My first impression of Zucotti Park was the presence of food vendors along the south side and fast food franchises at either end. The conspicuous absence of toilet facilities and the heady smell of marijuana played into my preconceived notions that I was in the presence of drugged up fleabaggers.
Directly opposite my location at the Joie de Verve sculpture and across Greenwich was the rising hulk of 4 World Trade Center. These rotten people were throwing their pity party a literal stone's throw away from the World Trade Center reconstruction site. Whoever chose this location adjacent to the object of America's heartbreak should have been ashamed of themselves.
I stepped over supine bodies wrapped in sleeping bags, tarps and whatever a person uses for insulation against the encroaching winter season. Given the media coverage and what I had seen on Twitter, there should have been a whole lot of fighting and fornicating going on. To my relief, I saw neither.
Walking along the southern edge of the park I hear the sounds of intoxicated people strumming guitars and singing a never ending melody of sentence fragments and jumbled lyrics. I stop and give my ubiquitous, "How ya' doin?" To my surprise, I am greeted with warm, albeit stoned smiles and pleasant greetings. I whip out my video camera and asked the group what they would tell my children about the world.
At this point I can feel the paparazzi's strobes searing my retinas as I walk out with my Oscar for best independent documentary of making a wasted kid look stupid video category. It is in the bag, these guys are going to get me a million hits on youtube and make me a thousandaire. Easy Street, here I come.
The first person I spoke with responded that the greedy, corrupt people in control of the financial system needed to be removed from power and replaced with more ethical leadership. If that happened, my kids could look for a brighter future. Hey pal, start stammering. You're wrecking my doc.
Then a young kid named Mark spoke with me for a few minutes about how he was told to go to college and now there are no jobs waiting. I explained to Mark that my wife and I had been paying $1,700 per month since 1997 for her medical school loans and it was a tough sell for me that college loans for the current generation should be erased. Find a bottom level, lousy job to get your foot in the door and with hard work, you will draw the attention of the people who can offer advancement in their company. Mark indicated that he was currently working as a janitor and tattooing people for extra money. I again feel as though personal bias may have clouded my judgement as the THC had clouded the judgement of this young man.
It turns out that Mark was a Psychology major. I offered him two pieces of advice. First, if you invested 4 years and one hundred thousand dollars in an education that did not prepare you for the world, perhaps you should be occupying your alma mater. Don't hate the bank that loaned you the money to get a college degree. Mark's bloodshot eyes opened a bit and he said,"You're right." My next suggestion was for Mark to look into the possibility of loan forgiveness by working in a mental health clinic in an under served area. Such opportunities exist for physicians and Mark said he would investigate the possibility of him taking on such an endeavor. I thanked these young people for their time and walked away seeing a glimmer of hope in their eyes.
I then talked to a gentleman named Alan about everything from his growing up on the Lower East Side to what him and I thought would be needed for these kids to get their act together. When I offered to buy Alan a cup of coffee to ward off the night's chill, a young man who I had assumed was sleeping asked me to get him some juice. As I was thinking the moocher should go to hell, I heard my grandmother's voice telling me that Jesus loved him too. Sure pal, I'll get you a juice.
On to the other side of the park where a much scarier, far more dangerous crowd was lurking. Everything from vagrants, homeless people and cranked up anarchists circled me like a school of sharks. Happening upon a candlelit table with a handmade 'Eat The Rich' sign I fired up the Flip and asked these youngsters the same questions. What do my kids have to look forward to? Who were your heroes growing up? What is the end game of your movement?
At the end of my conversation a young man named David arrived and began interjecting his ideas into the dialogue. The second I told the people I had been filming they sounded like Glenn Beck, they split and I spent about an hour talking with David. It turns out he had graduated from welding school and wasn't interested in working anywhere for $8 per hour. You have to start somewhere kid. Holding out for $15-$20 per hour will get you nowhere.
Pointing to the WTC job site across the street I asked David if he had solicited for a job. No? There is opportunity. Even if you are turned away, pester the workers about where a young man can go to fill out an application. Keep pestering people, indicating your eagerness to work and sooner or later, someone will crack the door open for you. It is then the individual's responsibility to shove the door open, prove value to the company and earn a decent wage.
I left David with the same glimmer of hope in his eyes I had seen earlier from Mark and the others. That started my thought process that some of these kids were not bad people. They were overwhelmed at the prospect of a cold world and were feeling helpless. I can relate to that feeling.
I drove home the morning of October 26th with a new perspective on the whole #Occupy movement. I figure one third vagrants, one third anarchist punks who couldn't survive a day in their lawless utopia and the final third scared kids who can't imagine a meaningful future comprise the makeup of this movement. The scared kids have an opportunity to be persuaded by good ideas and encouragement. We turn our backs on these future leaders at our own peril.
Two nights later, Twitter was abuzz with posts indicating the police were moving in to clear Zucotti and there was going to be violence. I thought of the young men and women I had met and was overwhelmed by the urge to drive the 60 miles back to Manhattan and encourage these people to leave peacefully. There was no need to end up with a skull fracture and a felony conviction at the behest of chicken hawks exploiting their hopelessness.
Back through the Holland straight to the trophy mosque and my awaiting parking spot, past the Freedom Tower, across Greenwich and I was once again standing in Zucotti Park. The tension was palpable as I walked amongst the sleeping and the stoned. I was looking for Alan, Mark, David and the others in some vain attempt to change their minds and plead with them to not throw their futures away. To my relief, there was no violence and I couldn't find anyone whom I had come to engage with a message of encouragement and hope.
I strolled up to the information desk near the Joie du Verve and engaged a man who reminded me of my father in another pleasant conversation. Brian and I couldn't have been farther apart politically given the fact he was wearing an ACLU hat and I was wearing my Harley leather jacket. Again the sharks circled in my peripheral vision as I claimed my status as a conservative in the middle of a Socialist movement. The fact that I am a large man capable of intimidating spoiled kids with an ice cold stare probably discouraged any would be shouters from interrupting my conversation. The meth heads were busy watching a Livestream feed of the Occupy Oakland protestors fighting with police and did not pose an immediate threat.
Brian and I spent the next hour talking about our childhoods and how a blue collar man could afford to provide for his family. Those days and those jobs are gone and kids need to adapt to a service oriented world until we can get America back to being a manufacturing nation once again. It turns out that righties and lefties have a great deal in common and can engage in civil conversation regardless of what the media shoves down our throats.
I told Brian my reason for trekking into the city again while my family slept and he was genuinely moved. When I left, Brian stood up, shook my hand and thanked me several times for caring enough about the future of this great nation to dissuade people from resorting to violence. Once again, I drove home a changed man.
I don't feel the least bit sorry for these people. I do feel there is a great opportunity for educated, helpless citizens to become contributing members of society. Most of those I met spoke of tax reform, Social Security and Medicaire reform being cornerstones to fixing America's woes. How could such conservative principles be lurking in the minds of children being used by progressives?
Question all that you see on TV, internet news and social networking sites. The amount of misinformation out there clouds the judgement. Experience situations for yourself and you will be left with a more hopeful impression of America's future. There are more good people out there than you are being led to believe.
A simple act of kindness from millions of people will effectively negate the deeds of a few thousand revolutionaries. Cast the light of goodness upon seditious people, and they will scurry back into the shadows from where they came.