The herald of Zuccotti Park: Occupy Wall Street as experienced, narrated and (occasionally) organized by Ted Hall
A few days ago, I asked an Occupy Wall Street protester named Kyle Watson what he thought of the criticism that the movement was too disorganized. He replied that it wasn't disorganized: it was collaborative.
"I think some people are mischaracterizing it as disorganized because there's no central hub," he said. "There isn't a hub because there isn't a hierarchy. It's an experiment, like a bunch of cells congealing into a new organism, and we don't know what it will be yet. It's like a Petri dish."
Watson, who is 23 and lives in Crown Heights, was heading to a meeting for the media working group. In the absence of an official command structure or appointed leaders, Occupy Wall Street uses working groups, in which members talk and make recommendations to the other protesters, but don't issue orders. Meetings are held on the second floor of the McDonald's on Broadway, which has free wi-fi.
"The traditional model of protest is where everyone comes together for a single purpose and everyone agrees about that purpose," Kyle said. "This? This is a much more wiki, open-source model."
The term "open source" gets used a lot by the protesters. It describes both a kind of software whose source code can be freely modified by other developers, and, more generally, to any collaborative project that lacks specific goals or hierarchy. Many participants in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations seem to have adopted "open source" as a kind of governing ethos.
Edward (Ted) Hall III, 25, is a member of a working group calling itself the "Open Source Solutions Group." He is comfortable in the spotlight, having attracted a measure of attention recently by getting himself arrested for attempting to crawl through a baggage carousel at Kennedy Airport to catch a plane. He is not a leader, because there are no leaders within the Occupy Wall Street movement, but he seems to be at the forefront of many of the large meetings. In fact, even in the context of the Occupy Wall Street "Petri dish," he has emerged as a de facto spokesman and point-person for the many television crews that have now shown up downtown, if only by virtue of the fact that he is both unmissable and happy to take upon himself the role of real-time narrator.
On Sept. 17, the first day of protests, he was the first person to address the crowd gathered in front of the Smithsonian Musuem of the American Indian, where he suggested that they demand the end of "corporate personhood." Two weeks later, on Oct. 2, he was sitting cross-legged on a mattress installed in the middle of Zuccotti Park, holding court with a half-dozen other protesters. They were going over the 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge that had occured the day before. Hall, like many protesters, believed that arrests, although unwelcome, were ultimately good for the movement.
"It's the best P.R. we could ever get," said Hall, between bites of a guacamole sandwich. "Inside the movement, though, it's awful. It sucks being arrested. These cuffs they put on you? These plastic, skin-cutting cuffs? Fucking people bleeding? This is torture."
Hall studied psychology and economics at Bard College, followed by research in economic decision-making at Columbia University, and his speech is shot through with ideas drawn from a smattering of academic disciplines.
"Counterinsurgency theory is based on securing peace in pocketed areas," he said. "Basically, you occupy the space and you protect the citizens from the insurgents. That's kind of what what we're doing. We're occupying a space and protecting the people from authority, from the police. And the more they fight us? The more they're seen as the enemy."
Hall claimed that most rank-and-file police sympathize with the protesters, and that when they make arrests they are merely following orders from above. He said these orders, issued by Michael Bloomberg, leaders of the finance industry and other members of the "hyperelite," subvert the officers' basic humanity.
"Look at the Stanley Milgram experiments, look at Philip Zimbardo's experiments," Hall said. "Authority is an incredible power. Just wearing the garb, you start to see yourself as superior, as having more power over the other person, that the other person needs to be subservient to you. As long as they're wearing the uniform, they feel they have to follow orders."
Hall's own uniform, which he has worn every day since the start of the demonstration, is spandex tights, painted in a patchwork of DayGlo colors, and a camouflage jacket. Matched with his chest-length brown hair, his scruffy goatee and his slightly goofy mien, he suggests a rodeo clown who has fallen on hard times. His outfit is augmented by a welter of jewelry, including a silver bracelet inscribed with coral and turqoise which he said was a gift from his grandfather, Edward T. Hall, Jr., a cultural anthropologist who did pioneering research in nonverbal communication. (In his obituary, the Times wrote that Hall's work "proved invaluable in studying how members of different cultures interact and how they often fail to understand one another.")
Although the demonstration has expanded to include such facilities as a kitchen, medical area, media center and a library of donated books (The Routledge Encylopedia of Philosophy is given pride of place in the nonfiction section, Norman Mailer's Armies of the Night in fiction) it still lacks bathrooms.
HALL SQUEEZED THROUGH THE CROWD, NOW SWOLLEN with tourists and media, in desparate search of a toilet.
He cut through a row of protesters standing on Broadway, each carrying a sign at chest level.
"We are the 99%," said one.
"You Should Realize By Now That We're Not Just A Bunch of Fucking Hippies," said another.
"McDonald's has been really generous," Hall said. "But I try to stay away from corporate logos. Usually I use the church."
As he headed down Broadway toward St. Paul's, he talked about his opposition to the Iraq War and his mixed feelings about Obama.
"All the good presidents have been assassinated or impeached," he said. "My favorite president to this day is Richard Nixon. He did more for America than just about anyone. He formed the E.P.A., he had a budget surplus. He really attacked secretive, embedded power structures. And they impeached him for it. He wasn't impeached for wiretapping the Democrats—everyone does that. They made an example out of him. 'They' being the billionaires who call all the shots and make politicians their lapdogs."
He went into a Subway. "I'll buy something," he called to the cashiers as he headed into the bathroom.
When he got out, he jogged to the door.
"I'll buy something next time!" he hollered. "Promise!"
As he closed the door, the cashiers gave him a frosty look.
"It's such a waste of time and money," Hall said, back on Broadway. "So, those guys, just because they have those stupid uniforms, they follow orders. Like, I'm sure those guys have been in a situation where they've almost pissed their pants. To have to ask to use the bathroom? It's fucked. We've become complacent. And this is like the opposite of that sleeping laziness."
Back at Zuccotti Park, Hall walked around gathering people for a meeting. At one point, he crossed paths with Sam Cohen, a middle-aged man dressed in a tennis shirt and wire-rim glasses, carrying an iPad. His firm, Wylie Law, was, until recently, retained as counsel for the "General Assembly" group that helped organize the protests. This time, Cohen had come to talk with people who were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday.
Hall told Cohen he got a summons on the first Monday of the protest when he ran onto Wall Street carrying a People's Bell ("as opposed to that bell of lies that is destroying our ecosystem and our economy") made from the lid of a stainless steel pot and a drumstick. When he tried to hand it off to some some friends, Hall said, a police officer stopped him.
"I was not read my Miranda rights," he said.
"Reading people their Miranda rights when they're arrested is something that makes great television but is no way a constitutional requirement," said Cohen. "Give me a call later."
A reporter with a Brazilian newspaper corraled Hall and asked him whether the arrests the day before led to more tension between the protesters and the police. He said no, that the police were on his side. The reporter, a woman, then asked him what he does. "I own a low-profit company," Hall said.
"What do you do?"
"Our aim is to help integrate humanity's shared tools," he said.
The woman blinked and scribbled something in her notebook.
Hall stopped at the media table set up by the media working group and consulted with Kate Davison. Davison, 31, lives in Southern California and is making a documentary about the American dream. She was arrested on the bridge.
"Once you get beat up by the cops, you know you're part of the movement," she said. "Apparently, independent journalists have no rights."
She said she got out of jail at 4 in the morning.
"That's the best part of jail?" Hall said. "You can meditate like crazy."
Later, as Hall circulated through the crowd again, a very pretty man in a Kangol hat enveloped him in a hug. It was Penn Badgley, an actor on the television show "Gossip Girl."
Badgley and Hall are old friends. Badgley had been meaning to come down for a few days, but only arrived today, after a mutual friend was arrested on the bridge.
"I texted her, and she was actually texting me with handcuffs on, like, behind her back, like, 'I've just been arrested and I'm in handcuffs,'" he said.
"I think we need to reframe the word 'celebrity,'" Hall said.
"I know," Badgley said. "It's awful. But whatever."