Saturday evening was an occasion for visiting some old friends who live in lower Manhattan, just a couple of garbage bag throws from Zuccotti Park, ground zero of the “Occupy Wall Street” squatter encampment. So, late in the evening, we lingered briefly on Liberty Street for a look at these folks who have laid claim to turf not their own. There was a guy waving a Chinese flag, another guy toting a guitar; people sitting at folding tables, people milling around, others sitting cross-legged on the ground. There were placards about greed and corruption. It was pretty much what we’d already inferred from the out-sized press coverage devoted to this scene. A camping project, mixing social adventure with witless protest and an angry sense of entitlement. Any great city attracts cranks, but there is a hooligan edge to this “occupation.”
It left me sad for a lot of reasons, but the one I’ll mention here is the long trashing of lower Manhattan. Which, over the past decade, has already been through quite enough. On this date, 10 years ago, smoke was still rising from the massive wreck of the World Trade Center. What was once a vibrant hub of commerce, offices, shops, restaurants, had become a scene of grief and ruin. By stages, the wreckage was cleared away. But for years, the crater remained. In the summer of 2010, as something new finally began to take real shape, along came Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan. In the name of bridging divides, they spawned a season of furious controversy, ripping open emotional wounds with their plans for a “Cordoba House” Islamic community center and mosque right down the block from the site of the Sept. 11 Islamist attacks.
This year, during Hurricane Irene, lower Manhattan was evacuated — needlessly, as it turned out — by a mayor who went overboard in his nanny-state zeal to protect the local citizenry from harm, regardless of their individual preferences. Now that same mayor hesitates to protect lower Manhattan from being appropriated as a squatter base for a crowd that seems to have borrowed parts of its creed from China’s ruinous Cultural Revolution.
On the site of the World Trade Center, the new Freedom Tower is now going up. But the area around it remains a maze of construction walls, barriers, blocked passages and pedestrian detours. Zucotti Park, formerly called Liberty Plaza Park, abuts on this mess, and used to be one of the more pleasant plazas to stroll, sit, have a cup of coffee and contemplate a part of Manhattan which — contrary to current cant — has been one of the great engines of American markets and resulting prosperity. If the aim of the “Occupy” crowd is to protest the enfeebled American economy, then the place to go is Washington, and the thing to demand is more capitalism, not less. If the aim is to pound drums, strum guitars, trash thoroughfares and feel like comrades in arms for thumbing noses at the system, then any trace of basic human decency would suggest choosing a spot less battered already. When does lower Manhattan get a break?
Also read Roger L. Simon: “Latest Wall Street Demonstrations Puny“