I know the disdain Wall Street has for the small investor. I know how financial advisers and brokers ridicule their clients and scoff at them behind their backs. So when I heard there would be a sympathetic Occupy the Hamptons rally on Saturday at Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, I fueled up on the free coffee and pastries given out compliments of the Democratic Party at Springs General Store (thank you!), and then ransacked the house for my peace-sign pendant and headband. (Where did I see them last?)
I felt the need to stand up and protest, personally, against Wall Street executives, highly respected by their peers, who bring in enormous amounts of filthy lucre and could care less about the negative repercussions on you or me. And, honestly, there had been so much bad publicity and ridicule of the protesters who were on Wall Street, including some belligerent comments I overheard from guests at a get together for Republican Cornelius Kelly in Montauk the night before, that I just wanted to see for myself.
Although it had been decades, really, since I had joined any sort of protest rally, thanks to George Demos, the Conservative Republican Candidate for US Congress in New York’s First District, and his press release admonishing protesters not to defecate on police cars, litter, sell drugs, or smash windows, I knew how to comport myself. (As a precaution, of course, I used the bathroom at home.)
I parked about one-half mile away from town on RT 114. I was excited as I walked to Long Wharf.
There were very young, cute children holding placards and yelling, “We are the future.” Professional photographers were everywhere zeroing in on the most interesting signs being displayed by the crowd of about 200. It was a beautiful, sunny, windy day, and I did not notice anyone lifting his leg on a police car.
I felt I was helping to make history at a grassroots level. Doing something more than arm-chair complaining.
Suddenly, the crowd was directed to move to just in front of the windmill at the start of Long Wharf, and a young man stepped onto a makeshift platform and took control. This would be Matt – a smart and articulate guy who is still in college and working on a school project about community organizing as I recall. He’s a “facilitator.” We met last winter at Ashawagh Hall.
Matt can facilitate all he wants, but he cannot get me to play Simon Says with him. I will not raise my arms high and wiggle my fingers if he asks me if I agree with what he is saying. I will not point my hands down and wiggle my fingers if he wants me to join the crowd in showing my displeasure with something someone says. I will not cross my arms, or make small pyramids with both hands, or curl my thumb and forefinger in the shape of a “C” to express myself. Simon, er, Matt says, “Now’s the time to wiggle your fingers.” I think not.
The other problem I had was that instead of a microphone, we were expected to repeat—loudly– every word a speaker spoke. “I am Matt.” Chorus: “I am Matt.” “We are here to…” Chorus: “We are here to…” Simon, er, Matt says, “Walk over this cliff.” Chorus: “Walk over this cliff.” And I will not parrot what someone else says. The last time I repeated every line that was spoken to me was during my wedding ceremony when the minister said, “Repeat after me.” And we know how that worked out. Love, honor . . . and say what?
So, I took a step back. And I saw others take a step back. But I also saw folks take a step forward. The man in front of me (clearly a ringer) echoed the speakers’ comments as if a human bullhorn. More ringers enthusiastically used the hand signals when requested. Somewhat hesitantly, others joined in.
The dubious few remained on the periphery of the crowd occasionally glancing at each other. We had hoped to support this new form of protest, but it was very off-putting and not a little alarming. This an attempt to manipulate and control, rather than have a forum of intelligent and spontaneous protest.
On a positive note, I did notice there was a weathered stock in front of the windmill in Sag Harbor. Stocks, you may recall, were devices used in the medieval times to physically punish and publically humiliate scofflaws. Locals tossed dirt, rotten eggs, spoiled fruit and vegetables, fish, guts, and poop at the person clamped in the stock. Yes, I’d like to use medieval-type stocks on Wall Streeters. They have filled their pockets with enough publically traded stock already. And if we can’t drag them out of their homes on the South Fork (because that would be illegal) and clamp their respective heads and hands in stocks in front of the windmill at Long Wharf, why don’t we immortalize the Occupy the Hamptons rally in Sag Harbor by placing a giant plaque in the shape of a stock certificate at the foot of the stock by the windmill on Long Wharf: This stock is dedicated to the men and women in our community who are responsible for worse recession since the Great Depression. And let’s list their names.
Written by Lynne W. Scanlon and originally published as “Not Willing to Play ‘Simon Says”‘ in the October 10th, 2011 Edition of “The East Hampton Press.”