And not just undermine Wall Street. Teichberg had never been terribly political, but the Iraq War and what he saw as the exploitation of 9/11 awakened his inner activist. He co-founded a media collective and started staging guerrilla actions: filming the protests at the 2004 GOP convention; staging a flash mob at ground zero on the fourth anniversary of the Iraq War. He moved out of his Tribeca apartment and decamped to Bushwick, eventually taking up residence in what he describes as “a hard-core anarchist punk house.”
This past April, Teichberg went to Madrid, where he worked at the media center of the Spanish anti-austerity protests. Upon returning to New York, he started building what he calls “Hackintoshes” (gussied-up used Dell laptops) and distributing them, along with modified handheld video cameras, to teams of OWS protesters. Since then, he and his people have shipped laptops and cameras to countless other occupations. “Two hundred stations were streaming by October 15,” the day that OWS went global, Teichberg says. “Suddenly we’re sitting in front of a badly managed TV network.”
The centrality of Teichberg’s shop to OWS can’t be overstated. “The live stream is, in a way, the central nervous system of the entire operation,” Berger explains. “Because in moments where the police have tried to fuck with us, it’s our first line of defense. And it’s been a big part of how we disseminate our information, raise the money, everything.”
Over coffee one day around the corner from his office at the Yippie Museum Café, I ask Teichberg what kinds of changes he hopes to bring to the financial system. “I think you’re assuming that, for me, Occupy Wall Street is about Wall Street,” he replies. “Of course, it was a huge mistake to bail out the banks in 2008. If you did a proper analysis of how much money was lost when the bubble burst, it was north of $50 trillion. So pumping a trillion dollars into that system is giving Band-Aids to a corpse. We could have used that money to create an entirely new financial system, and the super-upper class would’ve taken a huge hit.
“But this really isn’t about having a few demands for reform of the Fed or the transaction tax,” he goes on. “We’re talking about changing our society, so we no longer measure each other in terms of money, but based on fundamental things. What makes us special is not what we are against but what we are for: equality, unity, mutual respect. Those are very important elements of this new human system we want to build.”
Vlad Teichberg’s résumé—his experience of having been in the belly of beast, getting a gander at its guts, and recoiling in horror—is unusual but not unique within the OWS core. Here and there I found penitent or apostate Wall Streeters and other former corporate tools now railing against the system that once kept them flush. Like Teichberg’s, their criticisms of that system are more sophisticated and precise than those of many of their comrades. But their politics, also like Teichberg’s, are the opposite: earnest and idealistic, for sure, but also vague and half-formed.
Take Amin Husain, who is characterized by a number of the prime movers as one of OWS’s “deep thinkers.” Husain, a 36-year-old Palestinian-American who grew up poor before becoming a corporate lawyer, spent much of the aughts working on complex structured-finance deals. His last job before leaving the law to become an artist was as a contract attorney at Cravath, laboring on behalf of its client PricewaterhouseCoopers when PWC was being sued over its auditing (or, arguably, non-auditing) of AIG, reading hundreds of internal e-mails that may expose the perfidy of both.
In his kaffiyeh and a camouflage military cap, Husain certainly has the look of a revolutionary, but he sounds more like the artist he’s become. When I ask what drew him to OWS, he says, “I felt it was a moment for something to shift. It’s time to have people empowered to imagine, what does it mean to live in a beautiful country like the United States of America? This is a movement not about speaking to people, but about hearing. It’s not for the people. It’s with the people. It’s a new way of thinking.”
This kind of talk is common among a certain sort of OWSer, especially those who are newbies to public agitation. But then there is another sort: committed activists. Among the OWS prime movers, a goodly number, including Yotam Marom, were involved in Bloombergville, the sidewalk protest near City Hall against the city’s budget cuts that took place last summer. While their vernacular is at times as airy as Husain’s, their politics are much firmer, steeped in the cut-and-thrust of battles for tangible objectives. And, unlike Husain, who invoked the phrase “leaderless movement” again and again, the activist prime movers make no bones about the fact that OWS has a leadership cadre—and that they are part of it.