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Occupying Wall Street In Boone: Act 3

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

R.I.P.

First, some history for the sake of context. Starting in Winston-Salem, NC in 1879, Wachovia was a North Carolina staple of banking. If you live in the state and want the biggest frequency of ATMs, you simply go with Wachovia. Basically, a lot of people in North Carolina called Wachovia their bank. For a while, this worked fine and dandy. In 2007, they were making over 2 billion bucks. But then the financial crisis hit, and hit hard.

In summer of 2008, Wachovia lost 9 billion dollars. Immediately, they were in danger of dying. They weren’t too big to fail, but their failure would be especially annoying. So, vulnerable and cheap, ready to sell, Wells Fargo bought them and had everything signed and sold by the end of the year. Since then, they’ve heralding the biggest bank transition in US history. On the weekend of October 13th, Wells Fargo transitioned 317 of the last Wachovia branches. Wachovia died. Wells Fargo was ushered in.

Personally, the change hasn’t been too noticeable. Sure, I carry a card with the logo of a now non-existent company, but everything is proceeding as normal. I even get to do banking on the Wells Fargo iPhone app now, which Wachovia didn’t have.

Nothing Says Dependable Like A Stagecoach

The problem lies in the transition itself. Literally, in the course of a weekend, signs were taken down, and put up. The interiors were repainted. New quotes were put up.  New logos displayed. They even gave out candy in celebration. If you think about it, this is quite the feat of coordination. 317 giant new signs had to be taken to each branch. 317 people had to put them up. 317 branches had to have their insides repainted. 317 people had to buy candy, of course charged to cooperate. And don’t forget about all the ATMs that were also converted. Basically, it costs a lot of money to get that kind of coordination. Sure, you might employ local businesses, but where do you get the money to pay for all of that? The money you squeeze by foreclosing on houses and such? Granted, Wells Fargo is a business, but the transition seems to be a giant, relatively useless expenditure in a time of great need.

Besides this example of corporate idiocy within marching distance of the college, the Wells Fargo also sits on the corner of the busiest intersection in the county, if not a bunch of the surrounding counties. We probably only stood there for an hour, but during that hour, during rush hour on a Friday, it’s quite possible that 500-1000 cars passed through. And there we were, and the corner of it all, exposing ourselves and message to the most number of people possible.

Spot the Bird

Call Me Chicken Now!

Since the sidewalk, is also fairly large, it gave us plenty of space to not only protest, but to mill about and take pictures. I of course, was a mostly favorite to document. People told me how they liked the mask and sign. One person expressed his opinion that anger is a weak emotion. Some liked the fact that I was using an Angry Bird. Other people expressed their like with less accuracy, “Hey, red chicken, turn around!” an old lady said, asking if she could take my picture. Other people came closer, with the name, “Mad Bird.”

So there we stood. For an hour, turning our signs to whichever direction of traffic was moving. And since it takes some 5 minutes for the traffic light to cycle through everybody, some got to literally look at me and my ridiculous bird costume for 5 minutes. We’d get honks. We’d get cheers of support. We’d get yelling from drunk Frats.

But mostly by the end, I’d gotten cold. We’d started our march at like 5PM, and I finished my protesting at 6:30, but with fingers numb, and stomach grumbling. I thought about walking across the street to the Wendy’s, but it might look weird if I frequented a corporate establishment after declaring my anger for The Man’s greed. So I walked back to campus, mask back at my side, thinking about what I had just experienced during my first protest.

Overall, here’s what I came away with from my experience with Occupy Wall Street, or at least the Boone chapter of it. I can’t speak for the “crazies” in New York City and Oakland, as well as a dozen other cities that are apparently so important that they each have Wikipedia pages.

My Angry Bird Plush, With Glasses

Occupy Wall Street is whatever you want it to mean. It does whatever you want it to do. It’s delightfully non-partisan, and doesn’t argue for either Republican or Democrat causes. It’s a bunch of people expressing dissatisfaction with the state of their nation, which they mostly love, but just want to be better.

Government is not perfect. I don’t think anybody can argue with that. Sometimes it needs to be reminded of this fact. Sometimes we need to tell it that. Telling Government that is not anti-American. Just the opposite. It’s a giant cauldron of Freedom of Speech & Expression where the young, old, middle-age, liberal, conservative, Marxist, communist, Socialist, Unitarian, baptists, Mormon, and whomever can come, and not be necessarily wrong. The 99% mantra may be what’s most heard, but it’s not necessarily the point. It’s just part of the chorus of people saying that we can live out our full potential, if we’re just given a chance, and take that chance.

The existence of the movement generates discussion about everything relating to it. From the common issues of greed, to protesting etiquette. It’s basically harmless in a sense, but there is the fringe, who should be chided if only for giving a bad name to a relatively worthy endeavor.

In closing, I’d like to offer this quote on the true reason why we’re Occupying Wall Street and America.

“For each, it is a chance to participate in something that the scholars of Wikipedia might one day record as substantial.  In the meantime, it presents innumerable opportunities for these rugged protesters to tweet and post images from their proletarian smart phones. “

P.S.: I did eventually make it to that night’s Halloween Party, and a good time was had by all. I did however, not win the costume contest.

Finally. A Good Picture of Me. That Was Totally Worth Reading The Previous 3,000 Words.

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Occupying Wall Street In Boone: Act 2

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The Facebook event says some 200 people are going to be there to Occupy Boone. I arrive and maybe 50 are there, with another 30-50 arriving by the time we actually start marching. The weather, to put it lightly, is miserable. 35 degrees, and rainy. It’s also a Friday, which means that everybody has the compelling urge to be at home, doing something indoorsy. But hey, those that are there are true believers in the cause. This isn’t a drive-by protest. No, everybody there is mad about something, and ready to make their grievances known.

As people get their signs together, and as reporters take pictures, a member of the campus police comes by to tells us not only that he supports the cause, but to call him if we run into trouble with the local police.

I'm on the left, in the very back, without a mask. I'm the one distracted by a Squirrel on my left.

Ah... But I Like Uncle Pennybags

The organizer of the event is a Veteran, female, fairly young, with a sign reading, “Now I know what I’m fighting for! Occupy!” Maybe 50% of the participants, are actual college students. Most of them seem just like members of the community, old, young, middle age. Some even bring their kids.

We then gather in a group as a few people volunteer to speak. A couple say they’ve been to the Occupy movement in DC, and were so inspired that they wanted to help with the cause here. One person gives a few guidelines of protesting so we don’t get arrested. You know, stay on the public sidewalks and stuff. Also, do only what we have  permit to do. That’s right, the organizers of the group got a permit just to make sure we wouldn’t be pepper sprayed. Granted, that’d make us martyrs, but it’d also be extremely unpleasant in the meantime. Also, it gives more bad press.

Then a few people get up to give purpose and a goal to a group that clearly is seen by many to have none. “Did you hear that one guy? He was a total Marxist.” a man says later to a friend about one of the speakers. In all, 3 speeches are given by people wanting to give the group a goal and purpose. It goes on for maybe 10 minutes, but it feels like 20 minutes in the freezing mountain weather. I zone out as I hold my mask on my side.

This is my Bulge.

Another reason people might not have been speaking to me was the fact that I had a plush Angry Bird under my leather jacket. I was bringing it for the party later and until then didn’t want to hold the plush bird as I held the sign, or for him to get wet. As a result, I looked kind of strange with an indeterminable bulge under my jacket that might have signaled that I was pregnant,  if I was in fact a woman, or if the bulge weren’t so weirdly shaped. As a result, people would try to reach their cameras up to my tall self so they could take pictures of me as high as they could. Otherwise, it just looked weird if they captured the along my torso area.

Eventually, we were ready to march. But first, we had to find a good marching saying. One person, probably the Marxist, said that we should say something that involved the word, “F**k.”

“Eh…” “No.” “How about something else.” came the rest of the group. Eventually, somebody started the basic, “We. Are. The 99%!” Good enough. It was time to march.

Spot the Bird

We march across and through the relatively empty college campus. It wasn’t empty because of the rain or cold, it was just Friday. So we took to the streets. As soon as we got near the streets, the mood immediately changed. We were marching for Democracy and our various causes. We held our signs in ways best seen by the drivers passing by.

Some drivers would honk in approval, others would stare at the crazy people walking in the cold sprinkle. The honks were most pleasing, as we took every bit of support we could get. They honked prolongly, that means they like us, WHOO! Some would yell their support as they drove by. They were busy going about their day, but they were with us, in spirit.

When we came to an intersection, we stopped for a few minutes to let people know of our grievances at the cross roads. Stopping at intersections is optimal for two reasons:

  1. Since people are stopped by red lights, they have almost no choice but to look at you.
  2. Since an intersection is basically two roads crossing, it’s like getting two for the price of one in avenues of potential people that needed to hear our good news.

Spot The Bird

We then walked to the downtown area of Boone, an especially congested part of town where you’re always sure to find some tourist gazing our our old-timey stores and restaurants. Heck, President Obama had just bought candy on the same street some 10 days beforehand. Not only were we reaching tourists and locals looking to get drunk on a dreary Friday, but we were also passing any number of small-businesses.

After walking through downtown, we came to a particularly construction-raddled intersection, which didn’t make for optimal protesting. So as we tried to dodge the construction, this gave people to think of other protest sayings. As we walked through downtown, the predominant saying was, “Show me what Democracy looks like. This is what Democracy looks like!” We tried to come up with better ones, but we had to stay simple, lest the harmony of the chants was lost as we, the crowd, forgot what the long chants were right after they were told to us.

Now’s probably a good time to talk about the extremist role in all of this. Not because were were attacked, but because it’s just a nice break in the protesting timeline. There are basically three kinds of protesters in the movement:

  1. Those that believe in the movement, but go too far. See Cornel West, probably. These are the minority.
  2. Those that don’t believe in the movement, and just use it to go too far. See Oakland. These are absolute fringe.
  3. Those that believe in the movement, and protest reasonably. These are the majority.

At one point while walking to our ultimate destination of protest, some of our people literally took to the street. Granted, it was a 4-lane street, but it’s still annoying to local drivers, giving the Occupy movement a bad image in their minds. Also, the police don’t like you walking in the street and clogging traffic. The people in the street saw themselves as doing right since they were “taking Democracy to the streets,” but the rest of us on the sidewalk knew it was a bad idea, and expressed our displeasure with “Nahs,” “Uhs,” and “Maybe We Shouldn’t Do Thats.” A minute later, everybody got back on the sidewalk.

Like the Marxist before, the rest of the group let them know of their displeasure because of the image it’d give our cause. With a movement like this, I think these voices need to be louder in chiding our fellow extremists. When we do anything for a cause, we need to approach it like a PR person. How can we portray ourselves in a positive light? How can I not give a negative image with my actions? Point is, the movement needs to do everything within the law, and chide those that do otherwise. There is a fine line you can walk, but I think it’d be better at this point, while getting everybody on your side, that the movement does condemn those who go too far, or even close to too far.

But getting back to the march. We walk down the street, yelling in approval everytime we heard a honk, to route to our ultimate destination, the local Wells Fargo bank.

Spot the Bird

Occupying Wall Street In Boone: Act 1

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

My cousin in the Bronx, he knows everyone. And he said start the revolution without me, I’ll definitely be at the next one.” – Kaiser Chiefs

Last week, as a college Senior, I realized something. I’d never protested before. After all, it seems that all great college experiences and great moments of history involve a protest on a college campus in effort to cause change. Vietnam, Iraq etc. So, when I saw a flier that Occupy Wall Street would be coming to my college campus, I was interested. But not convinced.

After all, we’re in need of an Independent perspective on the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Ask a Liberal, and they’ll say, ‘Why are you asking me what I think about it? You should be out there!’ Ask a Conservative, and they’ll say, ‘They’re a bunch of friggin’ hippies.’ With a lack of leadership or even clear purpose, it’s easy for anyone to make whatever assumption or judgement about them that they want. Are Burger Kings being used as a bathroom by people in beards and scruffy hair more than usual? Well, the Occupy movement can’t say otherwise, so the crazies must speak for the movement.

Then there’s those bloody commies. Always coming along and saying we have to take from the rich and give to the poor. Spread the wealth like homeless men with STDs. This country wasn’t founded on Socialism, it’s a Democracy! Then there’s the fact that they’re lazy. So, so, so, lazy. They should be out trying to find a job instead of complaining that they don’t have one. Nobody got anywhere in this country without working a little! It’s like they’re Mexican, or French, or some other nationality we don’t like, or something!

With the exaggerations being spewed like the above paragraph on a daily basis, it’s hard to tell what to make of it all. Heck, everybody only knows of the 99% and 1% dichotomy because they yelled it so many times. Yet, despite so many predictions that it would die on the fringe, it’s still around, at least until it starts snowing. Not only has it stuck around so far, but it’s thrived. Since the media hasn’t stopped talking about it, more people have heard the messages, and it now seems like every city has an Occupy movement.

America is being Occupied, and everything is being occupied. Does Jupiter have too much mass? #OccupyJupiter. It’s all in parody of course, but with every parody, the public is made more aware of the existence of this group of “crazies.” Eventually, everybody will have to decide, or decide who decides for them, if they agree with the group or not.

Then the night before the protest on my campus, I read an article on the correlation between the popular iPhone game, Angry Birds. If you don’t know, Angry Birds is a game where you slingshot a bird into a structure housing a pig. The goal is to knock the structure down in such a way that it crushes the pig inside. Why? Here’s the developer’s description of the game.

“The survival of the Angry Birds is at stake. Dish out revenge on the green pigs who stole the Birds’ Eggs. Use the unique destructive powers of the Angry Birds to lay waste to the Pigs’ fortified castles.”

Our Eggs...

If you’ve never played the game before, then you should. It’s really fun, and at the cost of 99 cents, you get more bang for you buck than 95% of actual video games that cost $60 on a machine that costs $250 or more. The game is created with so much charm and quirks, that the sound effects and theme songs have become cultural mainstays, while the company is making a fortune in merchandise, etc. Getting back to the article, the author compares the above description to our current cultural struggle.

Reread that description and exchange the word Birds for the word “Americans”.  Now trade the word Pig, for any of the following:  Congress, the President, Wall Street, Big Banks, The Top 1%, and so on.  Pick your poison.  For those valuable Eggs that belonged to the Birds and were stolen by the Pigs; substitute the word, Jobs, Retirement Accounts, Investments, or Elections.  You can see why Americans would be mad.

The A-B-Team

Cue the lightbulb of inspiration. The Birds are the 99%, the Pigs are the 1%, and they stole our eggs that we have to get back. Time to get angry! But it’ll literally be in the 30s all day tomorrow. Never mind.

But then I changed my mind again. Since it was the Friday before Halloween, it was Halloween party time. This year, I was going as a Red Angry Bird. Why? Because it was extremely silly, and I liked the prospect of wearing what was basically a giant cotton ball on my head all night. Inspiration struck again. I could dress up as the Angry Bird as I protest, and use Angry Bird-related sayings to protest. I did this for a few reasons.

  1. Dressing up with a giant Angry Bird on my head would make me stand out from everybody else. After all, in a sea of protesters, it’s hard to get your message across. You could say something about the 99%, but the guy next to you, and the guy behind him are also saying something about the 99%. Boring. Wearing my Halloween costume to protest? That will draw eyes.
  2. With the mask on, it’s hard to tell that it’s me wearing it. Therefore, if somebody saw a picture of me, they couldn’t immediately tell it was me. If the local police decided to pepper spray me and I ended up on the front page of the paper, I would probably be fine. Relatively speaking. It’s just a crazy with a bird on his head.
  3. Angry Birds is both an original, and kind of perfect metaphor.
  4. Since it’s a metaphor, it can be vague. What am I Angry at? You have to read my sign.
  5. But my signs are also vague. One side reads, “I’m Angry at the greed.” Greed of who? Wall Street? Government? Democracy? Obama? Bush? Adam Sandler for starring in Jack and Jill for what is clearly a large paycheck? I don’t know.
  6. My second sign read, “The Pigs Keep Stealing My Eggs.” Again, it’s vague. Who are the pigs? What eggs am I referring to? My money, my time, my desire to look at cat videos on YouTube? You tell me.
  7. The whole thing also makes people smile. Ridiculousness is always appreciated in my eyes, and it would lighten the otherwise sad proceedings since we’re mad about lost money, and the demise of Civilization.

They're Also Angry At The Education System

In a way, I’m parodying the whole thing. It’s totally ridiculous that somebody would be marching around town to “protest” Wall Street in an Angry Bird costume, with signs making reference to a stupid game. It’s all so vague, but at the same time, it’s perfect. Anybody can look at me and derive anything they want. Mad at the Wall Street Fat Cats? I could be standing with you. And since I knew none of the other protesters, it’s not like they were going to go up to me and start a whole deep discussion of my political beliefs, and reasons for protesting. Not like I was going to start any conversation. I was there in strictly a observational, immersive capacity.

I drew up the signs and colored them in on an old Papa Johns box I had. But again, it was cold outside. But wait, somebody on the group’s Facebook page says the local TV news is going to be there. Since I like being on TV, I knew I had to go now (Either I was misled, or Channel 12 dislikes rain, because they never showed). I could just wear a jacket, and be closer to the Halloween party when it actually came around. I could just kill some time, in a productive investigation that could be later turned into a blog, or two, or three.

One Thing's For Sure. The Pig's Going Down.