The legendary Chicago organizer Saul Alinsky popularized the idea of taking rent protests to the suburban homes of slumlords. Alinsky, whose influence reached a peak in the 1960s, believed that embarrassment was a powerful tool in changing the behavior of businessmen who wanted to keep their work life separate from their private life.
I thought of Alinsky on Sunday when I joined the Occupy Wall Street protest taking place on New York?s Upper East Side near the home of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Sunday?s protests were not, I knew, going to make Bloomberg?s wealthy neighbors see him in a new light. The protests were, nonetheless, important. They let everyone see that the November 15 attacks authorized by the mayor have not brought Occupy Wall Street to a standstill.
As for Bloomberg?s neighbors, if the friends I have who live nearby are to be judged, he has plenty of disapproval from those who, like him, belong to the nation?s richest 1 percent.
As a college professor, I don?t come close to being in the top 1 percent, but any number of my college friends do, and when they look at the world in which their sons and daughters are struggling to get a foothold, they find themselves agreeing with Occupy Wall Street?s message that the economy isn?t being run in a way that gives people a fair shot at success.
My friends are, to be sure, traitors to their class by the standards of those who regard the Occupy Wall Street protesters as naive radicals, but they also have their feet on the ground. They remind me of our parents in the sixties, who were not activists themselves but who still gave their approval to those of us who went South during the civil rights movement or joined demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
In the early evening hours, the noise from the drums was deafening. The only way to talk in the small space on East 79th and Fifth Avenue that the police allotted to us was to shout. To make matters worse, for those reporting on the demonstration, the person who got the most attention while I was there was a woman in a glittering gold dress and pink hair who kept vamping for the cameras.
In the end, though, neither the drumming nor the vamping was enough to undermine the value of Occupy Wall Street bringing its protest to the mayor?s doorstep. The movement made clear, in case the mayor doubted it, that no place in the city is out of bounds for protest.