Commentary Magazine


Occupy Wall Street vs. New Yorkers

Jay Nordlinger occasionally writes at National Review Online about conservatives’ desire for cultural “safe zones”–places to experience the arts without liberal politics intruding on what is meant to be an escape from our ubiquitous political skirmishes. Nordlinger publishes his own experiences and those of readers who attend a concert, the theater, a museum, etc. only for it to be turned into a venue for liberal preaching to an assumed choir.

Rock music, of course, is almost by nature activist, and concerts are far from being “safe zones.” Last night, a concert in downtown Manhattan seemed to be heading in that direction, but then took a peculiar turn. After a rock band opened for the headliner, a “special guest” was announced. This guest would introduce the headliner–a Canadian alt-rock band–but first he wanted to deliver some of his spoken-word beat poetry. The crowd, a young New York audience around the corner from Union Square Park’s Occupy Wall Street adjunct, was amenable, and cheered the poet. The poet was energetic, and the crowd continued to applaud at the beginning of the set. But then something strange happened.

The poet gave a shoutout to Occupy Wall Street, not far from the movement’s epicenter, certainly thinking he was playing to the home crowd. And he was booed. Loudly. Unrelentingly. The boos began to drown him out, and only got louder when the poet recited a line accusing the U.S. military of being worker bees in a genocide factory. Then he made a rookie mistake: he insulted the New York Police Department.

That was the last you could hear the poet, as the entire venue was booing and jeering him–not playfully, either; someone threw a bottle at him. This was exactly the target audience, one would have thought, for such a performance. But the incident demonstrates how outsiders view New York City from afar–this poet was from Rhode Island by way of Calgary, I believe–and how that clashes with the reality of the city.

Unlike the Tea Party, with Allen West, Marco Rubio, and others (perhaps after last night, Ted Cruz), the Occupy movement is as far from diverse as a political movement can get. The poet would have had a better grasp of this had he taken a walk around nearby Union Square Park, as I did, before the show. There he would have seen a sparsely populated, universally white Occupy camp ten feet away from where a young Hispanic grade-schooler who looked about 8 years old, with his father proudly looking on, was playing chess with an Indian gentleman, graying at the temples.

Such diversity is the norm, not the exception, in New York, and the Occupy movement’s ethnically homogeneous call to class war is both unrepresentative of, and offensive to, the larger New York community. It’s a city full of hard-working immigrants who have no interest in anarchist fantasy camp.

Additionally, the New York Police Department is a major reason the city of New York is now one of the ten safest cities in the country. Insulting the NYPD is a good way to rankle even liberal New Yorkers. And after 9/11, few New Yorkers would put up with this kind of nonsense.

Later in the show, the poet reemerged. The crowd seemed willing to tolerate him at first, having just listened to a great set from the band. But then the poet remarked that the world would be better if New York would rid itself of Wall Street in general, and “bankers” in particular. And the crowd let him have it again. Wall Street’s tax revenue pays for much of the city’s public services; New Yorkers are often liberal, but rarely that stupid. After the show, the band’s lead singer tweeted his disappointment:

interesting NYC show tonite. guess we lost some fans. I’ve always believed INTOLERANCE was the enemy, not each other. #disappointing

Another lesson: good luck telling New Yorkers to keep their opinions to themselves. I doubt the band lost any fans, but they may have stumbled upon a safe zone.