Best Occupy Wall Street Sign Ever

I work in Lower Manhattan, and when the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations started on Sept. 17, they didn't look like much. Just a few young people were marching up Wall Street, carrying signs and chanting. Some of the signs were, frankly, a bit idiotic. The police had set up barriers, and I had to walk 200 yards out of my way to get to work. Good luck to the protesters, but their little march looked ineffectual and a bit annoying.

A week later came the widespread video of a high-ranking New York police officer pepper-spraying nonviolent protesters. The next day, I went to Zuccotti Park, and the protest had grown overnight to triple the size. Some of the protesters' signs were a little more intelligent. I said to one demonstrator, "Your message seems to be getting more focused."

He said, "It's been focused all along. Why don't you join us?"

Since I work nearby, I started going over to Zuccotti Park at lunchtime, to see what was happening. The protesters were becoming more organized. They had set up a media table, a first-aid area, a food line. They posted a daily schedule of workshops and events.

Then came the news of the march over the Brooklyn Bridge, which resulted in the arrest of 700 protesters. When I returned to Lower Manhattan that Monday, the protest had once again doubled in size. That week, the protesters were about to march to nearby Foley Square, to join some labor unions that were demonstrating. The Occupy Wall Street group is not allowed to use amplification, so they use the "human microphone" mode of communication: One person speaks, and everyone repeats it, for the sake of those who are out of earshot.

Speaker: "In a few minutes, ..."

Demonstrators: "In a few minutes, ..."

Speaker: "We are going to walk..."

Demonstrators: "We are going to walk..."

"Peacefully and calmly and on the sidewalk."

"Peacefully and calmly and on the sidewalk."

"If we block traffic, ..."

"If we block traffic, ..."

"Then we suck."

"Then we suck."

The Occupy crowd had already started changing in its makeup. During the mass arrests at the Brooklyn Bridge, the police didn't have enough vehicles to transport the arrested, so they asked the MTA to send city buses. The bus drivers didn't like that, so the Transit Workers Union joined the march. And in sympathy came the Teamsters. And along came the teachers' union and the nurses union and the teachers.

Meanwhile, the AM radio and the cable business channel was referring to the Occupy movement as a bunch of hippies and mooches. "What do they want?"

In the following days and evenings in Zuccotti Park (I got to be a regular), the demonstrators took their organizational capabilities to the next level. One day a young economics professor was conducting a seminar, complete with whiteboard and hand-outs, on the subject, "What Is a Credit Default Swap?" The food line was becoming more orderly. More people of advanced years were appearing in the park, either participating or looking on in curiosity. I saw an older gentleman with a hat identifying himself as a World War II veteran.

On CNBC, the baffled commentors said, "What do they want?"

At Zuccotti Park, a woman held a sign that said, "Warning: Do not confuse the complexity of this movement with chaos."

Whatever you think of the protesters themselves, they are right about a few key issues:

1. The financial system itself is what crashed the economy in 2008. Large investment banks created securities that were backed by pools of residential mortgages. Some investment banks intentionally loaded these securities with pools with mortgages that they knew were likely to default, but the ratings agencies, Moody's and Standard & Poor's, rated these mortgage pools as triple-A. So the investment banks pushed faulty products into the market, products that were designed to fail, and sold them to their clients, who had every reason to trust the ratings agencies. Furthermore, the investment banks that created and sold these securities took short positions against these bets. That is to say, they bet against their own clients, betting that these securities would fail. And they created products that would double or triple the leverage on these bets.

2. When the mortgage pools failed, as they were designed to do, many billions of dollars of capital were destroyed. Lehman Brothers failed, as did Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Wachovia and Washington Mutual.

3. To repair the losses, U.S. taxpayers spent over $800 billion to shore up the financial system against an all-out economic depression.

4. The operators of the investment banks who caused the crash were not prosecuted for fraud. Technically, they had operated within the letter of the law. Not only were they not prosecuted, they used the money that the taxpayers had spent for the bailout in order to award themselves seven-figure bonuses.

5. No major reforms were enacted to prevent this from happening again, and the same types of OK-by-the-books fraud is starting to happen all over again.

6. Meanwhile the unemployment rate in the U.S. remains at almost 10%, wages are stagnant, those who still have jobs are working longer hours, jobs continue to be outsourced, our manufacturing base continues to move to China, and recent college graduates are facing few or no job prospects and huge levels of debt.

7. Investment bankers and those whose primary income comes from investments -- unearned income -- pay a lower tax rate than those who work for salary or hourly wages.

Those are just a few points that the protestors are trying to get across. It's not quick, it doesn't fit onto a bumper sticker, and there's a lot more where those came from. Another supporter of Occupy Wall Street could have another list of seven or 14 points, but it all comes under the heading of economic injustice.

This is not about hating the rich. It's about fixing the unfairness that's in the system. The system is tilted in favor of those who make money through investment as opposed to labor. And the unchecked greed of some of these people is what crashed the economy, and it's what keeps the economy in such miserable shape. They continue to profit.

If you can't read the words on the sign in the photo above, here is the message: "It is wrong to create a mortgage-baked security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon."

That's the issue, in a nutshell of 45 words.

I'll have more to say about what's happening at Zuccotti Park. Right now, I have to do some piano practice...

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