What Happens When Angry Citizens Crash the Gates of America's CEO Class?
I was there when the so-called “Class War” went down. I saw the whole thing happen, on a cul-de-sac called Golden Pond Lane. Until now, no one has told the real story of what went on that warm spring day in Connecticut. So I will. Before I take you to that epic battle, bear with me for a brief digression -- I promise it will pay off later.
I was born and raised a few miles away from what was known as “The Serial Murderer Capital of the World” -- Santa Cruz, California circa early-mid-1970s. At one point there were three major serial murderers working the same beach town’s turf at once.
Over time serial killers lost their shock value and got absorbed into pop culture. Life returned to normal. But one incident from that scene haunted me then, and still gives me bladder-spasms today. It involved the most notorious of all the Santa Cruz serial killers, Edmund Kemper, who murdered and rapd hitchhiking hippie girls, chopping up their bodies and sodomizing the cuts. One day Kemper picked up a young dance student named Aiko Koo, drove her into the woods, and pulled out a gun to terrify her. It worked. As Kemper later said, “I pulled the gun out to show her I had it...she was freaking out. Then I put the gun away and that had more effect on her than pulling it out.”
Now here comes the really disturbing part: instead of killing her right then and there, Kemper put the gun down, stopped his car and got out, then closed and locked the door. I repeat: Kemper locked himself out of the car. With his gun inside, next to the girl.
Guess what the girl did? She unlocked the door and let him back in.
As Kemper himself later explained, “She could have reached over and grabbed the gun, but I think she never gave it a thought.”
She never gave it a thought. It’s not the murder that’s so horrifying to me, it’s that she unlocked the door and let him back in.
That was us, “the people,” in the opening battle of the Great Class War a few weeks ago. You may have heard about this in the news: a group of protesters angry over AIG bonuses chartered a bus and toured the mansions where the AIG executives lived, going straight to their front doors. With no intention of Christmas caroling or trick-or-treating. No, this had class war written all over it. And for the first time, the plutocrats were running scared.
Here’s how the “Battle of Golden Pond Lane” unfolded: On Friday, March 20 -- after a week of populist rage over news that Americans were funding obscene multimillion dollar bonuses to the same AIG multimillionaires who ruined our economy, word spread about an anti-AIG bus tour of the mansions of the company’s execs, planned for March 21. The plan was to transform the bus into a kind of Class War Assault Vehicle, and steer it straight into the upper-class New England hamlet where all the AIG execs live: Fairfield, Connecticut. It was like Stripes meets Spartacus, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. The robbed would see exactly where the robbers lived, what their homes looked like, what their addresses were, where their front doors were located…
The bus tour was arranged by an organization called Connecticut Working Families, a group with deep ties to ACORN, the bogeyman of the Fox News bitter-cracker mob. That was all the plutocrats had to hear -- a busload of commies and ACORN panthers were heading into their neighborhood, like Mugabe’s goons, to burn down their mansions. For about 36 tense hours, suburban-New York’s plutocrats felt like the Byzantine Christians in 1453, with the barbarians just hours away from slaughtering and raping anything that moved in Fairfield, Connecticut. In a panic, nine AIG execs announced that they were handing back their million-dollar bonuses to the American taxpayers. It was incredible. For the first time in living memory, “the people” were starting to win. They had the power to instill fear and claw back some of their wealth.
And all because of the Magic Class-War Bus and its Angry Pranksters. It wasn’t easy getting a seat on the bus, and if I hadn’t tracked down the cell phone number for Joe Dinkin, the communications director for the Connecticut Working Families Party which organized the bus tour, I probably wouldn’t have made it on board. “I’ve been getting all kinds of death threats and crazy calls today!” Dinkin told me, laughing nervously. “Rush Limbaugh attacked us on his show today, and that got all his crazy fans after me. They posted my cell phone number on Limbaugh’s site, and ever since then it’s just been crazy, the things these people said to me on the phone. Death threats… Man, the hatred in their voices is just crazy!”
Dinkin was laughing, but I don’t think he knew just how ferocious a monster he’d pissed off with his bus tour idea.
The next morning, I drove out to the AIG Bus Tour meeting point, in the depressed center of Bridgeport, Connecticut -- one of those decaying mid-sized cities that America seemed to have abandoned about 40 years ago. By the time I arrived that morning, the parking lot next to the Domino’s pizza outlet was already crawling with media figures: reporters, cameramen and TV semi-celebrities. There was no way we’d all fit. So when the chartered bus pulled up across the street from the Domino’s outlet, the reporters bum-rushed it like the South Vietnamese trying to get into the last helicopter out of Saigon.
It was an aggressively ugly bus: a belching, decrepit hulk with dented corrugated aluminum siding. The perfect Country Club Assault Vehicle for terrorizing the upper-class plutocrats we were going to visit.
Poor Joe Dinkin was put in charge of the seating arrangement -- the minute he stepped off the bus, the reporters nearly tore him limb from limb. He dragged himself away from the bus door and down the street; the reporters clung to him like lions pulling down a struggling wildebeest. Joe tried to impose order as the reporters yelled out their organizations and why they had to be on the bus-- New York Times, CNN, New York Post, NBC. Poor Joe trembled so badly that all he could manage was to jot down a few chicken scratches on a piece of paper. He quickly lost control, as the reporters turned back to the bus and tried storming it again. Chaos ensued, and eventually the organizers realized that it was between the protesters being on the bus, or the media being on the bus. So one by one, they started pulling protesters off the bus to make room for the media. Eventually we -- media types -- all got our seats.
As we pulled out, one of the reporters shouted, “Where are the protesters on this bus?” The bus erupted in cynical snickering. We hadn’t even set out from Bridgeport for the first big battle of the Class War, and already it was going badly. The bus arrangement mirrored the same elitist structure that was supposedly being challenged: people who mattered were on the bus that mattered; the nobodies were put into miserable minivans that followed behind us. The charter bus slowly made its way from depressed working-class Bridgeport into Fairfield. It was like the anti-Heart-of-Darkness, a journey from decrepit Bridgeport, up-river into familiarly sterile middle-class suburbia, and then deeper still up-river to the socio-economic headwaters, a hamlet of unattainable luxury and civilization that we could only dream about. We’d gone from shit to champagne. The reporters’ sneering and quipping died down to a hush as we slowly rolled past perfect, gleaming colonial mansions, with their grotesquely-vast front lawns and their perfectly-kept streets. All of this divine luxury had a strange way of transforming the anger on our bus into something a lot more feckless, like awe and self-loathing. We didn’t belong here, and we knew it. Somehow it was our fault that we were in the drab bus, and they were in the shiny Lexus SUVs. Hell, the fine residents of Fairfield only see buses like ours on the right lane of I-95 as they zoom to their Manhattan high-rises. What was this ugly beast doing here, in Fairfield, mucking up the view?
The remaining half-dozen protesters who were kept on the bus like protected species also felt this awe. One of the protesters, Mark Dziubek, recently-downsized from a steel rolling mill, told me that even though he’s spent his whole life in nearby Southington, he’d only been through Fairfield once in his life. Dziubek, a burly father of five, was the token white protester remaining on the bus. He was already getting used to this life with the people who count, and didn’t relish the idea of going back to his life.
“I’m thinking that for my retraining, maybe learning to be a photographer,” he told me. “Does it pay?”
I told him absolutely not, that it was an even more doomed-to-poverty profession than print journalism, which was also a guaranteed ticket to an early stroke-from-bitterness. But you could see why Dziubek was impressed, with all the photographers snapping photos of him, the exhilarating sensation of suddenly counting.
The bus stopped and let us out at the corner of Mine Hill Road and Golden Pond Lane. Last out of the bus were the showdown’s two stars, both African-Americans. One was a middle-aged pastor named Mary Huguley, and the other was Asaad Jackson, a 24-year-old ex-boxer-turned-activist sporting dreadlocks down to his beltline. They were going to confront the rich white AIG executive, Douglas Poling. He was the one who took the largest bonus, $6.4 million. Poling apparently was so unnerved by the scenario that he returned his bonus a day earlier, while Poling's fellow AIG exec neighbor up the street, James "Jackpot Jimmy" Hass, blubbered to reporters that he had also given back his multimillion-dollar bonus and couldn't people just look into their hearts and show him some mercy.
Huguley and Jackson deliberately and dramatically marched down Golden Pond Lane towards Poling’s mansion, while about 50 members of the media elite jostled and swarmed around them like worker bees with the queen. This scene unfolding was every American plutocrat’s worst nightmare, once unimaginable, now a reality that could be viewed from Poling’s second-story window: Two poor, pissed-off black people, surrounded by a phalanx of the liberal elite media, marches up to my hard-earned mansion in broad daylight, banging on my front door, demanding a cut of my wealth. On the deepest-fears scale, Willie Horton rates about a 2 compared to this class-war nightmare.
As we got closer to 177 Golden Pond Lane, we saw some uniformed policemen standing at the edge of the cul-de-sac with three healthy-looking white men in weekend sweatshirts and baseball caps, and two undercover cop cars -- sporty SUVs --in the driveway of Poling’s neighbor. A regular Fairfield cop car slowly tailed our crowd from behind -- just want to make sure nothing happens here, folks…. Two menacing bodyguards patrolled Poling’s front yard: a shaven-headed guy in business casual wear with a goatee and shades, who tried giving the impression of a relaxed, experienced veteran; and a gorgeous Latino woman in a Ninja jumpsuit, who paced the lawn like a caged she-lion just begging for one of us lowlifes to stick our hand into her range, where she’d tear it off with some jujitsu move. Poling was apparently gone that day --I imagine he was scouting out citizenship opportunities in plutocrat-friendly autocracies like Kazakhstan or Liechtenstein.
So here we were: the big Class War showdown. Pastor Mary and Asaad Jackson gave the TV cameramen time to adjust their positions, then the mob moved forward right up to Poling’s driveway. This was it: we were at the North Bridge in Concord, at Harper’s Ferry, at Sproul Plaza with the cop car surrounded… the moment when it could have broken into open warfare, the moment when others crossed the line they could never go back on. It was amazing to think how vulnerable America’s elite are: they don’t use high walls and security fences and armed goons to guard their wealth, the way they do in so many countries. Instead, they just rely on our sense of shame, something innate that tells us, we don’t belong here, we’ll be leaving now, sorry…This was the moment to smash that peasant sensibility. Now that we’d smashed through that barrier and found ourselves facing a robber-baron class that only bothered pitching two security goons against 50 or so of us, the Great Class War was about to begin, right here, on Golden Pond Lane.
The security goons blocked the two African-Americans from delivering a letter they were carrying to Poling. They had been instructed not to confront the bodyguards or anyone, so they didn’t. As reporters jostled for the money photo, the security goons started to threaten the rest of us if we so much as crossed over Poling’s gutter. They were feeling confident. The tide was turning. And this was the moment when it all fizzled, and the peasants melted back into the villages. We had the gun, and we were in control -- but right at that moment, we opened the door and let the Edmund Kemper plutocrats back into the car. The security goons instructed Pastor Mary and Asaad to put their letter into Poling’s mailbox. Pastor Mary did. Then she said some sort of prayer, and started walking back. CNN asked what she thought of Poling’s house, and she replied that the house was “lovely.” And then we walked back to the bus.
What began as the promised opening shots in the Great Class War instead turned out to be something like a field trip for a high school civics class, with everyone learning the importance of being responsible. The organizer, John Green, deemed it a success, and since then his group has never flirted with anything remotely as incendiary again. By the time we got back, the news was already announcing the end of the Class War: “Outrage Over Bonuses Wanes.” Congress backed off from its posturing, news pundits backed off, and we, the people, returned to doing what we do best: getting screwed. Just when we held our fates in our own hands, we went Aiko Koo: unlocked the door and handed the gun to the Kemper-crats.