I sat down to lunch the other day several tables removed from a gaggle of middle-age white guys in expensive suits. The folks I was meeting arrived late, so I had a chance to listen in on their conversation. Here is an annotated report.
"Have you been following the protest on Wall Street?"
"Yeah," a man muttered, reaching for the bread sticks. "Hard to figure out what these folks want."
ANNOTATION: How about a realistic chance to sit at your table and enjoy a bread stick or two?
"I guess the protests are spreading throughout the country."
"Well, it won’t last. Winter is coming."
ANNOTATION: Actually, security officers for the one percent swept a bunch of cities before winter struck.
"Why don’t these folks organize? Elect a spokesman."
ANNOTATION: Because there is a growing sense that politics as usual fails. When Democrats and Republicans argue about how to decorate the decks of the Titanic, some folks would rather try to save the boat.
"I worry that some of these folks will turn violent."
"Yeah, me, too. But I suppose it’s inevitable," another man said. "I’ll have the tuna special," he said as he turned to the waiter.
ANNOTATION: I got mine, and I know in my heart the center does not hold. But you will have to pry the wine glass out of my cold dead fingers.
"I guess some of these folks are anarchists."
Chortling and scoffing at among all.
"Violence could cost the movement its credibility."
ANNOTATION: Without violence we would not have a forty-hour work week, laws against child labor or the fruits of the modern labor movement. How quickly we forget what it took to force capital to yield to the demands of labor a century ago.
"Yeah, I hear some of these people are pretty disgusting. Some have desecrated the flag. Others are going to the bathroom in public."
Universal head shaking and scorn among the six or so men busily eating.
ANNOTATION: Diogenes the Cynic did worse in public in ancient Greece, His point was to show the arbitrary character of the conventions we hold dear and treat as immutable. Today’s protesters need no manifesto to assert that the status quo doesn’t work. Sometimes "no" is enough.
"It should be interesting to see what happens this Winter," another man said.
ANNOTATION: I certainly hope the corpulent peace of the men at that table is disturbed this Winter. One in six children in the United States live in poverty. Millions of Americans can’t find work, and no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. In the meantime, those at the top of the economic pyramid grow fatter and sassier.
My companions for lunch arrived, and soon I, too, was playing my role as a privileged American: a white man with status in our society. I may not be a member of the one percent, but judged by anyone’s standards I enjoy an enviable array of privileges. The men left their table and soon I was neck deep in a discussion of some legal matter or other with the lawyers at my table.
Days later New York police officers cleared out Zuccotti Park in the middle of the night. I imagined the men gathering for another lunch, expressing relief.
"What do these people want, after all?," one of them might say
The answer is simple. They want a place at your table. If they can’t get one by playing by the rules of the game that benefit you so handsomely, expect the rules of the game to be challenged, first peacefully, and, if necessary with violence.
It is the American way, after all. Ask King George.
Reprinted courtesy of the Connecticut Law Tribune,