Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment.

Get my RSS |

Get on the Occupy Wall Street Tourist Bus

| Wed Oct. 12, 2011 6:00 AM EDT
OWS as tourist attraction

Every good movement needs a bus. Rosa Parks had one. Ken Kesey had one. Even freegan climate activists who get around on French fry grease have one. So why not Occupy Wall Street? After all, a bus passes Zuccotti Park every minute or so. It's most often red, double-decker, and crammed with tourists, admittedly, but at least the seats are comfortable. Or so I was thinking on Sunday as I stood in line on Broadway behind a kid with a foam Statue of Liberty crown, waiting to get aboard.

I sat down in the back between a burly Australian and a skinny German. Neither had much to say about Occupy Wall Street. Two large women in front of me whom I'd figured for Americans were actually Canadian and didn't have any opinions either. So I moved to a front row and sat down next to someone who, it turned out, didn't speak English. But at least I was close to the tour guide, Thomas Kinzey, a man with wraparound sunglasses, a stubble, and a penchant for numbers. "Tower No. 4 will house the mausoleum, the chapel, the visitors center of the 9/11 memorial," he was saying. "The mausoleum will house the 14,000 body parts that remain unclaimed due to contaminated DNA."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

An #OccupyWallStreet Protest Song

| Sun Oct. 9, 2011 2:59 PM EDT

 John Joe Baxter is a 72-year-old troubadour from Rockaway Beach in Queens. He's been coming to Occupy Wall Street every day since it started. "I think this is the beginning of something that has never happened in our lifetimes in America," he told me yesterday. "I think this is going to turn into the biggest movement ever in this country. Because all these people here feel exactly the way we feel."

Here he is singing an as-yet-unnamed song that he wrote for the movement, as cops try to keep his audience from blocking the sidewalk:

 

Meet 4 Middle-Class Americans Who've Been Politicized by #OccupyWallStreet

| Sun Oct. 9, 2011 1:15 PM EDT

For Occupy Wall Street to keep gaining steam, it must begin to attract people who aren't part of the typical protest crowd. Based on my experience at Zuccotti Park this weekend, this has begun to happen—in spades. Throughout the day I ran into people who'd never been to a protest until now. None of them belonged to activist groups or trade unions. They'd simply heard about the occupation and decided to come. Some were blue-collar folks out of work, others college students who feared they'd never land a job. Here are four of their stories:

Kevin Monahan, a laid-off sanitation worker, says the Occupy Wall Street activists aren't scared of terrorists. "We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives.": Josh HarkinsonKevin Monahan, a laid-off sanitation worker, says the Occupy Wall Street activists aren't scared of terrorists. "We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives." Josh Harkinson

Kevin Monahan, laid-off sanitation worker

Monahan is hard to miss at McDonald's, where a long line of occupiers waits for the restroom. He wears long hair wrapped in a skull-pattern headband, a jean jacket with a Confederate Flag patch, and a button on his lapel that says, "The rich bailed out, the poor sold out." 

About a year ago, Monahan lost his job as a garbage truck driver in upstate New York. At 24, he's embarrassed that he's had to move back in with his parents. He tried attending college for a while but dropped out when he lost his financial aid. He now competes with teenagers for minimum-wage cashier jobs. He knew that Wall Street was partly to blame for his problems, but when he saw a YouTube clip of New York cops macing peaceful demonstrators at Zuccotti, "it just threw fuel on the fire." He begged friends for gas money and drove down to Manhattan.

Monahan doesn't exactly know how to describe his politics. "I don't trust the government whatsoever," he says. He's a fan of Ron Paul and a believer in his campaign to "End the Fed." But he also strongly believes that the wealthy need to pay more taxes. He hates Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly and scoffs at the concept of trickle-down economics, which he sees as a tax on the poor for the benefit of fat cats. "Take as much as you can, that's the whole point of capitalism," he says. "Get as rich as possible, profit is the only means. So what do we do when they have it all?"

As he talks, his voice often wavers with emotion, and his eyes go glassy. At home he often feels alone; here people constantly embrace him. "I've run into socialists, communists, liberals, gutter punks, rastas, thugs, and believe it or not, everybody is getting along," he says. "We have the same common enemy. None of us is scared of terrorists. We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives."

 

Why New Yorkers Heart #OccupyWallStreet

| Sat Oct. 8, 2011 3:01 PM EDT

In the New York Metro section of yesterday's New York Times, Cara Buckley portrays the Wall Street occupiers as an unruly band of outsiders who've come to terrorize the locals. They rudely befoul restaurant bathrooms without buying anything. They crowd moms and baby strollers off the sidewalks. They flash their tits in broad daylight. The image that comes to mind is that of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd gone wild, or college tourists on spring break at the Jersey Shore. 

Even if there's some truth to this, I can confidently say that Buckley and many other reporters are missing something: Occupy Wall Street was bound to happen at some point even if the Manhattan police sealed off every one of the island's bridges and tunnels. The same vast economic disparities that have outraged so many middle class Americans are only magnified here. A little-known fact about Manhattan, otherwise known as New York County, is that it has the highest level of income inequality of any urban county in the nation. The only US county with a wider gap between rich and poor is Willacy County in South Texas, a ranching community packed with unemployed farm workers where one wealthy individual owns a third of the land.

Without a doubt, many people who live near the New York Stock Exchange feel under siege. It's less clear whether most other Manhattanites give a damn. Consider this: the average price (PDF) of a Financial District studio apartment in Manhattan is more than $2,200 a month (and that excludes apartments with doormen, which cost more). According to a 2006 story in the Gotham Gazette, the district that includes the Financial District and Greenwich Village had the highest median rent of any part of Manhattan. While I couldn't find more recent stats on the area's median housing cost last night, it's pretty safe to assume that most New Yorkers who are hurting from the recession don't live there.

Why does this matter? Certainly, trashing bathrooms or intimidating stroller moms is never OK. (As for nudity, well, I'm from San Francisco).  Given the social and economic divisions in New York, though, it's amazing that those are the worst things that have happened.

Going forward, the mainstream media could do a better job reporting how New Yorkers feel about Occupy Wall Street. And Occupiers from out of town would do well to consider how to bring in more locals, who could help give the movement staying power. It's one of the many things I hope to explore when I set up Mother Jones' outpost in Zuccotti Park later today.

 

Why New Yorkers Heart #OccupyWallStreet

| Sat Oct. 8, 2011 6:00 AM EDT

In the New York Metro section of Friday's New York Times, Cara Buckley portrays the Wall Street occupiers as an unruly band of outsiders who've come to terrorize the locals. They rudely befoul restaurant bathrooms without buying anything. They crowd moms and baby strollers off the sidewalks. They flash their tits in broad daylight. The image that comes to mind is that of the bridge-and-tunnel crowd gone wild, or college tourists on spring break at the Jersey Shore. 

Even if there's some truth to this, I can confidently say that Buckley and many other reporters are missing something: Occupy Wall Street was bound to happen at some point even if the Manhattan police sealed off every one of the island's bridges and tunnels. The same vast economic disparities that have outraged so many middle class Americans are only magnified here. A little-known fact about Manhattan, otherwise known as New York County, is that it has the highest level of income inequality of any urban county in the nation. The only US county with a wider gap between rich and poor is Willacy County in South Texas, a ranching community packed with unemployed farm workers where one wealthy individual owns a third of the land.

Of course, New Yorkers make much more money on average than people in South Texas, thanks in part to the trickle down from Wall Street. That's one reason many observers at first wrote off Occupy Wall Street as a flash in the pan. But as it stretches into its fourth week, it has struck a chord with many people in the city. Many New Yorkers are working harder for the same pay, and Wall Street's über-wealthy have driven up prices, pushing the merely upper middle class into smaller apartments and farther-flung neighborhoods. 

In the Financial District, the average studio apartment rents for (PDF) more than $2,200 a month (and that excludes apartments with doormen, which cost more). According to a 2006 story in the Gotham Gazette, the district that includes the Financial District and Greenwich Village had the highest median rent of any part of Manhattan. While I couldn't find more recent stats on the area's median housing cost last night, it's safe to assume that most New Yorkers who are hurting from the recession don't live there.

Clearly, many people who make their homes near the New York Stock Exchange feel under siege. What's less clear is how much people in the rest of the city feel sorry for them. While trashing bathrooms or intimidating stroller moms is never OK, those things seem positively tame compared to what New York has inflicted upon itself in class struggles of yore.

Going forward, the mainstream media could do a better job reporting how New Yorkers feel about Occupy Wall Street. And Occupiers from out of town would do well to consider how to bring in more locals, who could help give the movement staying power. It's one of the many things I hope to explore when I set up Mother Jones' outpost in Zuccotti Park later today.

 

Wed Jan. 22, 2014 8:38 PM EST
Thu Oct. 3, 2013 12:30 PM EDT
Mon Aug. 19, 2013 12:47 PM EDT
Thu Jun. 27, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 10, 2013 3:45 PM EDT
Tue May. 21, 2013 9:56 AM EDT
Mon May. 20, 2013 11:38 AM EDT
Mon May. 6, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Sat Apr. 20, 2013 6:00 AM EDT
Mon Apr. 8, 2013 5:00 AM EDT
Mon Mar. 4, 2013 10:56 AM EST
Fri Mar. 1, 2013 7:06 AM EST
Thu Feb. 28, 2013 7:31 AM EST
Tue Feb. 19, 2013 6:41 PM EST