It is not warm on West Street at 8:30 AM on December 12, and the wind coming simultaneously off the Hudson River to the west and New York harbor to the south doesn't make it very much balmier. But if 50,000 people can take to the streets of Moscow because they object to their democracy being gamed by the elites, Occupy Wall Street won't let a little chill get in its way.
The reason several hundred protesters have congregated on West Street is that Goldman Sachs can be found there. And, today, Occupy Wall Street has gone squidding just outside. The idea comes from Matt Taibbi's “nailed-it” description of the banking giant as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Many umbrellas sporting makeshift tentacles and ad hoc hats with angry squid eyes cap the march, which leaves simultaneously from two locations: City Hall and Zuccotti Park.
The march is timed to coincide with an effort in West Coast cities to shut down ports, with New York occupiers showing solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, and elsewhere – all of whose occupations were evicted just like the de facto flagship one in New York. According to Boots Riley of the Oakland hip-hop outfit The Coup, “Occupy Oakland called for this massive coordinated blockade as a way to strike back at the 1% after their attacks on the Occupy movement and their continued assault on working and poor people.” New York couldn't have picked a more apt 1 percent target than Goldman, as Taibbi's depiction hints.
“Everybody pays their tax,” chant the marchers. “Everyone but Goldman Sachs.” The reference is to Goldman's shady accounting, which allows the corporation to grossly underpay its federal taxes. According to the US Public Interest Research Group, “Goldman Sachs, which reported more than $2 billion in profit in 2008, was able to use its 29 tax haven subsidiaries to reduce its federal tax bill to just $14 million. That means that Goldman Sachs' CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who made $42.9 million that year, earned more than three times the amount that the company paid in federal taxes.” This, while social services are cut because of an alleged budget crisis.
The complaints are not limited to taxation, however, and the way they come out is in a “press conference” with the Goldman Sachs squid. This character is admirably portrayed by a costumed protester, whose burbles and squeaks are graciously translated from the squid by an interpreter dressed like a banker from 1929. The two take questions from “reporters” from assorted news outlets, who ask incisive questions about the firm's various iniquities. All, that is, but the Fox News “reporter,” who also speaks Squid – the answer she receives is, “We at Goldman agree that we are doing God's work.”
One question challenges the exorbitant enrichment of Goldman's top leadership to the tune, alleges the asker, of $18 billion last year. It is actually difficult for several around me to imagine what this entails, because that is such a high number. What must it mean that Mayor Bloomberg, whose wealth is highlighted by half of the march's origin at City Hall, has $19.5 billion to his name? It's a bit like the difficulty humans have conceiving of the size of, say, the solar system. The average person considers things on such a different scale – one month's rent, the cost of a date night, the kids' Christmas presents, a vacation someday far in the future.
While some at the protest stick to the more juvenile “Occupy strikes back! Fuck you, Goldman Sachs,” some go a bit farther and level a really important critique: to the meter of “We are the 99 percent,” the march breaks out in a chant, “We are the source of all your wealth.” This assertion, that the ownership class depends on the working class and not the other way around, is a declaration of independence from a politics that bails out the former at the expense of the latter.
In acknowledgement that people all over the world are engaged in that fight – including port workers in Japan staging solidarity protests today – the march heads indoors, to the palm tree-laden Winter Garden at the World Financial Center. This property, like many in the area, is owned by Brookfield, the real estate mega-corporation also in possession of Zuccotti Park. On its board sits Diana Taylor, the former Goldman-friendly New York state superintendent of banks, whose longtime, live-in boyfriend is the aforementioned Mr. Bloomberg.
Once the protesters get inside the property, the New York Police Department sets about arresting them, including journalist John Knefel and several occupation-affiliated live streamers. Again, the team that Mayor Bloomberg brags is his “army” shows itself to be available for the protection of the interests of wealth – the interests of the police officers' boss and his friends – rather than the First Amendment. Police in this country again and again are commanded to come to the defense of the wealth that the 1 percent enjoys and that the 99 percent create.
The Goldman employees who are inconvenienced this morning are all on their way to work, where they will accumulate more of that wealth. Who will stop them?