NEW YORK — Despite the looming skyscrapers and the fidgety cops, many Vermonters might feel right at home in Liberty Plaza, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street uprising.
Ian Williams and TC Kida (pictured at right) certainly find the scene congenial. When not marching on Lower Manhattan's citadels of capitalism, the two Vermonters have been spending the past few days talking politics and lifestyle philosophies with some of the hundreds of young agitators congregated in this roughly one-acre space surrounded by banks, drug stores, electronics outlets and fast-food joints.
Williams, a McGill University graduate from Enosburg Falls, arrived here after taking part in a protest in Boston last weekend against Bank of America. “Something just awakened in me,” the bearded 26-year-old said, explaining that he quit his temp job in a Williston warehouse because “I knew this is where I had to be.”
Kida, a Japanese American from Essex, is in the process of moving to Brooklyn with his girlfriend, Keely Robinson, who has been camping out with him in Liberty Plaza for the past week. Kida has been doing disaster-relief work since Katrina leveled the Gulf Coast in 2005. He has also run a volunteer project in Haiti.
“What's happening here is highlighting similarities to what I've seen,” Kida says, raising his voice because of the chanting and drumming reverberating from the plaza across the street. “With Katrina and with Haiti, it's the most vulnerable people who have to bear the brunt of inequalities.”
For Williams, who worked with Somali Bantus in Burlington as an Americorps organizer, the free-flow occupation of Liberty Plaza gives concrete form to his readings in anarchist theory. With helpings of hot food available to all who want it and with dancers swaying next to sleepers, this do-what-you-wish gathering resembles a Phish concert for militants.
“The most exciting thing about this is our nonviolence,” Kida says. “All the trouble has been instigated by the police.”
Gentleness was more evident than anger on a soft October night lit in part by lamps strung on the skeleton of a tower rising where the World Trade Center had stood. The few trees in Liberty Plaza bear signs urging respect for their fragility; a giant red geometric sculpture stands untagged; trash and recyclables get deposited in designated receptacles.
With a “Ron Paul for President” sign bobbing not far from a crayoned piece of cardboard reading “Occupy Everything,” the participants seem diverse in their ideologies. The sole conclusion they share may be the one offered by Williams: “Wealth in this country is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer institutions and individuals.”
Almost everyone in the plaza might also agree with Williams' observation that “our representatives in Congress don't really represent us. They represent the lobbyists who pay them.”
And does he think that's the case in Vermont? “To some extent, yes,” Williams replies. “They're also politicians who bring in pork whether it's good or not.”
What about Bernie Sanders, whose career-long anti-corporate tirades appear to have finally struck a national nerve? “Bernie's got the right message,” Williams says. “He should be here.”
Neither of the Vermonters felt certain about whether the revolt will grow larger, how long it will last and what might result from it.
“No one can predict what's going to happen,” Kida says. “That's the magic of this.”
Williams, who says he may eventually get a PhD in history, takes the long view. Noting that earlier in the day he had seen a young woman dressed like the early 20th century anarcho-socialist Emma Goldman, Williams says, “There's a legacy that we're part of and that we'll pass on. Even if this seems to fizzle out, even if the outcome is hard to measure,” he adds, “you can be sure it will lead to change.”
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