Most of you know that one of my favorite techniques is to visually mash historic events as well as cultural icons. Yesterday, I referred to it as "time unraveling." This morning someone asked me what the point was of the protestors assembling and marching downtown. After all, most of the the financial services industry is no longer situated on Wall Street and they, Occupy Wall Street, are just inconveniencing Chinese tourists who have no idea what is going on.
That person caught me at precisely the wrong moment. I was thinking all day about how the venues for these protests are literally a treasure trove of American symbolism and cultural heritage. Liberty Square sits smack in the middle of a golden triangle of Americana. Wall Street and the NYSE (although the latter is a shadow of its peak days of glory), the Brooklyn Bridge, the Statue of Liberty, even Chinatown, Little Italy and Union Square are all within a stone's throw.
In this symbolic cauldron we have it all. The situs of raw capitalism, the mighty feat of the engineers, the myth of boundless American abundance (go West young man), the dream of the emigrant, the gateway to liberty, etc etc.
Street democracy is no stranger to this entire vicinage. That is why I find it rather puzzling that so many people do not appreciate the metaphorical power of Occupy Wall Street. I am also amazed at how dumb the media is playing. All the bull shit about the lack of a coherent platform ignores the central theme.
The Republic is is sitting in the emergency room and "Wall Street" is deeply, albeit not exclusively, implicated. Yes, they are being singled out. Jamie Dimon can whine all he wants. You reap what you sow pal.
This is certainly not the first time in history that Wall Street has been singled out for popular outrage. But few would disagree that in this respect, this time...the stakes are very different.
So what about the bridge? I am going to leave it to your left brain lobe to review the evidence and decide for yourself what happened yesterday afternoon. I don't know if the protestors planned to take the bridge or if they were they were channeled there in an elaborate Police "kettling" tactic.
Either way, they all wound up on the bridge. And that bridge is a very rich symbol indeed. First of all, it is a symbol of personal perseverance and triumph. Look up John and William Roebling. They were publicly ridiculed for suggesting that a bridge could span the East River. Father died in an on-site accident and son saw it through to completion even though paralyzed by the same accident.
Once the bridge was built, it was a marvel of modern engineering. It became the earliest symbol of American industrial might, shortly thereafter to be followed by the railroads.
But perhaps most importantly, and many books have been published on the subject, the Brooklyn Bridge captured the public's imagination at a time when American's thought their country was an invincible beacon of liberty, hope and optimism.
The following is a famous poem by Hart Crane. It is not an easy poem to read. But it is full of all of the imagery that emanates from that bridge.
Truthfully, I never read the poem until today. Read it and then ponder where we were roughly a century ago and where we now find ourselves. It is time well spent.
Personally, I am grateful to all of the people downtown who are publicly expressing the frustrations and emotions that so many Americans of different walks and political persuasions are now feeling. They are doing it without violence, they are doing it with class.
You have heard it so many times before:
We're sick and tired and we're not gonna take it any more.
TO BROOKLYN BRIDGE
How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty--
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
--Till elevators drop us from our day . . .
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride,--
Implicitly thy freedom staying thee!
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn . . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon . . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings!)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,--
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path--condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's fiery parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year . . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
[WB7: If you google the title of the poem, you will see that it has been the subject of a great deal of social and philosophical commentary and critique]