Rogouski reminds me that nothing has ended. To quote one of the signs of November 17th: “The beginning is near”.
So what makes Ketchup and Ray Kachel seem so different? Is it only the different perspectives of Hedges and Packer? Or is it their age? The photo of Ray Kachel in the New Yorker shows him to be a middle aged man in a yellow rain jacket and a pair of jeans. He’s wearing a red ski cap and a hooded sweat jacket. He’s sitting back on a park bench, his face pale, his shoulders hunched, and his hands in his pockets. He looks spiritually exhausted, beaten. You can see Ketchup on the Steven Colbert show, where she and a fellow occupier try to explain, to Colbert’s great amusement, the difference between a “woman” and a “female bodied person.” She strikes you as the type who would argue a small difference of opinion for hours. Beaten and spiritually exhausted she’s not. On the contrary, she has the earnest sanctimony and vitality of youth. Indeed, it’s very difficult to describe anybody in her early 20s as a “homeless person.” Someone at that age always seems to have a friends couch to sleep on or parents to go back to. “Homeless person” has a finality to it, as if it also means “lost forever.” By the age of 53, you can indeed by lost forever.
For Fox News and the New York Post, the goal was to soften up public opinion for the inevitable police raid. Knowing that New Yorkers would be more supportive of violence against the hard core underclass than they would against young idealists, they lost no time in portraying Zucotti Park’s occupiers as first, dirty hippies, and, when that didn’t work, drug users, thieves, and, finally, rapists. Occupy Wall Street’s defenders, on the other hand, worked just as hard to portray every Occupier as another Scott Olsen, the gainfully employed Iraq War vet who was violently assaulted by the Oakland Police on October 25, or as Chelsea Elliott, the young woman who was randomly maced by the now infamous NYC police officer Anthony Bologna. In other words, were the occupiers at Zucotti Park “homeless” or not? Were they still “Americans” who still had rights and civil liberties or were they members of a sort of American “untouchable” class, people who most Americans regard as disposable?
In other words, Giove is the damsel in distress stuck among the underclass, the white maiden in imminent danger of being ravished, the southern belle in 1950s Mississippi who just got whistled at by an uppity black man. This is an incitement to violence, and not a very subtle one. Giove and Miller are not simply pointing out the difficulties involved in maintaining a camp of several hundred people in the heart of a big city. They’re agitating for a violent crackdown. The only question is why? What about Occupy Wall Street drove the corporate media into such a violent rage that they simply abandoned all pretense of objectivity and started shrieking for pepper spray and police batons? Why not simply do what they did during the first few weeks of Occupy Wall Street and ignore it? The first and most obvious reason is that Occupy Wall Street made the homeless visible again. Whether, as Harry Siegal of the New York Daily News maintains, the NYPD was encouraging the homeless to go downtown to Zucotti Park for free meals and the opportunity to panhandle in a relatively unmolested environment, or whether they just came on their own accord, the Occupy Wall Street encampment had become, by late October, a magnet for the city’s most downtrodden citizens. They panhandled, got into fights, and put a burden on the encampment’s fragile network of security and system of sanitation. They came out from the shadows where they had been driven by the Guiliani and the Bloomberg administrations right back into one of the city’s main tourist districts. Europeans who came to visit the financial district and middle Americans who came to gawk at the mass grave at Ground Zero would not only see Wall Street. They would see the very real face of human misery that Wall Street produces.
Occupy Wall Street at Zucotti Park took all of Wall Street’s victims and put them on public display, only a few blocks from the New York City Stock Exchange. It took the group of people most devastated by the “Great Recession,” people who were scammed into high interest, high risk mortgages by the casino on Wall Street, to the group of people who were most devastated by Bush’s crusade in the Middle East, homeless veterans of the Iraq war. But it did more. It gave them the opportunity to empower one another, to begin the process of building a community. It allowed the chronically homeless contact with people who had more social skills, who, perhaps, could teach them to pull themselves up off the streets. It brought the gay teenager who was kicked out of his home in the Bible Belt together with the middle aged liberal activist from the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It brought the 22 year old, recent college graduate, too poor to move out from his parents house in the bad economy face to face with the laid off worker in his 40s and 50s. It dissolved the rigid social categories that separate us and allowed us to speak to one another as humans. It was, in short, the fulfillment of the words of Walt Whitman, that great New York poet who trod the ground around what is now Zucotti Park many times. “STRANGER! If you, passing, meet me, and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?”
The homeless who had found shelter in Zucotti Park may have crawled back into the shadows. But their numbers are only bound to increase as the economy continues to implode. There will still be recent college graduates unable to find work, however many times you shriek “get a job” at them. People are still being foreclosed out of their homes. Military vets are still going to be returning, in ever greater numbers, to an official unemployment rate of 9% and a genuine unemployment rate closer to 20%. People in their 40s will still be kept out of the job market by baby boomers and pushed out of the job market by people in their 20s. People in their 30s will now think twice about putting their hard earned money into a 401k just so it can be converted into gambling chips for the “1%” in the great casino on Wall Street, a casino we now know depends on hired muscle for its very existence. People in their 60s and 70s will still need that social security trust fund the “1%” are eyeing hungrily.
Far from being a model for the emerging democracies of the Middle East, the people who rule the United States have revealed them to be democracy’s bitter enemy. One Ray Kachel may not have the power to threaten Michael Bloomberg or Ray Kelly, but the hundreds of thousands of Ray Kachels all over America now know of one another’s existence. Look at that photo in the New Yorker, you people in the “1%,” look at that pale little man you kicked out of his home in Zucotti Park, that lonely little soul you drove away from his newly found companions. That man is your grave digger. He will destroy you.
Stanley Rogouski: The Untouchables of Zuccotti Park