Published October 26, 2011
It's difficult to imagine anyone in New York City getting upset about noise, crowds, garbage, theatrical lunatics, or even those people who insist that all sidewalks are actually public latrines.
Still, some neighbors around Lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park have been getting testy about the Occupy Wall Street protest that started there on Sept. 17. They say they are sick of protesters doing all of the above, plus banging drums, strumming guitars and banjos, and singing, shouting and chanting late at night,
The neighborhood indeed has landed a circus with New York's open-air tour buses idling by for peeks.
On Saturday, a 24-year-old Canadian man that police described as "emotionally disturbed" scaled a 70-foot sculpture and refused to come down until all his demands were met, including a promise from New York police and fire departments to make staff hires such that 15% of employees are bisexuals.
Meantime, Occupy Wall Street's tarp camp is growing increasingly unsanitary, some neighbors have complained.
"It looks kind of like a Third-World shanty town," says Skip Blumberg, president of neighborhood activist group, Friends of City Hall Park.
Blumberg came to Zuccotti Park on Sunday night with a message for protesters: Not all the neighbors despise their antics, and the ones who are complaining should probably take notice of where they have chosen to live.
"The Realtors don't tell them that this is the heart of the city," Blumberg told me after addressing the crowd. "This is what happens down here...People who move here, if they're not told by the developers that things like this take place, let the buyer beware."
Blumberg, 66, lives a few blocks from the protest that has spawned similar ongoing performances around the world. His grandfather started a business on nearby Canal Street in 1935. "I've been coming to this neighborhood since I was born," he said.
Blumberg knows democracy is messy. He led successful drives to finally reopen City Hall Park after 9/11 and remains engaged in ongoing neighborhood development issues.
He is also an Emmy-award-winning documentary filmmaker, whose work includes a 1981 classic about competitive jump roping called "Pick Up Your Feet: The Double Dutch Show." He has made about 150 short videos for Sesame Street. And he is a communications professor at Hofstra University.
"There are many neighbors who don't have the same feelings as the ones who are complaining," he said. "There are many neighbors who know things have not been going well, and that voting has not been enough to change the way things are going."
In Colonial times, his beloved neighborhood was a rebel outpost. In 1862, it was a place to call for volunteers for the Civil War. Over centuries, it has been the site of innumerable union rallies and political protests. And now it is a staging area for Occupy Wall Street actions throughout Manhattan.
"The democracy of the United States of America started here in this neighborhood," Blumberg said. "City Hall Park was the city commons, and people would come here to exchange news of the day and participate in making decisions for this village."
Occupy Wall Street protesters have taken over Zuccotti Park, about four blocks away from City Hall Park. Since Zuccotti is privately owned, police can't enforce curfews they enforce in city parks, and the owner, Brookfield Properties, doesn't seem to relish the idea of evicting camped-out protesters.
"They don't want to be nasty people," Blumberg said. "They don't want the bad press. If there are pictures of bloody teenagers, these people have parents."
A recent poll by the Associated Press shows 37% of the American public now support the Wall Street protests. And many of those who don't support them at least support some of the sentiments.
In the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business/Kellogg School Financial Trust index, 60% of those surveyed said they are angry at banks--and only 23% said they trust banks. This is "the highest level of anger we've found since the earliest months of the financial crisis," said Chicago professor Luigi Zingales.
Occupy Wall Street is simply a channel for this rage--but so far, no one seems to know where it is being piped.
"I can't tell you who the leadership is," Blumberg said. "I don't know. I don't understand it. I'm just a neighbor."
(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at email@example.com or tellittoal.com)