24 October 2011

Albany under Occupation

Up the State Street hill from Broadway you climb until you're at the foot of the State Capitol in Albany, an ornate structure decades in the making that burned 100 years ago but was quickly restored. The restoration is perpetual; a massive crane hovers over the old building, emitting a tiny red light at night. As you approach the Capitol, veer right, ironically enough, and cross the street at City Hall to reach the Lafayette Park/Academy Park complex. It's really one big park but the jurisdiction is split between the city of Albany and the state of New York. You might think that the Occupy Albany organizers have taken to heart the criticism that protesters should confront the centers of political power, not those of financial power. The politicians take the confrontation seriously. Gov. Cuomo, a Democrat, has reportedly been pressuring Mayor Jennings, another Democrat, to put the occupation, which began last Friday, to an early end on the usual pretext of trespassing. But the Albany police are reportedly uneager to clear the park, fearing that they might cause more trouble than they'd stop. So far, the only known violence happened on Saturday night, when a drunk tried to grab a protester's sign. As the protester told the Troy Record, the drunk complained that he had no right to use the image of a bald eagle on a protest sign.

I saw that sign when I first visited the occupation last Friday night. The rage of Mr. Right was still ringing in my ears from a few hours earlier. He was livid at the idea of another occupation because, as far as he was concerned, the occupiers everywhere were nothing but "ignorant...Marxist socialists" who "want everything handed to them." Someone on the radio, I presume, had given him the impression that the number-one demand of all occupiers was the cancellation of all debts -- I'd actually read that tidbit in a Jonah Goldberg column. The demands of the occupiers are still notoriously vague, but most politicized observers remain satisfied that the occupiers themselves are "leftists" and the occupation a leftist -- and perhaps by illogical extension inherently lawless -- conspiracy.

I walked up the hill to the park(s) after work, arriving around 8:15 p.m. There were the beginnings of a tent city; about half a dozen little structures, and numerous other people preparing to sack out in the open air overnight. This was downtime; the booth operated by the Social Justice Center was empty and most of the first occupiers were chatting amongst themselves. A group of kids arrived with pizza boxes, but opened them to reveal their own signs, barely legible, written with ballpoint pen on cardboard. I asked one of the kids to show me what he'd written. It read, "The rich should give the poor more money." It was hard to tell whether this was mockery -- the kids seemed too young for such cynicism -- or whether this was the childish sort of reductio ad absurdam that stands for the whole movement in hostile eyes.

The eagle sign belongs to a man named Bradley Russell. I didn't strike up a conversation with him, but I recall asking him to step aside so I could read the message he was then standing in front of. The eagle forms part of a mock seal labelled "Citizens United." The poster itself reads, "Free Speech! Now How Much Would You Pay?"

I spent my visit transcribing the signs. While I walked through the park, someone played a harmonica. Cars honked sympathetically every so often, and one driver yelled out, "Fight the power!" Two pedestrians passed and started their own little chant: "Hey hey! Ho ho!...Hey hey! Ho ho!..." TV news trucks lined Washington Avenue, while a cluster of sheriff's deputies or state troopers stood aloof, as if waiting for instructions (or for the occupiers to make a wrong move) on open ground between the occupation and the CDTA bus shelter.

What are the Albany occupiers saying? Here's what the signs say: "For my generation it's called The American Dream because you have to be Dreaming to believe it!"..."I Love NY. I hate greed."..."The only houses Being sold right now are in Congress."..."America is a representative Republic NOT a Banana Republic."..."Corrupt Government Disrupts Our American Dream."..."Tax the Rich."..."Corporate Rule -- or People?"..."We got hosed America, We got hosed!"...

There were more tents this morning. It's late October and autumn is making itself felt in Albany. The temperatures aren't conducive to sleeping in the open, and the tents are a stronger sign of commitment. It looks more like a tent city, however small, than it did Friday. Some dope had put a "V for Vendetta" mask on the statue of Louis A. Swyer, an Albany parks patron, that sat like a guard in front of the occupiers. The occupiers' fondness for V. confuses me and threatens to belie their avowals of nonviolence. You can say he symbolizes resistance at all levels but the comics and movie tell a different story. But for all I know that mask is just one idiot's work. In any event, the news about Cuomo and Jennings's machinations may well have emboldened the occupiers to defy the Austerity Democrats in power with fresh determination to remain. I intend to take another closer look tonight, but for now here is the occupation's own website clearinghouse of pictures and news links to bring you all up to speed.

For now I'll give Ann LaRose of Albany, a cancer patient and mother of four, with the last word as given to The Record: "I want them to learn...what greed means, how people do work really hard for their money and they don't depend on a system and yet we're still getting screwed...We're really having a hard time and we're just asking for our right to be heard."


Anonymous said...

Or, in the case of Mr. Right and his sad ilk "We have a right to be herd."

hobbyfan said...

There are quite a few of those "V For Vendetta" masks among the Occupy Albany participants. There was a photo in the Record that had at least two people wearing the masks. What gets me is that you & I, Sammy, are the only ones who've recognized the masks, because the accounts in the Record (don't know about the TU or the Gazette) don't make mention of them.

I respect what they're trying to do, and it comes across to me as a throwback to the peaceful sit-ins college kids used to have in the 60's & 70's when they wanted to protest something that they found offensive.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, if historical trends persis, nothing will really get done until the working class have been tromped down so far that they realize their future is as corporate peasants. By then it may be too late for a peaceful solution.

Samuel Wilson said...

hobbyfan, I assume the reporters don't find the masks worth mentioning, though they're a big fat target for anyone wanting to label this movement as potentially violent or terroristic.

crhymethinc, the tramplers are probably gambling that the working class will realize that corporate peasantry really is their only future option -- that, or death by starvation or violence. If so, the question becomes whether workers would rather die, fighting or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

The question really depends on whether they are willing to accept what someone else tells them is in their best interest, or whether they are willing to "figure it out for themselves."