Vacant or Occupied: Where Do the 99 Percent Go When Nature Calls?

For the Thanksgiving Family Forum, all the GOP candidates except for Mormon Messrs. Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney gathered at a megachurch in Iowa to discuss issues of concern to religious voters. These didn't include, as one would be forgiven for suspecting, Christ's injunction that the rich give all their money in charity to the poor, or the apostles' establishment of a society wherein, “all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” (Acts 2:44-45) They did include, however, this week's frontrunner Newt Gingrich's defense of the bathrooms of lower Manhattan from the use of Wall Street occupiers, wherein the former House Speaker took exception to the protesters' alleged tendency “to go nearby to use bathrooms they didn't pay for.”

Previously, the hue and cry from the right wing about the occupiers' urinary patterns was to do with alleged outdoor self-relief, which they said depreciated the quality of life in Manhattan's financial district. The pervasive scent of waste in New York's impoverished neighborhoods had never so exorcised the right wing – which apparently views only one class as entitled to clean sidewalks and doorsteps. In fact, the hemming and hawing about public cleanliness has always essentially been pandering at the behest of the 1 percent, as revealed by Gingrich's insistence on damning the occupation if it does and damning it if it doesn't.

It would seem that the Burger King on the west side of the Liberty Plaza Park agrees with Gingrich, management choosing to station security guards to inform occupiers that the restrooms are for customers only. One protester, Alex Wilkins, might have become a customer, but for the security guard's tone.

“It was so aggressive that it made me not want to purchase something in order to access those washrooms,” Wilkins told me. He says he returned another day to see if anything had changed, and all that had was the security guard – same message, same attitude. When I asked, no one at Burger King would offer any explanation beyond, “Restrooms are for paying customers only.”

By way of contrast, protesters have found the McDonald's just north of the park on Broadway happy to accommodate protesters, many of whom not only use the restrooms without hassle but even sit at the tables without having bought anything, utilizing the free WiFi. “In the middle of the night,” says Wilkins, “you actually see people sleeping at the tables.” The McDonald's men's room, at least, is stationed right at the counter where patrons place and pick up their orders, so there is nothing sneaky about it. Says Wilkins: “Specific employees are actually sympathetic, to some degree. They're just really friendly to us. I know that some people don't use the facilities in the most considerate way, and they're still really kind to us.”

It is apparently only the kindness of the employees to which the de facto rule is attributable, the franchise's owner-operator Paul Goodman telling me that the restaurant's bathroom and WiFi policies mirror those of Burger King. The accommodation of protesters effectively boils down to Goodman's decision to decline implementing a heavy enforcement regime. “It's impossible to police every customer,” he says. “Some people want to wash their hands before ordering; some people might head out and come back in a little while. It doesn't make sense to harass people.”

Perhaps the McDonald's is able to be so accommodating because of its expansive seating area, including a large upstairs dining room, which is available to the public during the day. At night, though, the space is accessible only to the police, says Wilkins. “I was chatting with a security guard, and when an officer would come in, he would say, 'Officer, you're welcome to go upstairs if you'd like.'” Goodman asserts he is “unaware of that” arrangement, adding that he is able to speak only for his own franchise and not for the corporation on matters of policy regarding treatment of patrons.

The restaurant serves as something of a neutral ground, where protesters and policemen are able to switch off the suspicion and hostility born of the power relationship they find themselves in when the latter are specifically charged with supervising the former. “Suddenly,” says Wilkins, “they're really courteous to you. They can see you're a protester; you've walked in there with a cardboard sign. But if they bump into you, they apologize.” Policemen have seen footage of protesters tossing barricades, and protesters have seen footage of policemen tossing occupiers, but none of this footage has been set in McDonald's.

“Everybody needs a break,” says Wilkins, inadvertently recalling the fact that McDonald's used to ask whether you'd had yours today.

Despite repeated calls that Bloomberg allow portable toilets in Liberty Plaza Park, some of the calls coming from the elected officials who represent the nearby area and even from Community Board 1, Bloomberg opted instead for the violent eviction of the occupation. Gingrich neglected to mention that the reason Occupy Wall Street uses bathrooms they haven't paid for is that big government refused to let them pay for any.

What else can one expect from a multimillionaire former lobbyist like Newt, who funneled money from his charity into his business venture and had affairs during both of his first two marriages, the earlier of which ended while his wife was in the hospital recovering from the removal of a tumor? The man objects to filth.