Occupy Wall Street: “Pay It Forward”

(h/t commentor Shinobi)

Since I may not yet have persuaded every single one of you to start reading Esquire‘s Political Blog regularly, here’s Charlie Pierce on “What They’ve Come to Find at Occupy Wall Street“:

NEW YORK — Sal Cioffi and Randy Otero are union electricians from Local 3 of the IBEW in New York. They’re working on the Freedom Tower a few blocks over in lower Manhattan. Over the past couple of days, they’ve taken to having their lunch in Zuccotti Park, in the middle of the Occupy Wall Street protesters who have set up camp here. The event has grown sufficiently that it’s now attracted almost as many food trucks and mobile falafel units as it has television-news trucks, so there’s always some place for Sal and Randy to buy lunch. So they park themselves on the stone bench, put their hard hats on the ground and, almost organically, they become part of the event.
“We’ve had demonstrations, and it never makes the news,” says Sal. “We could have 10,000 workers demonstrating, and it won’t make the news. At least, something like this, they get the publicity.”
“We had a rally for the workers, two months ago, and we marched across the Brooklyn Bridge, and there were people crossing that bridge for an hour-and-a-half, and it didn’t hit the news,” Randy adds. “All organized labor, no press coverage whatsoever.
“Now, this here, they’re not leaving, so the media has to cover it. And it’s very close to Ground Zero, and once the police get involved, they have to cover it.”
“They’re waiting for someone to do something wrong,” Sal says.
What the two of them have found for themselves, here amid the guitars and the drums, and the indistinguishable forms shifting in their sleeping bags against the advancing autumn chill, is a public space for ideas. If the primary criticism of the ongoing demonstrations is that they seem to lack, as a hundred media reports have put it, “a cohesive public message,” that is also one of their great strengths. This is a very loud and clear yawp against the irresponsible use of power by unaccountable institutions, including, increasingly, the government itself. The protests here are omni-directional. They appear inchoate because their target is so diffuse — an accelerating sense in the country that there is no pea under any of the shells, that the red Jack is not in the deck, that the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away by so many people in so many ways that to sharpen the focus on one of the long cons is to let a dozen others reach fruition. This is a protest about declining wages and corporate greed, about baroque financial schemes and the unfathomable fine print on the back of your credit-card statement, about a grand critique of mutated capitalism and outrage at the simple tragedy of foreclosure fraud. So, for today, Sal and Randy are sitting on the stone bench and talking about the life of a union electrician in New York City in 2011 and, in what they say, there is the shadow of all these other things, waiting for one slip, one accident, one missed paycheck. Except for the very few, economic survival in America is a fragile, perilous journey over an increasingly narrow road. That’s the cohesive public message here in the park, if you can see past all the dreadlocks and hear it over the drum circles, which most of the mainstream coverage of this event has been sadly unable to do.
“We have 200 guys out [of work] now,” Sal explains. “There’s a 60-week wait now if you get laid off today. That’s the wait now, but the wait’s going to get longer because it always does. The 70’s were bad — the late 70’s — but this is worse. Sorry to say it but, if that didn’t happen down here — 9/11 — we’d have had a lot more people out of work.”…

45 replies
  1. 1
    Cat Lady says:

    I think we’ve found our Hunter Thompson, Tom Robbins, Molly Ivins and Studs Terkel all rolled up into one.

    ETA: Charlie Pierce, not Elizabeth Warren.

  2. 2
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    I thought this was a brilliant summation of the zeitgeist:

    ..an accelerating sense in the country that there is no pea under any of the shells, that the red Jack is not in the deck, that the wealth of the country is being swindled and gambled and frittered away ..

  3. 3
    MikeJ says:

    @Cat Lady: Not even close. I think Charlie’s a great writer, but he’s not a replacement for even one of those.

  4. 4
    Cat Lady says:


    Well, we’re going to have to agree to disagree. Charlie’s picked up their torch.

  5. 5
    Spaghetti Lee says:

    “They’re waiting for someone to do something wrong,” Sal says.

    Of course they are. Fox went prowling for union thugs and stoned-out hippies and found Jesse LaGreca instead.

  6. 6
    Elie says:

    I enjoyed the link and think we are on the verge of some very interesting times here… Things feel very interesting..

  7. 7
    KS in MA says:

    Charlie Pierce is on his way to becoming a national treasure. Loved that video, too!

  8. 8
    jl says:

    I think it is hard to tell when an upper crust long con stops working with the mass of the people, but maybe we are seeing the beginnings of it now.

    Maybe a few people saw the very different treatment given to teabagger and ordinary middle class agitation at congressional townhalls. Big media coverage and local officialdom free pass of disorderly conduct and threatening behavior by teabaggers. Media silence and local arrests for much milder behavior from ordinary folks.

    The union people, well, they used to be in the club. I was a kid way back then, but vaguely remember some celebration of right thinking, common sense, hard working union workers, as opposed to DFHs. The union workers got de facto thrown out of the boat long ago, now they are publicly labeled as union thugs, whether they are construction workers, or cops, or emergency first responders, or teachers makes no difference. But, hey, for most of us, those people are our neighbors.

    The elderly begin to see where the wind blows when, less than a year they were lied to about health care reform, the GOP and some corporate Dems are celebrating premature and painful death and disability as a badge of all American freedom and independence and self reliance.

    If things get worse, I wonder what we will see at rigged polling places.

    I’ve lived in middle class, working class and poor neighborhoods in CA, and have never seen any long waiting lines or any harassment at a polling place. When I see news clips of long lines at the polling places in, say, Ohio, I wonder why there is no riot. I have no idea if it is like that everywhere in CA (probably not). But if things get worse, and this latest reactionary long con has run dry, there will be more demonstrations.

    There isn’t even any specific provocation that started these demonstrations. But there will be plenty in the future.

  9. 9
    SiubhanDuinne says:

    @Cat Lady:
    @Cat Lady:

    Stop fighting, you two! It’s a floor wax and a dessert topping!

    Seriously, every one of those people you named was/is unique. It’s not a competition.

  10. 10
    jl says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Tell them you will call their parents, and they will catch hell when they get home. That will fix them dang kids.

  11. 11
    Comrade Kevin says:

    Good video, and article.

  12. 12
    Cat Lady says:


    I love Charlie Pierce and want to have his babies. If he’s lurking here like he does sometimes – Charlie, call me!

  13. 13

    @Cat Lady: I will fight you for Pierce. Fight.You.

  14. 14
    Cat Lady says:

    @res ipsa loquitur:

    He seems like the generous type – two girls, one Charlie?

  15. 15

    @Cat Lady: Oh, what the hell? I am open-minded and open-hearted. Make love, not war, etc.

    Occupy Wall Street!

  16. 16
    MikeJ says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Every single person ever mentioned on bj is either the most super awesomest thing ever or the most super duper worstest. I just think it’s entirely possible for somebody to make computers or write about politics without being the second coming of Aristotle or to appear in the form of a large and moving Torg.

  17. 17
    Corner Stone says:

    @res ipsa loquitur: I thought Charlie had three angels?

  18. 18
    MikeJ says:

    Holy shit, did anybody see this:

    Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is blocking the Defense authorization bill from floor consideration because of provisions that would keep the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in business, prompting Republican protest.

  19. 19
    Hill Dweller says:

    Love me some Charlie Pierce.

    His pointing out Dowd’s insanity a couple days ago was great. I’ve never understood why people like her utterly vapid drivel.

  20. 20
    tokorode says:

    Osama bin Laden, job creator!

  21. 21
  22. 22
    Ruckus says:

    I commented to mastermix the other day, there are so many things wrong, there is no one cohesive way to attack the problem. There is no one problem, one solution. People, especially americans like to simplify problems to one thing, one easy thing. Fifty to sixty years of conservatives screwing up the country and now the world can not be undone by a simple solution. The reason the OWS movement can’t write legislation or an itemized list of demands is that there has never been a peaceful rearranging of any political landscape this screwed up, or screwed up in this direction. It has always ended in a bloody mess, a coup. And only a very few want that. So the question is how to create a peaceful solution? MLK had the answer. It is not easy, it is not fast, it can and probably will get messy. It is non-violent protest. It takes lots of people. They have to get arrested, noticed, arrested, probably a few beatings, noticed and finally agreed with. Only then can change occur. The process is at step two. The more of us that join in the more the process becomes the accepted norm. I don’t know what I can do for now but I have to figure something out. Each of us does. It is the only way effective change can occur. We have to change it. We have been told and shown the way, now we just have to join in and move the process along.

  23. 23
    Yutsano says:

    Lots of folks are paying attention. Occupy Seattle was the top story tonight on the Seattle news, and we just had some crime spree teens too. The genie might just be out of the bottle.

  24. 24
    Jennifer says:

    I put together a design for a T-shirt like I talked about on one of the other threads earlier today; mosey on over to my joint and take a look, and give me a shout-out as to whether you think I should proceed with printing some of them up.

  25. 25
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:

    @SiubhanDuinne: Floor wax AND a dessert topping? That triggered some brain cells. Thanks for the trip down SNL memory lane.

    These young whippersnappers don’t realize what a change it was to have to be home on Saturday night in 1975 instead of out partyin’. Good cast, great writing, funny (oops, they lost that) and NO VCRs!!!

  26. 26
    Origuy says:

    The Occupy San Jose Facebook page has a comment that a SJPD officer drove by the protest and used his loudspeaker to thank the protesters for being out there. There’s not likely to be any media mention of the protest, with Jobs’ death and a mass murder at a Cupertino quarry, though.

  27. 27
    Brother Shotgun of Sweet Reason says:


    a large and moving Torg.

    Thank FSM for the internets. Second comment on this thread that triggered a memory, so I Googled it. Many BJ commenters will find out what it is like to be roasted in the depths of Tunch one day, I can tell you!

  28. 28
    mick says:

    the unfocussed nature of the protest has turned out to be a strength, not a weakness. there is alot of free-floating anxiety and anger in the air throughout the land, with no single cause or solution. but it all does seem to trace back to the financial collapse.

    if 100 hippies formed a drum circle in zuccotti to ask for reinstatement of Glass-Steagall or card check, well, that shit go noplace fast…

    But this! it is Festivus! this is how i always imagined “the airing of the grievances” at Festivus. everyone bring your axe to grind! all are welcome!

    america, fuck yeah!

  29. 29
    Jebediah says:

    I love it! I am especially happy to see the Monopoly-banker-guy in there… I want one. I want it now. But I settle for tomorrow or Friday if I must.

  30. 30
    stibbert says:

    nice freakin’ video. loves me some Elizabeth Warren.

    occupypittsburgh begins 10:00AM 10/15 at Market Square.

  31. 31
    mclaren says:


    I think it is hard to tell when an upper crust long con stops working with the mass of the people, but maybe we are seeing the beginnings of it now.

    Let’s hope. The proof will be when Rush Limbaugh’s radio audience dwindles away to nothing, when Doctor Laura gets fired and replaced with a hard news show, when Ann Coulter can’t sell her hatemongering screeds any longer and has to support herself by making videos showing her icepicking kittens for sado fetishists.

    Above all, the proof will come when people stop electing Republicans. The American electorate is like a teenager girl compulsively addicted to cutting herself with razor blades. Doesn’t matter what she says…it’s when she just…stops…that you know something has changed.

  32. 32
    mclaren says:


    …there are so many things wrong, there is no one cohesive way to attack the problem. There is no one problem, one solution.

    Sure there is.

    Stop doing insane things.

    The crises we’re in right now are all of our own making. Every last one of ’em.

    People who say “there’s too much going wrong to fix it” are like guys who smash themselves in the face with a hammer and howl “there’s too much injury, I can’t get well again!” Sure you can. Just stop smashing yourself in the fuckin’ face with a fuckin’ hammer.

    After a while, you’ll stop bleeding and your injuries will heal and you’ll be okay again.

    Just stop the insanity, America.

    Stop the endless unwinnable wars in foreign countries.

    Stop giving trillions of dollars in tax cuts to billionaires while paying CEOs to export middle-class jobs overseas with lavish tax breaks and loopholes.

    Stop refraining from proescuting and convicting the financial criminals on Wall Street.

    Stop avoiding applying the antitrust laws and break up CitiGroup and the giant banks and the giant internet ISP monopolies and the giant health care cartels and the giant collusive corrupt publishing and movie studio and record company monopolies, which mostly own one another as well all the movie theaters and the movie studios and even the plants that manufacture the blu-ray disc players.

    Put ’em all in jail, enforce the laws, shut ’em all down.

    Indict the Walton family for restraint of trade and gross violation of labor laws, confiscate their assets and break up Wal-Mart and sell off its assets to give each of WalMart’s employees a couple of hundred thousand dollars in civil damages.

    Put the hospital administrators and corrupt doctors and bribe-taking medical device makers in jail for fraud and corruption and collusion. Shut down all the monopolies, put the financial criminals in jail.

    Things will get better so fast you’ll think you’re dreaming.

  33. 33
    brettvk says:

    @mclaren: I work for the Hellmouth of Arkansas, and I approve this statement.

  34. 34

    It’s fun to read the comments on this post


    They are taking Doug to the woodshed, and he doesn’t seem to realize his ass is getting beaten.

  35. 35
    burnspbesq says:


    Wow. When did Reid get a spine transplant?

    More of this would be greatly appreciated.

  36. 36
    burnspbesq says:


    Lovely rant. Utterly devoid of anything resembling a fact, and ignorant of both law and economics, but still lovely.

  37. 37
    YellowJournalism says:

    This entire protest feels like what would happen if the “we’re not gonna protest” scene from the movie PCU went national. Everyone joins in. All are welcome. No set agenda, but it’s more effective and gets the attention from the powers that be.

  38. 38
    nancydarling says:

    Anne Laurie, could you or someone else tell me the difference between OccupyTogether and OccupyWallStreet? I understand that AdBusters actually started planning the occupation in July. Who speaks for the occupation groups? Are they competing for the role? Both web sites have links to the other. I am confused.

  39. 39
    Jeff Boatright says:

    @burnspbesq: I don’t see that the precepts of law or economics were followed very closely by any of the players who got us in this mess, so why the attention to fine detail now? ;)

  40. 40
    Paul in KY says:

    @Cat Lady: I think Charlie can be in the same league with those you’ve mentioned.

    He has a real gift for prose.

  41. 41
    Sophia says:

    @jl: I’ve lived in middle class, working class and poor neighborhoods in CA, and have never seen any long waiting lines or any harassment at a polling place. When I see news clips of long lines at the polling places in, say, Ohio, I wonder why there is no riot.

    I’ve worked the last 4 federal elections at the polls doing Voter Protection. 04 and 08, I worked at sites that had extremely long lines (at least 50 people in line for hours at a time). The 04 location was one of the sites that the local dems had to sue to keep open in 00 because of long lines, so in 04 something crazy like 50% of the voters in the precinct showed up in the first hour to make sure that they could vote.

    There is certainly frustration evident when this happens. But there’s nothing remotely riotous about the mood. Mostly, it is stubborn. The most amazing, attuned persistence. People who love the franchise. Believe that their vote matters. Believe in their role as citizens. It’s quite inspiring. And it’s the same sort of spirit required to animate something like OWS.

  42. 42
    Hungry Joe says:

    I’m in California (San Diego), I’ve been voting for never-mind-how-many decades, and once — ONCE — I had to wait in line for all of 10 minutes. In most recent elections I’ve voted by mail, but a couple of elections back I walked in, voted, and walked out, just like I used to. People standing in line for HOURS? And it happens again and again? Can’t be an accident. Can’t be.

    (Tomorrow: Occupy San Diego — Civic Center, 4:30.)

  43. 43
    Gretchen says:

    That image of the young woman going down on her knees after being pepper-sprayed is iconic. It will be around for a long while, like the young woman at Kent State – power attacking the people it’s supposed to protect.

  44. 44
    jwalden91lx says:

    @Cat Lady:
    Well played, Madame. Well played.

  45. 45
    Ruckus says:

    And to think I thought it would take blood, sweat, much time and maybe even lives to fix the laws, the wealth inequity, the financial system, congress, etc that has taken decades to get to the point we are at now.

    I see all that is necessary is waving the stop the madness magic wand and everything will be OK

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