The Occupiers of Wall Street

I spent part of Friday and Saturday at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City. The main story, and an analysis of What It All Means, will appear later today. In the meantime, I’ve gone back over the conversations I had at the rallies to confirm the conventional wisdom: There is no agenda uniting the people showing up and expressing their anger at finance.

One of the first people I saw at the Friday rally was Justin Gray, whose sleeveless T-shirt revealed a Gadsden flag tattoo – permanent ink of the Tea Party’s adopted symbol.

“I don’t really agree with the Tea Party,” said Gray, a carpenter from Brooklyn, “but I don’t have strong feelings about them. For me, it was just… I guess it represents being American and being proud of it. It’s getting back to the roots of, sort of, live and let live. Early American politics around the Declaration of Independence are fascinating to me.” He agreed with some Tea Party goals. “We can’t keep spending money like we are.” But he was not a conservative. “The Tea Party is… whatever. It’s a fad.”

Bill McNulty was one of the rarer breed of occupiers – a grey-haired veteran activist who had thought deeply about this stuff. “Generally speaking,” he said, “the population is thoroughly taken by the myth that things are as they are being presented to them. Now that the reality is hitting them so hard – their pensions are disappearing, their houses are being foreclosed on – they’re organizing.”

McNulty, whose own activism has been directed against the School of the Americas, had no quibble with the variety of causes at the rally – Free Mumia signs, anti-Bernanke signs, calls for vegan farming. “All these diverse messages here, they’re in the process of being connected to Wall Street.” It was a good thing. “The Tea Party brought out this anger against finance, but they were directed elsewhere by corporate money.”