As the American economy inched closer to collapse on Monday morning, 50 people took to the streets of Lower Manhattan, stripped naked and pantomimed life on Wall Street. One yelled about stock prices like a trader on the floor. Another swept the streets. A third pretended to sell hot dogs.
“This is a commentary on the absurdity of the situation,” said the artist behind the project, Zefrey Throwell. “It’s totally a Freudian nightmare to have people show up and work naked on Wall Street. This absurd statement I consider parallel to the lack of transparency on our financial structures.”
Mr. Throwell said that he chose Monday because it was “supposedly the meltdown date”—i.e, the day when the federal government would run out of money. By the morning, it became clear that an agreement was going to be reached, but virtually no one was happy about it. Yes, collapse had been avoided, but the whole thing felt like a resolution to a phony crisis, like bungee jumping from a railroad bridge, knowing all along you will never hit the water.
Across the political spectrum, the city seemed sunk in a midsummer malaise. There was anger, but about what exactly, no one seemed quite able to say.
“Our founding fathers in a million years would never have allowed this to happen,” said Dan Halloran, a city councilman and sometime Fox News contributor.
“The whole notion of the Revolution was to prevent an oppressively taxing government from being on top of us, and look at what we have. An oppressively taxing government that has its hand in every aspect of life. It’s like living under the crown.”
At midday, Joni Golijov, dressed in a Bugs Bunny T-shirt, made his way toward Times Square, using thick, black, electrical tape to post signs for a protest scheduled for the next day at the Charging Bull in Bowling Green.
“The ruling class in the United States is the most powerful ruling class in the world. And they have just done a really good job of making people feel isolated, of making people feel powerless,” he said. He is 21, a writing major at Columbia. “So, yeah, I am also a part of the ruling class.
“I am hoping we can have a big protest. People know their votes don’t matter, so not only are we going to not vote, we are going to put our bodies on the street.”
He said they hoped a 100 people would show up.
Protests of all sorts were planned all over the region. MoveOn (yes, it still exists) planned demonstrations at the offices of Republican members of Congress, even though the deal was ultimately endorsed by a Democratic president.
Brooke McGowen, a self-described 50-something resident of Peekskill and a laid-off census worker, was preparing a rally in front of the offices of Congresswoman Nan Hayworth, a Hudson Valley Republican. She said there would be signs and songs, and expressed hope that “the Grannies,” i.e., the Granny Peace Brigade, would show up.
“We are really angry that they are not going to be taxing the rich and the corporations more,” she said. “The rich are not going to be suffering more, like they should be.”
But why protest a Republican congresswoman then, instead of the president of the United States?
“You are right on that. The best thing would be to go right down to the White House and stand in front of the gates. Absolutely.”
Over on Staten Island, a tempest began brewing when State Senator Diane Savino wrote on her Facebook page that the Tea Party was “the new mafia.”
Frank Santarpia, the head of the local Tea Party, accused Ms. Savino of trading in ethnic slurs.
“My Facebook page is my own.” Ms. Savino. “It’s kind of like my living room. So if you are going to come into my living room you run the risk that I am occasionally going to be somewhat histrionic, because that is what I do in my living room. And when you practice extortionary politics, you run the risk you are going to get called out on it.”
Down in Washington, D.C, Charlie Rangel was cheered, briefly, to see Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona congresswoman shot by a crazed gunman earlier this year, make a triumphant return to Capitol Hill. She voted in favor, along with the majority of the Republicans. He said he was certain that even Nancy Pelosi was lobbying fellow Democrats to vote for the bill. Mr. Rangel had just finished an appearance on the Chris Matthews program and sounded hoarse.
“It was a rough one for me. Our president was mugged,” he said.
And despite growing anger among Democratic partisans, no one seemed to have the stomach or the energy to support an alternative. Even Jonathan Tasini, a labor activist who made his name with a primary challenge to Hillary Clinton and, later, Mr. Rangel, discouraged a Democratic challenge to President Obama.
“He is not going to be pulled from the left,” he said. “The only way to stop the system is to stop commerce from happening. Mass demonstrations in the streets.”
Nor is Mr. Rangel quite ready to turn his back on the president.
“It’s like Henny Youngman used to say when people would say to him, ‘How is your wife?’” Mr. Rangel said. “‘Compared to what?”’
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