Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Occupiers of Wall Street

They want a good story
These days a much talked about protest is going on in the streets of New York City, and the protesters like to call their movement "Occupy Wall Street." Their demands are not very clear, but by what I understood, it seems they are really angry about 1% of the people (the rich) controlling all the money. So they are shouting slogans and asking the corporations to stop being so evil. Here are some pictures to show what I saw there on my two visits to downtown Manhattan last week. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

They want jobs. And music. And free lunch.
The protesters had occupied a park near World Trade Center and they were completely surrounded by tourists, the police and the media. There were large TV cameras on tripods everywhere, with pretty reporters arranging their dresses and combing their hair before sending in their live updates. The streets next to the park were filled with news channel vans with their satellite dishes hoisted high over the street level on telescopic poles to ensure interruption-free transmission through the downtown skyscrapers. The police was not letting pedestrians hang around for long. I was curtly told to either move on or enter the park as I paused to take photos. However, I could manage a few photos while walking to and fro around the park.
She wants to lose weight

He wants free speech
A large percentage of the protesters seemed like hippies and the rest were young people, probably students. "So they are protesting against the rich, eh?" I thought, "So far so good." As a poor grad student myself, I felt I should be sympathetic to their cause, whatever that was. Some of them held up placards. Others danced or played music. Some were eating pizza sitting beside signs saying something about hunger strike. The bronze man with the open briefcase who sits on a bench in that park had been adorned with a woolen monkey-cap and an American flag, probably to show that he was supporting the protesters. From a grotesquely tattooed man with weird costumes and wild piercings, to a young man sitting in a tiny cage with a jug of water, everybody screamed for attention. Not everyone had the same demands, but everyone wanted to be heard. I wondered if I should join them and ask for an increase in my TA ship. Nobody would notice what I was asking for anyway.


And then I saw some poor men who were unlike any poor men that I had ever seen. One of them who was sporting a carefully-nurtured hippie look had these barefoot shoes on which, as I later found out, cost about $100 a pair. Right next to him was a man who was holding up a slogan written on an Apple iPad. He would change the slogan from time to time.

iPads and Barefoot Shoes - probably there's a reason why they are poor?

A man protesting for the poor.

A man protesting against the rich corporations.

A man using an Apple iPad as a placard.

Whatever these men were, they were not poor. They had no idea what poverty was. To me, these guys looked like just a bunch of losers jealous of the successful people. They would abuse Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, while spreading their hate messages via Facebook and Twitter and iPhones.

He later went to McDonalds for lunch.

The model

Then I saw an old man wearing a barrel with "Poorman's Nation" written on it. He was standing on the sidewalk and two men were busy taping a large sheet of white paper on the wall behind the him. Once that was done, one of them took out a couple of large DSLR cameras from inside his parked van and started taking photos of the barrel-man. The sheet of paper was for a nice backdrop, and at the cost of sounding cynical, I would say the backdrop was needed so that it could be easily replaced with a suitable scene later while editing. The old man grinned in front of the camera, only to be sobered by a gruff "Don't smile!" order from the photographers. The old man was incorrigible though, and he flexed his biceps and smiled at me whenever I pointed my camera at him.

After a few clicks, the photographer took some papers (probably a model release form) to the old man and had him sign them. Then he was made to parade up and down the sidewalk while two photographers had a field day following him around, getting as many shots as they wanted. "So the poor guy sold out to the media house while protesting against corporations," I thought. I had not understood the whole story at that time.

The photoshoot
 Five minutes later, in a quiet spot around the corner, the old man had discarded his barrel and was getting dressed in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. So was this whole thing an act? An elaborate costumed photo shoot arranged by some newspaper? I decided to do a little research on it and I found that old man is "Poorman" Jim Trenton, who has a radio channel and a Wikipedia page to himself and is a well-known resident of Los Angeles. Reading through his Wikipedia entry revealed him to be the classic sore loser, who despite getting innumerable opportunities, failed to make it big, and now wants to get cheap publicity by blaming the successful people for everything wrong with the world. And that quite summed up the attitude of all the protesters at Occupy Wall Street. "The Rich have a lot of money. We don't. We want some part of it." If they had a nobler demand, or a better message, I didn't get it. I just saw a band of hippies and unsuccessful people expressing their bitterness on being unsuccessful by abusing the rich and successful.

Not that I was trying really hard. I had to get back to my work where I have to at least pretend to work 20 hours a week to earn my measly salary. Protest? That's a luxury reserved for people who can afford to own iPads and $100 shoes without having to work for them.

A protester in a monkey cap. How else do you define a Bengali?


  1. 'takar jhuli' ar 'poysar tholi'r kothopokothon songkranto kobitata mone achhe Rabi Thakurer? amio Wall Street occupy korte chai. kintu ekbar jodi occupy kore pheli, tahole jaan loRiye debo jate baki 99% Wall Street-e dhukte na pare.

    Apnar lekhata besh sangbadik-sangbadik hoyechhe. jake bole 'protibedon' types. hok kotha bolechhen, protibadta dindin ekta luxury good hoye gelo.

  2. nice post.... hilarious side of a serious [maybe] issue...
    nice photographs and write up.

  3. @Kuntala: Ja bolechhen! Oi kobitar upomata akkebare lagsoi hoyechhe.

    @bhut: Thank you! I don't think the protesters themselves take it seriously.