Biometric Door Locks and Bulletproof Windows: How Occupy Wall Street Is Scaring the Heck out of the 1%
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A giant bunch of red balloons bob outside the glass windows of the tower at 200 West Street—the headquarters of mega-investment bank Goldman Sachs. Tied to each balloon is a letter, printed out from the site OccupyTheBoardroom.org, being delivered to Goldman in rather spectacular fashion by the activists below, who are holding onto the balloons by a few balls of twine.
A small group of people, including a couple of police officers, huddle nearby. It's clear they don't like what's going on, but they can't seem to come up with a legal reason to stop it. The protesters tie more letters to more balloons and send them zipping up the string to join the others at the top, and a blonde woman mutters something like, “They want to occupy the boardroom,” into her her walkie-talkie.
Clearly, someone at Goldman Sachs has heard of the site, and while their message might not be getting through, they're certainly unnerved at the willingness of activists to bring creative protest right to their door.
The response of the country's financial elites to the protests in Liberty Plaza and around the country seem not all that different from the police and security guards nervously watching outside the Goldman office. They don't want to overreact and show that the actions are working, but they clearly wish they had a way to shut them down.
It's been over a month since New York's financial district found a mini-society growing in one of its parks, a month of impromptu marches, organized bank withdrawals, teach-ins, arrests, and creative actions of all kinds. But aside from the snarled “Get a job!” from angry be-suited passersby, how have the financial elites who are the target of the protests reacted?
Are the occupiers, for lack of a better phrase, getting inside their heads?
A Boom for “Executive Protection”
Forbes magazine sent billionaire investor Jeff Greene, reportedly a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Florida last year, down to report on Occupy Wall Street, and he told them, “Right now it’s like a college sit-in, demonstrating middle-class frustration, but it could eventually lead to violence and that is the scary next step.”
This, from a man described as sympathetic to the protesters, and despite the movement's studied determination to remain nonviolent even in the face of police punching protesters, pepper-spraying penned-up women, riding horses through crowds and arresting 700 people on the Brooklyn Bridge.
An internal “Protest Safety Handbook” from an unnamed bank leaked to reporter William Rivers Pitt warns, “While this group has not yet resorted to violence the possibility exists that they can.” The handbook's safety tips for bankers include keeping car doors locked when driving in the area of a “mob,” and not wearing bank-identified clothing outside of the office. Readers are advised, “Do not attempt to reason or argue with protesters.”
Another memo, leaked to Occupy Washington DC, from Fay Feeney, a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, notes that “Protests can spin out of control, and with real time data processing from Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites, getting a message across is now faster than ever.”
CNBC reported that Goldman Sachs staffers are being warned to avoid Liberty Plaza, and NPR's Marketplace notes that since the financial crisis, bankers have been laying low, going to work in jeans, and leaving offices unmarked so they are unidentifiable.
The occupiers haven't been content to remain in Liberty Plaza, either. As part of the movement's concerted outreach to organized labor, groups of protesters have disrupted auctions at the auction house Sotheby's, which despite reporting a net income of $127.2 million last quarter, has locked out its art handlers, who are members of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.