He looked about 19 when he started arguing with the cops and about 7 when he finished.
He was a brave young hipster in a satiny ’70s-era earth-tone suit Blacula wouldn’t be caught undead in. As the crowd of bike cops gathered and his bandanna-ed friends yelled and screamed, the young man in the suit delivered some form of speech on justice, individual rights and how his brother was a lawyer.
As his speech got grander and less coherent, he started crying. No. Tears have a certain majesty, a certain purity of emotion. This young man started sniveling.
The people around him yelled and the cops responded in angrier and angrier calm tones and the more sane elements of Occupy Chicago looked away. Because a grown man claiming to represent them was sniveling. He looked like a first-grader who forgot the words to “Oh Holy Night” mid-pageant.
How did this start? The cops had asked Occupy to move their food cart. Not move it away. Move it around.
While New York cops had been busting heads and confiscating heaters as the Occupy movement entered that first November, the men and women of the CPD came to a different agreement: Move the food cart around the block every now and again so it doesn’t fall under city code for permanent and leave us the hell alone.
A bike cop had apparently asked them to keep up their end of “leave us the hell alone” and the young lion and his bandanna-ed friends saw their chance to show their power against the 1 percent’s most strident enforcers – city employees in special pants.
As the bandanna-ed screamed and the lion sniveled about rights and his brother, more bike cops joined the fray. Angry men on bikes, sadly amused men on bikes, women on bikes and one bike cop who, of all things, looked hurt.
This last bike cop was maybe in his early 40s. He didn’t have the cop mustache or the cop buzzcut. He looked like a fit suburban dad. He kept throwing bones to the angry ones, kept trying to broker peace between the maddest and rowdiest of the bike cops and the 1 percent of the 99 percent who refused on their souls, their hearts and their value as individuals in a planet savaged dry by greed and corruption to never, NEVER wiggle the food cart around a bit so the police could go back to rousting bums.
He stayed to chat with the saner Occupiers after the rowdy cops had pedaled off and the rowdy Occupiers had gone off to parade the food cart through the financial district.
“I believe in a lot of what you guys are doing here,” the bike cop said. “I believe that.”
I was standing with a group of about eight – some of the more organizey, collegey Occupy kids, an old-time hippie or two and a couple who, like me, had stopped to gawk at the fight and were now considered Occupiers. (That’s how you get up to 99 percent; if you’re near it, they count you.) We all chatted with the cop for a while. We were all pretty up on the issues and generally on the same side.
“I mean, you guys are all right,” the cop said.
A couple of us smiled and quietly agreed that the loud ones were jackasses. This didn’t have the reaction we intended. The cop looked mad. Hurt.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” he asked us.
No one had an answer.
To the organized, collegiate Occupy crowd, the bandanna-ed ones just rowdy interlopers to the real 99 percent. The interlopers thought themselves the real deal and the quiet, respectful ones just weak tourists. There’s some serious diffusion of responsibility when you claim to represent 99 percent of all humanity.
Especially when picking sides means screaming in the face of someone who agrees with you. Or just standing there and watching it happen.
I saw the young lion again after I left. He and his friends had taken the food cart on a loud parade, screaming slogans, ringing cowbells and cheering themselves. They had done exactly what the cops wanted, but decided to call it a win.
The young man who 20 minutes earlier had been sniveling in front of men in spandex had a steely look in his eye again. He was joyous, proud, a lion once more.
Written in May 2012
Friday’s story will be “Steve and the Tattoo-Face Man,” in which I talk to some people who got Occupy right.