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The hellish, the normal and the opulent [PIQUE]

The hellish, the normal and the opulent [PIQUE]

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Published by tobias c. van Veen
van Veen, tobias c. 2011. "The hellish, the normal and the opulent." PIQUE Newsmagazine 18.48, 24 November: 42–43.
van Veen, tobias c. 2011. "The hellish, the normal and the opulent." PIQUE Newsmagazine 18.48, 24 November: 42–43.

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Published by: tobias c. van Veen on Feb 28, 2013
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42 | December 1, 2011 |
    O    U    T     O    F     R    A    N    G    E
The hellish, the normal and the opulent
 Anita Naidu with Occupy WallStreet participant John Waltersin New York.
Editor’s note: The Occupy protests around theworld have seen various levels of acceptance.For example, when Occupy Vancouver  supporters tried to set up a new camp in East Vancouver local residents turned them away.
ust walking into New York is anassault on every one of your senses,”says Anita Naidu, who has beendecompressing since returning from two weeks in New York’s Zuccotti Park. “Thereis every variety of corruption and personthat you can possibly imagine waiting togreet you.”Naidu recently flew from Whistler toparticipate in the epicentre of protest against the inequalities of the global financial system.“I was in Whistler mode where everyone’stalking about the season. I got off the planeat JFK, and it was like: OK, Occupy WallStreet (OWS). It’s always this big switch doing political work from living in a resort town.”Naidu is a consulting engineer and adedicated snowboarder, climber andmountain biker — and although she’sundertaken some political advocacy, shedoesn’t usually put her life on pause to protest.But this time, she said there was no choice.“If I didn’t go, then I’m not who I think I am.“There’s very much an emotional belief connected to these ideas. To not go would bea false choice. I also live in a place [Whistler] where the characteristic of the population is very easy, where life is very easy. . . . Living ina place where life is so easy makes you morefragile. Not participating in [OWS] is just agreater input to injustice.”If the response of the public in media,at the camps and on the Internet is any indication, the demands of the Occupy movement, though diverse, have resonated with a population feeling the effects of financialcollapse. Figures from developed nationscontinue to demonstrate that personal debt is escalating; that inflation is becoming all themore evident; and that real wages have beenstagnant for decades. Not only the Occupy movement, but also many economists arguethat the debt crisis downloaded responsibility for reckless financial speculation onto thealready overburdened. The result of the 2008financial crisis is a huge number of disaffectedand impoverished people with nothing tolose and nowhere to go, many evicted throughforeclosures and with no work in sight. As media reports document, everything from curtailing campaign spending todemanding constraints on corporate lobbying,has been emphasized in the signs and actionsof the Occupy movement. Demands for amaximum wage, housing for the homeless,an end to foreclosures, and for the banks andfinancial speculators to be held accountable isat the heart of the Occupy movement — and which is why it all began on Wall Street.“Wall Street. That’s the engine of change,”says Naidu. “It’s like having your finger onthe pulse . . .. Basically, everything galvanizedat Wall Street. Right there you’ve got theFederal Reserve, you’ve got the New York Stock Exchange. That’s where the one per cent exists.”Naidu describes the infamous stroll amongst skyscrapers and American flags as “the hellish,the normal, and the opulent” all on one block. And it was effective, she says. Being down on Wall Street “scared the crap out of the political class,” says Naidu. If thishad happened in the Bronx or Harlem it  wouldn’t have been the same. It brought thefight against inequality home to the financialdistrict. When she was there, the movement  was reaching its “climax,says Naidu, “itsgreatest acapella statement.”“People have turned their resentment intorevolt,” adds Naidu. The day after Halloween, Naidu got off the plane, dropped off her bags at her brother’s place, slept for an hour and then went straight to the Zuccotti camp, whereshe stayed for two weeks. “It’s very difficult to stay long periods of time at Zuccotti,” saysNaidu, who returned to the apartment a fewtimes to get clothes and supplies.Naidu’s brother is Suresh Naidu, an Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Suresh ledpublic discussion groups every Sunday addressing the maddening intricacies of theglobal financial system.Naidu’s first task at OWS was kitchen duty, where she chopped tomatoes and onionsfor three hours. “Sometimes you just showsolidarity,” emphasizes Naidu. “It’s about being a part of something that is larger than you. Because I can’t separate who I am from what I do. It’s about grunt work. Where can Ihelp right now? So I just rolled up my sleevesand cut onions.” The day’s hard labour was made easier in the company of others who were alwaysinterested in learning more about the issuesand systems that had so deeply affectedtheir personal lives, she says. Discussionpervaded every moment of the camp’s daily (and nightly) life. Naidu helped organizedaily think-tank sessions on everything fromcampaign financing to minding the media,from the housing crisis and the FederalReserve banking system to political theory.“One day I sat down and talked about Sun Tzu’s
The Art of War 
,” says Naidu. “The next day it was Machiavelli.”For many campers, high school was their highest level of education, so there were many “inquiring minds,” says Naidu. Drawing uponthe history of the Civil Rights movement,Occupiers focused on education andestablishing teach-ins. Several participants,says Naidu, had been present during thestruggles for gender and racial equality of the ‘60s, and had returned once again to thestreets for Occupy.Naidu’s first time as moderator of athink-tank was especially memorable. As thediscussion heated up — which included WallStreet financiers and employees, campers,passers-by, “political tourists” and the silent majority of the ever-present NYPD — a crowdof a few dozen swelled into over 200. “Icouldn’t keep up with the hands,” says Naidu,excited at remembering at the experience. The camp was composed of a “really eclectic crowd,” from professional chefs toprofessors, drop-in compassionate celebritiesto debt-laden students and doctors. “People who were consultants, people who workedin restaurants, people who were actors,” saysNaidu — everyone from financiers to theforeclosure-evicted — in short, the destituteto the dedicated. Many were jobless; some were homeless. A few were ex-policemen andex-military. People had travelled from Boston,Connecticut and California, with a noticeablecontingent from hurricane-devasted Louisana.“I had this friend Bernard, and he wasa drug dealer from Louisana,” recountsNaidu. “You’d ask him what he did, and
It is getting Chili around here
Whistler Film Festival festivus of info
Hitch a cat and you’ll be surfing on top of the world
    T    H    I    S    S    E    C    T    I    O    N
tobias c.van Veen

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