I had gone down to Zuccotti Park to see the activist movement firsthand after getting a call from the chief executive of a major bank last week, before nearly 700 people were arrested over the weekend during a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.
“Is this Occupy Wall Street thing a big deal?” the C.E.O. asked me. I didn’t have an answer. “We’re trying to figure out how much we should be worried about all of this,” he continued, clearly concerned. “Is this going to turn into a personal safety problem?”
As I wandered around the park, it was clear to me that most bankers probably don’t have to worry about being in imminent personal danger. This didn’t seem like a brutal group — at least not yet.
It seems just too precious; the reporter, getting a call from the CEO of a bank. The banker, wondering what the rabble was going on about, and whether or not to be personally worried. It would make a good opening scene for a novel, maybe we can call it The Even Greater Gatsby or something, an unpleasantly premised novel about a chasm between the uppermost class and everyone else that is so great that the "everyone else" is absolutely invisible, is absolutely ignored by bankers and press alike, until and unless it threatens to possibly inconvenience one of the elites in some small, piffling way. It would paint a picture of a world in which the elites bicker endlessly over how much to tax personal jet aircraft, while quietly doing away with assistance to the poor or the jobless. It would paint a picture of press, government and the titans of industry in such close cahoots that the rest of the world seems to fade from view, mere background noise for their own petty fights and not so petty ambitions.
In this scene, the banker calls his friend, the reporter, wondering if he should be worried. Our reporter is then tasked with deciding whether or not the banker should be worried. As protestors, the people were all but invisible. As possible sand in the gears of The Great Financial Machine, however—now that may be worth a bit of attention.
It is not all that surprising that the media does not quite know what to make of these protests. It was a spontaneous happening; it has as message abstract, encompassing things like "holding Wall Street accountable," or "reduce the influence of corporations in government." There's no bullet list of actions to be taken that would solve everything. The root cause is, if anything, an underlying sense of fury over the transgressions of the financial sector, that economy-crushing, gambling-obsessed gilded goliath that, no matter what new heights of greed, incompetence or outright fraud they may embark on, can nonetheless hold the rest of us hostage, can bend every function of government towards its own ends.
And why not? Government exists, apparently, only to serve the needs of the market. We are constantly told how the market needs this, or the market needs that, and how we have to personally massage the frightened egos of every last fucking investment house, wealthy person, corporate powerhouse and so on lest they take away our precious bubbling economy from us. We'll shut down government, or threaten to, on a seemingly regular basis now in ongoing attempts to gain some trivial new advantage for the investor class, or to snip away just a bit more from everybody else.
There is no clue which bank CEO was the impetus behind the reporter's story. I wonder if it was one of the banks that announced new consumer fees, in these last few days. Bank of America, with a new $5 fee for using a debit card. Citibank, with a new $15 fee for checking accounts. Losing massive amounts of money on economy-wrecking gambling decisions isn't cheap, you know, so the rest of us will have to chip in just a little more, each month, to keep the gilded class gilded.
In the meantime, if the only purpose of the protests is as an expression of anger, that may be a fine purpose all by itself. No matter how many people expressed that anger before, it didn't make a difference: Now, maybe, it makes a little difference. Even that small thing would be an improvement.