I'm not saying this only as a supporter -- quite the opposite in fact. I'm probably one of the few reporters who is repulsed not just by the filth and the litter that now encompasses the protest movement's headquarters, Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan, but also how Marxist elements have begun to occupy the occupiers, offering as solutions to economic inequality the same loathsome garbage spewed by the likes of Che Guevara and Mao.
Rather, I'm saying this as someone who understands that at bottom the protesters have made a simple, valid point about the modern American economy, and the privileges it bestows on the massive and powerful banks and conglomerates -- and the people who keeps these businesses humming -- while the rest of the nation fights for crumbs.
But if they don't leave now, the protesters risk making the bad guys look good, and that would be a shame.
How do I know this? I speak to a lot of people in this city, of all types of backgrounds. To the man and to the woman, white collar and blue collar, my little unofficial survey uncovered the following: People believe what the protesters are saying -- albeit when you parse through their unfocused rhetoric -- is undeniably accurate about the inequality of an economic system that makes risk taking on Wall Street a no lose situation.
Most New Yorkers I speak to shudder at the protesters' provocations against the police, and how they couch their attacks on the banks in the language of revolution -- average New Yorkers and most Americans for that matter don't want a revolution, but they do want what the protesters say is their bottom line message -- an end to the perks and the privileges bestowed upon big business by big government.
They agree that you can't have a privileged class who gets bailed out by the taxpayer every time they lose money while they guy who owns the flower shop and can't pay the bills is forced to close. It runs counter to just about every principle this country was founded on.
But they also want the protesters to pack up do so immediately.
One reason is that Occupy Wall Street has become a nuisance -- and a very disturbing one -- and not for the Wall Street titans despite a few random protests uptown. Zuccotti Park increasingly resembles a cesspool; people in the neighborhood complain about the noise, pollution and drug use.
Try getting to work in lower Manhattan when Zuccotti Park and the movement is in high gear; it's nearly impossible. And I'm not talking about bankers and traders who can take their limos to work in their offices uptown. Lots of people who work in the financial business work in back office and administration jobs that barely crack $100,000 a year -- not exactly fat-cat levels.
These folks support families and live in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island. They are a diverse group -- much more diverse than the nearly all-white, and college educated protest movement, and they're getting tired of the nonsense.
To them Wall Street isn't the evil empire even if they agree with what the protesters are saying, but rather a job, something that they must do each and every day to pay the rent and feed their kids.
The occupiers are making that job all the more difficult.
When you consider all of this, you realize that the protesters are rolling the dice with what they have achieved so far -- that for all their faults, Americans are actually listening to what the protesters are saying. I'm not talking the inane media types who provide alarming one-sided coverage of the movement by ignoring its radical elements to focus on its banker bashing.
Or the craven words of support from President Obama, who is looking for a left-wing Tea Party to save his 2012 re election chances, and the self serving stuff you've heard from Wall Street executives like Jeffrey Immelt of GE, Vikram Pandit of Citigroup or Larry Fink of Blackrock who say they see some merit in the what the protesters are saying (All three companies have been recipients of the same corporate welfare that the protesters make their best arguments railing against).
I'm talking about the support of the vast majority of the people I talk to of all walks of life who have a visceral hatred for what Wall Street has become.
And what has Wall Street become?
Delusional: Three years after the financial crisis, the vast majority of the people who work on Wall Street believe they deserved to be bailed out. You won't hear this from the CEOs who are too smart and polished to say this publicly. But I hear it almost every day from the typical money maker on Wall Street, the man or woman who trades stocks and bonds, works in investment banking or peddles stocks and bonds to well-heeled clients.
Unlike those back-office types, these folks are a privileged lot. Most went to Ivy League schools, and come from families that can be described as comfortably upper-middle class. They believe making money is their birthright, because they went to the best schools and came from families that always made money.
In their twisted world, they've somehow come to the conclusion that the media caused the financial crisis because the constant coverage of their risk taking in 2007 and 2008 -- not the risk taking itself -- created massive uncertainty in the financial markets. They believe that the bailouts were necessary for the economy to function -- America needs banks to lend money to businesses -- while forgetting that one of the big economic problems today is that banks aren't lending money.
Then they'll tell you that the banks have paid back the government bailout money with the taxpayer making a "profit," but they ignore how that profit was achieved through government rigging the monetary system by keeping interest rates artificially low and printing money -- thus ensuring commodity inflation that is a tax on the working class through higher food and gas prices.
In their own half ass way, the Wall Street protesters helped to expose all of this over the course of the past two months and that is a good thing. But if they don't declare victory and stop now, the same average person who found merit in their message will begin to hate what they see lurking in Zuccotti Park even more than the craven Wall Street types.