Two lovers twined bodies in the cold grass behind Wicker Park’s winter-dead fountain. A homeless man paced back and forth smoking while another stood by the chessboard tables, arranging and rearranging his overflowing shopping cart. A rat scrambled by. It stopped for several minutes to dig in the dirt less than two feet behind me.
I was there in the November dark to watch Guy Fawkes fight “Obamney.”
In real life, Guy Fawkes was a religious zealot who attempted to assassinate King James I of England through a mass murder of Parliament so that he could install a Catholic to the throne. But through a combination of historical revisionism, wishful thinking and the 1980s Alan Moore comic book and 2006 Natalie Portman vehicle “V for Vendetta,” Guy has become a symbol of freedom for hacktivist community Anonymous and the Occupy movement.
Also in real life, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are two separate people, instead of the gestalt “Bitt Obamney” Occupy Chicago created to talk about how clever it would be not to vote in the next day’s election.
There was a crowd of about 20 for Occupy’s Fawkes/Obamney debate. They chanted faux Fawkes slogans like “What do we want?” “Freedom!” “When do we want it?” “Now!” and the Obamney version, “What do we want?” “The status quo!” “When do we want it” “We already have it!”
One woman dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask. Another woman dressed as Obamney, half a brown suit, half a navy blue one. They had scarecrows of Fawkes and Obamney on pikes to parade through the park.
To repeat for the debate nerds: They had literal straw men.
I wanted to be quiet and watch, I did. But I noticed a few ralliers looking at me and whispering. Eye contact was made with one, a young woman dressed in winter gear for the cold night, a curl of brown hair poking from her stylish tam hat.
I felt myself walk up and heard myself speak.
“Are you trying to encourage people not to vote?” I asked.
“We just want people to think first,” she said, before launching into a short, rather convincing speech about freedom and choice.
“But by presenting the choice as meaningless, the two options as opposite sides of the same coin, is the attempt to instill cynicism in the process?” I asked. I get more wordy the angrier I am.
She grimaced slightly. Not uncomfortably, but how I imagine an honest magician would look if asked if the dove was up the other sleeve.
“Yes,” she said quietly.
I looked in her eyes and died a little.
Occupy, I realized at that moment, is an autocrat’s dream: a movement intent on disenfranchising itself. They’re suffragettes who don’t want anyone to vote, civil rights workers who want Jim Crow for all.
Other movements have said voting is not by itself enough to change the world, but I’ve never before seen a protest so completely turn its focus from the oppressor to the fellow oppressed. I’ve never seen a protest where the whole point is to convince people they should feel dumb for using what little power they do have.
Rest easy, plutocrats. The people who want real change have decided it’s clever to castrate themselves.
I walked off without speaking. I’m scared of how angry I get and I didn’t want to yell at a woman.
“Do you know more people have been deported under Obama than under eight years of Bush?” a young man in the crowd called out to me.
“Yes,” I said, turning back. “Do you know Guy Fawkes tried to blow up a democratically elected body to install a Catholic dictator?”
“Yes,” he said.
We blinked at each other for a moment, two idiots too shocked to believe the other could know what they know and still think what they think. I turned to walk away.
“Did you see the movie?” another man called to me.
I make nothing up in these stories. A man defended his belief system through a Natalie Portman vehicle I didn’t even think was very good.
“Yeah,” I shot back over my shoulder. “I thought it sucked.”
I realized that sounded slightly snotty, so I turned back to address the whole crowd and make it official.
“If you’re going to base your lives on Alan Moore, (seminal 1988 Batman story) ‘The Killing Joke’ was much better!” I yelled.
With that, I trudged away to join the rats, homeless and young lovers of Wicker Park at night. It’s where I belonged.
As I walked off, I could hear the call-and-response of the Fawkes crowd’s “Think before you vote” and Obamney’s “Vote before you think” calling out a declaration of self-imposed impotence to no one, standing alone in the dark, cold night.