system, a guaranteed living wage regardless of employment, free college education, one trillion dollars in infrastructure improvement, to bring the fossil-fuel economy to an end, to outlaw all credit-reporting agencies, and to see immediate across-the-board debt forgiveness for all. This is just a partial list, but they’re also going to be needing unlimited open-borders migration, too, since “these demands will create so many jobs, it will be completely impossible to fill them without an open borders policy.”
But wait! Above that original posting is now an administrative note saying this is “not an official list of demands.” It is a forum post submitted by a single contributor and “hyped by irresponsible news/commentary agencies like Fox News.” It’s never been proposed or agreed to “on a consensus basis” by the OWS movement, so “there is NO official list of demands.”
Which brings us back to square one. Whether OWS just wants to end corporate welfare and protect workers’ rights, or whether they want the roads paved in gumdrops and to see every American entitled to a backrub from Sofía Vergara, they’re not interested in officially saying. To borrow from the old protest-march chestnut—What do we want? (We’re not gonna tell!) When do we want it? (Now!)
Back at the OWS encampment at Zuccotti Park, it’s a hygienic disaster area: greasy hair, stained shirts, crusted trousers—and that’s just the journalists. There seems to be one reporter on the ground for every 10 to 15 activists. The encampment is divided into sections—media, kitchen, medical, sign-making, comfort station, meditation circle, musical entertainment. There’s even a People’s Library whose offerings are lent on the honor system with no due dates—a VHS tape of The Who’s rock opera Tommy and books with enticing titles like White Racism: The Basics, Since Predator Came: Notes from the Struggle for American Indian Liberation, and HOMOTHUG: The Secret Life of Rudy Giuliani.
Between all these sections are the bodies of lazing activists strewn about, often resting in dank sleeping bags stuffed under tarps. The one thing missing—besides shelter—are restrooms. Since I’m trying to stay hydrated while overthrowing Wall Street and have had about three Diet Cokes to that end, I’m about due. Luckily, I run into a helpful lass named Amy just as I’m about to look for a street grate for relief.
A twentysomething (about three-fifths of the activists seem to be twentysomethings) who is sausaged into a pink sweater and short leopard-print skirt, Amy is giving the business to the facilitator of the Internet working group I’m monitoring. She doesn’t like that they have “male” and “female” designations on their website in order to keep statistics. Amy is calling for the “very abolition of gender,” and she’d like her concern brought up in group.
I ask her if she doesn’t believe in gender, then which restroom does she use, and by the way, does she know where I can find one? She says at “The People’s McDonald’s” across the street on Broadway (the usually heartless multinational corporation has been kind enough to let all OWS comers use the facilities without having to purchase Quarter Pounders), she uses the “women’s room—since I identify as a woman.” She “doesn’t want to sh— on McDonald’s,” with them being so good to OWS. Though “I go into the men’s room at Burger King,” she adds defiantly, “because the line is always shorter.”
After clearing the men’s room line of 15 or so at The People’s McDonald’s, I spy a black man in monochrome leather garb. He wears a burgundy leather jacket, burgundy leather pants, a burgundy leather sweater, and a burgundy belt and shoes. He makes me nostalgic, reminding me of the interior of a 1975 Chrysler Cordoba. It would seem a sin not to compliment him on his finery. So I do.
“Why, thank you,” he says appreciatively. “It’s my style, you know.” His name is David Lawrence Harvey, and after assuring me that he’s not one of the OWS crowd, he reveals his true business: passing out fliers advertising the Private Eyes Gentleman’s Club on West 45th, with an admission pass that would entitle me not only to see naked ladies who are less fussy about their gender-identification than my friend Amy is, but also to enjoy a complimentary buffet luncheon.
Harvey doesn’t quite understand what’s going on across the street. In theory, he’s sympathetic to their aims, whatever they are. “But it looks like a party to me,” he says. “I’m not judging anybody by the way they dress,” he says, pointing to his own attire. “But all I see is young, unemployed people.” It’s fine for them to dream. “I dream, I love to dream—on my way to work,” he says. Harvey, too, has other ambitions besides just passing out fliers to gentlemen’s clubs. He plays music and tells me to check out his YouTube page. He even wrote a love song for Michelle Obama.
What he doesn’t understand, however, is all the anger and class resentment OWSers have against people who have more than they do. “Everybody can’t be a millionaire,” says Harvey. “I understand [some people] have all that wealth. But why you gonna waste your life worryin’ about that? Complain all you want—but on your way to work.”
Harvey’s not the only person I meet who resents his new neighbors, many of whom seem to have been documentary film studies majors in college, and some of whom tell me they even quit their jobs to join the movement, perhaps jumping one step ahead of the New Joblessness that’s currently dogging America. (Why wait for misfortune to overtake you tomorrow, when you can embrace misery today?) Around the perimeter of the park sit a lot of food trucks—serving hot dogs, falafels, and more.
Manning one smoothie cart is a Chinese immigrant named Zhi. I ask Zhi how’s business. I figure with all the increased traffic, he must be doing gangbusters. But he shakes his head in frustration, pointing to the square’s new inhabitants. In broken English, he tells me he used to make a couple hundred dollars a day. Now, he’s lucky if he makes a little over $100. “People used to come down here for lunch. The money type—they buy food. Smoothie. But right now [with all the donated food coming in each day including pizza and chicken wings] everything free.”
Likewise, several construction workers are grumpily smoking Marlboros while sitting on a wall within ear-splitting distance of the bucket-drum brigade. In the now-crowded park, they’re the only seats available. The workers are on lunch break from putting up Tower 4 of the new World Trade Center across the street. I approach one, a member of a Steamfitters local who has a sticker on his hard hat that reads “Mosque Ground Zero” with a hash mark through it. When asked his name, he responds, “You can call me ‘Pissed Off.’ ”
“Can you tell them to stop playin’ the f—in’ drums during lunch?” he bellows. “Stop with the drums! Three weeks we have to hear it. We do construction. We hear loud noises all day. All’s we wanna do is come down and enjoy our lunch. If they support us—[multiple unions, perhaps jonesing for action after their Wisconsin battles, have now found common cause with the protesters]—they’d give us a break during our lunch hour.”
I ask Pissed Off where he normally eats. He points to a table in the center of the square that is now completely covered with protester paraphernalia. “If they had one thing to protest, fine,” says P.O.ed. “But it seems anybody and everybody can come down here and vent. Gimme something to support! I can’t support the 25 different things they’re protesting. Don’t get me going—I’m having a bad day.”
Not all of the protesters, however, even support what P.O.ed and his Steamfitter pals are doing. Why put up another tower when the government will just knock it down again? This I hear from Nick Long, who mans the Nick@Nite cigarette-rolling station, where he rolls thousands of free cigarettes for his OWS comrades using donated tobacco and rolling papers. (Drugs and alcohol are frowned upon in the park, as the protesters don’t want to draw more attention from the police, with whom they’ve already had several clashes. Making this a lot like Woodstock, without all the sex, good music, and fun.)
Nick, a nice Italian kid, likes his new digs, even if his mom complained when she saw him on TV and berated him for “sleeping in the park” with “all those losers.” Having rolled 7,000 or so cigarettes, he clearly believes in the power of nicotine, but doesn’t believe in much else. He says, “I hate all governments, I want people surviving on their own.” With that kind of talk, at first I take him for a breakaway Tea Partier, but he says he’s an anarchist. I ask him if he’s anti-U.S.A. “I’m pretty much anti-every country,” he says. “Because every country is a bunch of murderers, you gotta think. I’ve watched those 9/11 videos. Those planes didn’t make the towers fall down.”
We look over at the Steamfitters’ tower—Tower 4. I ask him when he thinks the U.S. government will take that one down. “When they get enough people in it,” he says. “I think that’s their way of population control.”
Movement types will doubtless accuse me of cherry-picking protesters. But during my two days in the park, I have every variety of nutcake conspiracy theory pushed my way, up to and including Wall Street having created communism and the American Zionist Council assassinating JFK. But don’t take my word for it. New York magazine went to the trouble of surveying 100 protesters whom they identified as being “in it for the long haul.”
What they found probably won’t sit too well with the labor leaders and Tweeting celebrities who’ve joined Occupy Wall Street in solidarity, at least if they pause to pay actual attention to what they’re supporting. Of those surveyed, 37 percent said capitalism was inherently immoral and can’t be saved. When asked to rate their own liberalism, 41 percent were “fed up with Democrats” and “believe the country needs an overhaul.” Which might be the position you’d expect from most principled, yet disillusioned, liberal activists. But a full 34 percent were “convinced the U.S. government is no better than, say, al Qaeda.” If those numbers hold as the movement grows, that will mean that despite the ungodly amount of hype that OWS has received in the last two weeks, the “99 percent” of America they represent is more like 99 percent of a Noam Chomsky book discussion group or 99 percent of a labor mixer for Wobblies (several of whom, by the way, I meet in the park, despite my having thought the Wobblies extinct).
Not all the protesters, of course, are seething balls of resentment. In fact, I meet one who throws me quite the curve, as he stands in front of a bucket drum on Literature Row, where hundreds of pamphlet stacks are paper-weighted to the sidewalk with apples and Vienna Sausage tins. He wears a Malibu Rum hat and has hands that look like they originate directly out of his shoulders, with no adjoining arms in between (the result of a rare congenital disorder called Phocomelia). He goes by the name of Jesus.
Jesus has some traditional protest signs scattered about. But his main sign, sitting next to his drum, says “Becca + Jesus – Please donate to my dream wedding fund or give me marriage advice.” With this spiel, he seems to be doing better than the other activists, like the one who is soliciting funds for puppy adoption. His gimme hat is loaded with greenbacks. “Lots of people have been giving me money for my wedding,” he says. “But nobody’s giving me advice.”
I oblige, telling him to show Becca that he loves her, and to hold her tight, blurting this out before I regretfully remember his armlessness. Jesus nods appreciatively anyway. I ask him if any Wall Street sharpies have come by and dropped money in his bucket. Matter of fact, he says, they have. One guy in banker’s pinstripes, he says, walked up, saw his Becca sign, ignored all the other signs which basically were calling for his breed’s extinction, and gave Jesus 50 bucks. “I was like, wow,” says Jesus. “It really changed my outlook on Wall Street people. Because I’ve been talking about them really badly. But they’re people, too. I would probably get told off by my peers [for saying so], but some of them have hearts.”
Nor is Jesus the only surprise I encounter. There’s also the shirtless guy loudly and belligerently dropping f-bombs while ranting all over the board. He is covered in white supremacist and breast-baring goddess tattoos, and he’s causing a general all-purpose ruckus as he shaves in front of a hand-mirror. Like Spooky and Newport, he too seems to realize that he’s a spectacle. But he is charging more for the privilege of watching. He sits in front of a cardboard sign that says “Pics—3 bucks or go away.”
I ask his name, and he tells me he’s known as Sid the Nazi. Google him, he suggests, as he’s well known around Alphabet City on the Lower East Side. I ask him if he’s truly a Nazi, though his swastika ink is pretty much a giveaway that he’s not bluffing. Just in case I still don’t believe him, he launches into a disquisition on how could “Hitler be wrong” when America killed all those Japs in Nagasaki. “We did it to the Indians, we did it to the Japs—but ohhhh, when it’s done to the Jews, it’s wrong!” Not that he’s admitting anything was done to the Jews, incidentally, as the Jewish-controlled media would have you believe.
As a reporter, I have logged all kinds of time in lefty protest pits, and have met an entire Star Wars bar of freaks along the way. But Sid—who makes mosaic art, is an ordained pagan priest, fronts a hardcore band called Death’s Head (“my lyrics are off the meat rack, bro”), and who forever has a cigarette dangling from the gap left by the teeth he lost playing hockey—qualifies as my first bona fide Nazi. So I figure I’ll stick it out with him a while, if only for novelty’s sake.
Sid the Nazi doesn’t want me to get the wrong idea about him. Sometimes when you have the word “Nazi” in your moniker, people want to put their labels on you. He’s not, he wishes me to know, some kind of intolerant extremist. All the Jew talk? “I just gave you that for the f— of it. Let me tell you what I’m here for.” Like most of the other protesters, Sid the Nazi gives me an unfocused, rat-a-tat machine gun spray of complaints—everything from corporations not paying their taxes to “J.D. Power and Associates gave what, $4.6 million to the NYPD? The f—in’ pigs? For what? To bring more pigs in? We don’t need no more f—in’ cops! They’re f—in’ lowlifes! They’re bigger crooks than any other crook, including myself.”
Sid has been camping out with Occupy Wall Street since the start, even if he showers at his apartment, unlike the other grimy activists who are starting to tax his olfactory tolerance. Though when they talked about marching to Jersey, where he’s from, he cryptically admits that won’t be possible because of unresolved matters between him and law enforcement. “Until certain statutes of limitations elapse?” I ask. “Nah, there’s no statute of limitations for this,” he confesses.
Once Sid the Nazi settles down and stops talking about Hitler’s redeeming qualities, we get along just fine and decide to march together to the solidarity rally with all the OWSers, other students, and the Big Labor heavies. These disparate groups are starting to feel like something of a real coalition.
It’s not as much of a stretch as it would seem, says Sid the Nazi, him throwing in with all these lefties. After all, he says, “I’m a Nazi—a national socialist for the German Workers’ party. That’s what Nazi means.” On basic policy, he doesn’t sound very different from the much-maligned Anthony “Van” Jones, Obama’s demonized, socialist-leaning former Special Adviser for Green Jobs. Even if Sid the Nazi doesn’t seem that crazy about African Americans, truth be told, he, like Jones, hopes that Obama can find a way to “build the foundations to create more jobs.”
And who wouldn’t want that, if you believe that Obama is capable of producing more jobs? We’re at over 9 percent unemployment. America feels like it’s in free fall, and people are scared. Sid, who wears a buddy’s AFSCME hat, tells me that his stepfather used to work for the Social Security Administration, then switched over to working for the post office for the last 38 years. I cavalierly suggest that maybe that was a good move, since someday soon we might not have Social Security. “And we might not have a post office either,” adds Sid, reminding me of all the new austerity doomsday predictions.
Where right and left seem to agree, where the Tea Party and OWSers go bump, is that America is on the slide. “Maybe we really are on our way down,” I say, gloomily. “America went downhill a long time ago,” says Sid the Nazi. “We killed and died just to hand it over to other people.”
“What other people?,” I ask, suddenly not on the same page as Sid. He looks around at all the minorities marching with us. “OTHER PEOPLE,” he says. “I think you know what I mean.”
We march against the traffic up Broadway to Foley Square, though since Occupy Wall Street takes pride in not obtaining the proper permits, we are relegated to the sidewalk. Thousands of us plow ahead, swimming upstream against startled civilians holding shopping bags. Along the way, we see every pet-cause placard imaginable and are handed duffle-bags-full of literature. At first, Sid the Nazi, who is primarily concerned about matters economic, doesn’t seem to mind all the para-causes that other activists embrace. “Hey f— it, you know? To each his own,” he says. But after a while, they start getting on his last nerves. When we are handed some Commie literature, it all becomes too much for Sid, as old Commie vs. Nazi rivalries are rekindled. “Get the f— out of here with your Commie literature, ya red bastard,” he shouts. “Better dead than red! Boom!”
By the time we get to Foley Square and see signs advertising Puerto Rican statehood, standing in solidarity with California death row inmates, and on and on, Sid the Nazi and I are about ready to drink. Before the Big Labor speeches even start, we decide to ditch this scene. Though I, ever the responsible news-gatherer, worry, “What if the cops bust the place up and pepper-spray the marchers?” “Ah,” says Sid the Nazi, ever the Zen master, “don’t worry. We’ll catch it on YouTube.”
So we adjourn to a bar, which on account of its proximity to the Tombs is surrounded by bail bondsmen’s offices. This makes Sid nervous, what with his checkered history with the police. But he sucks it up and drinks like a champ anyway. Under the softening influence of whiskey, he becomes a 3-D human being instead of a 1-D Nazi. He tells me about how his first wife died in his arms in bed, going into cardiac arrest 14 years ago, which nearly destroyed his life. He tells me how he’d like to skate on the frozen water of the new 9/11 Memorial pools. When I wince at the suggestion, he says, “No, it’ll be totally respectful.” He had fireman friends who died during 9/11. After the towers fell, he took a plastic machine gun with an American flag tied to it and protested outside a mosque.
His deceased hockey-loving friends would approve, he says. Though being a trouble-making Nazi, he’d wear his Philadelphia Flyers jersey. “Broad Street Bullies! It’ll be totally respectful. But if I see anyone in an Islanders or Rangers shirt? I’d give ’em a hard cross-check, man. People would love it, bro. Hell yeah. They would love it.”
As we leave the bar and join the marchers streaming back home to Zuccotti Park after the solidarity event, I ask Sid the Nazi what he thinks was said at the rally. “Whatever they always say,” he shrugs dismissively. On the route, we see a mime. He wears a top hat and face paint and holds a battery-operated rubber chicken around the neck, as it bobs its head up and down, straining under the mime’s arm.
“Hey, look,” says Sid, “he’s choking his chicken.” Sid the Nazi and I don’t agree on much. He’s for Hitler. I’m against him. He thinks it’s appropriate to play ice hockey at the 9/11 Memorial. I’m not sold on the concept, even if it’s done respectfully. But one thing we do find agreement on? A mime choking his own chicken? It seems like the perfect metaphor for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Matt Labash is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.
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