The Occupy Wall Street protests are well into their second week, and they're starting to get a fair amount of media coverage (thanks in part to the now-infamous pepper-spray cop.) But one of the most-cited pieces of coverage remains Ginia Bellafante's weekend New York Times piece in which she painted the protestors as an undirected group of neo-hippies. If you head down to Liberty Plaza, the overarching optics of the scene don't do much to counteract that impression.
When I stopped by today, there was a drum circle and dancers and people painting signs like it was arts-and-crafts camp. There were piles of bundles and trash and twentysomethings curled up in them sleeping; there was tie-dye and pink hair and a lot of bandannas.
But there was also a small handful of people who seemed to have dressed specifically to counteract the impression that this was a group outside the American mainstream. Near one of the most visible entrances to the park stood John Vitarelli, 44, a trial lawyer wearing a suit and tie, with his collared shirt unbuttoned to reveal an ACLU tee. His sign announced that he is a homeowner, tax payer, and employer. "I do all that stuff you're supposed to do," he explained. "I thought that segment of the population should be represented here."
Not far from Vitarelli sat Henry James Ferry, 31, who was laid off from a "six-figure job with an expense account" in publishing this summer. He had the silver tongue and warm manner of someone who'd made a living schmoozing professionally. Ferry was dressed for the office — button-down, pinstripe pants, short hair. And a tie ("It's a thin, fashionable tie. Make sure you put that in"), which he'd started wearing on the sixth day of the protest. "I only wear it Monday through Friday. I'm business-casual on the weekends."
Ferry had, in fact, set up a little makeshift office with a table, two chairs, and laminated, computer-made signs. "Every single day, for an hour at least, I'm going to sit here and wait for the top 1 percent to come talk to us," Ferry explained. "I don't hate capitalism, I don't hate rich people." He hadn't had that many takers on his office hours, but people were gathered around, taking pictures, a little fascinated by this oddball who seemed so normal.
"I was sitting on a bar stool with two guys, two twentysomething guys, and you know what they told me was, 'Why would I go down there?' I have an okay job. I wasn't making as much money as I was four years ago, but I have a good job," he said by way of explanation for his outfit. "What I think we need to do is change the narrative ... I think I'm more approachable. People that look at this movement from the outside try to find out who in this movement is like them. "
Did he think his fellow protestors ought to try dressing up, to lure in more people who might not respond to the current aesthetic mode of the protests? "I don't know how many people fit in my clothes!" he laughed.