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Occupy Zuccotti Park

What a gloriously perplexing place America must be to the outsider visiting for the first time. This was my thought yesterday, waking to an Internet news blurb about the actor Joseph Son, a super-sized martial arts expert who fulfilled the American Dream by landing a solid role as Mike Meyers’ henchman, Random Task, in the Austin Powers film series. Son, serving time for the brutal 1990 Christmas Eve rape of a Southern California woman, murdered his cellmate, thereby dispelling any lingering doubts that the general population may have surrounding Hollywood casting agents. Deciding that this item alone would suffice for my daily news fill, I grabbed my backpack and headed across the Brooklyn Bridge in to the city. It was time to check in on the Occupy Wall Street folks to see for myself what was going on. Kanye West had done this just the day before, and I fancy myself as one whose thought process runs identical to, if one step behind his own. It’s a little-known fact that I was sitting front-row at the 2009 VMA Awards, ready to grab the microphone from Taylor Swift had Kanye not beaten me to it.

For those either slightly behind the curve or gainfully employed, the movement was initiated by a Canadian group about a month ago and lacked initial steam until a pepper spray incident and some viral Youtube videos got the ball rolling. Since then it has spread to other cities and gained significant attention. It’s difficult to find fault with what seemed to be the protesters’ initial stance, that the inequity and imbalance of wealth-distribution and political influence of banks and large financial corporations has gotten seriously out of whack. But when you get up close to the deal, any sense of a coherent message quickly falls apart and you start to question your initial assumptions. “Ronald Reagan Sucked Balls” – this was the first protest sign that I could make out from a distance, approaching from the north on Broadway. As I closed in, the most obviously organized factions were the police patrolling and media covering the event. The protesters themselves were randomly dispersed, ranging from a thoughtful young woman in a knit cap hypothesizing to a foreign radio crew on the nature of American greed, to a drum circle at the opposite end of the park featuring punked-out chicks with dyed mohawk haircuts, doing a rain dance.

It would be too easy to tie the Canadian origins of this movement with some of the discrepancies in message and the lack of a specifically stated objective, but I’m going to do it anyway. “Occupy Wall Street” is, as many have observed, a misnomer. Anyone familiar with the geography and nature of post 9-11 lower Manhattan could tell you that Wall Street itself is one place no sitting crowd is going to occupy. Had the group attempted to set up camp in front of the stock exchange, the NYPD would have intervened in short order .. and we’re not talking pepper spray here. Instead they hunkered down two blocks away, taking advantage of a loophole in a city law allowing for occupation of privately-held land.The Wall Street label stuck because, well, who’s going to pay much attention to a movement dubbed Occupy Zuccotti Park? The name also represents a generic mislabeling of the prevailing theme concerning the government bailout of the country’s largest banks. If these people had their act together, they’d move the protest up to midtown Manhattan and the corporate headquarters for Bank of America and Citibank. This may have presented practical concerns, as there are no large, privately-held spaces there available for occupation. But they could have chucked the “occupy” bit and just loitered at the foot of Bank of America’s massive new tower in Bryant Park. Hindsight, as any Canadian will tell you, is 20-20.

Having seen enough, I wandered another few blocks over to check out the progress at Ground Zero where the new Freedom Tower* and surrounding structures are going up. Freedom Tower – here’s proof that poor naming choices aren’t limited to Canadian protest groups. Why not just call it the Yay America Building? Still, what we lack in appropriate restraint and subtlety we make up for in unbridled urban development. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t, but protests and buildings rise, get knocked down, then spring back up again. This is, after all, America.

*Further research reveals that they changed the planned Freedom Tower name to One World Trade Center back in 2009. Good to see that more sensible heads prevailed – even if it doesn’t work as well in making my point.

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