“The point of a protest isn’t direct action; it’s to educate people.” He puts his hands in the pockets of his black Nin jacket. A purple scarf is tied around his neck, and his dark hair is pulled into a tight ponytail. He calls himself an anarchist pagan Buddhist. His friends call him Captain. I find him camped out in front of Trinity Wall Street on a Tuesday afternoon. His friends—two tall bearded fellows with blond dreadlocks and a young brunette bedecked with a red-flowered garland—defer to his eloquence when I ask what Occupy Wall Street is all about.
Captain admits that “if you ask a hundred Occupiers what it’s about, you’ll get a hundred different answers.” He says he had joined the other malcontents to protest getting kicked off Trinity’s property. Captain castigates Trinity for closing two of its homeless shelters, and he mentions the rector’s $1.6 million salary, double-checking the numbers on his phone. He hopes the rector will eventually get the boot as a result of the protests.
I ask him what the next step would be for those moved by his and others’ demonstrations. “Get money out of politics,” he says. Make the politicians act on that, or else “we’re not going to f—ing vote for you.
He motions to the stone ledge beside the churchyard fence. “Want to sit down?” We step away from the pedestrian traffic on Broadway and sit beside the spread of OWS pamphlets—“The Heart of Occupy Wall Street,” “Interns: Know Your Rights”—and near a Guy Fawkes mask leaning against the stone. A few newspapers and books—George Martin’s A Storm of Swords, Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind—lie here and there amongst the blankets and sleeping stations on the sidewalk. A scruffy young man in a knit cap yells, “Free propaganda! Mostly true propaganda!” and tosses a handful of seeds over the fence for the flocking pigeons.
A poster full of slogans—“Love Love Love,” “Workers Deserve Rights”—drawn in pastel colors leans up against the churchyard ledge. Captain tells me it belongs to a woman named Sparrow, and that morning policemen had taken the poster from her. When she tried to get it back an officer pushed her away, accidentally knocking her head against a metal post. She lay unconscious on the curb of Broadway until she was taken to the hospital.
“Is she okay?” I ask Captain.
“Yeah, she’s fine. They arrested her after she went to the hospital.” He shrugs, not terribly concerned. It’s another day in the life; it’s the risk they all take.
I remember to the morning. I had been there. I had seen Sparrow lying limp on the curb. She was a young black woman with glasses, grey tights, a dark skirt. Sleepers on the sidewalk had gradually awakened and drowsily watched a police officer mark up a report in his notepad. One Occupier knelt beside Sparrow, rebuking the policemen circling her. Another indignant protester swept past me, breathing, “You’re not allowed to do that,” toward the officers. The poster leaned up against a garbage can on the corner of the next block, apparently forgotten
“Policemen act like they’re above the law,” Captain tells me. “Do you think a policeman would treat you differently than, say, a big black man?” I shrug, and he says, “You’re a pretty white girl. You bet they’re going to f—ing treat you differently.”
Captain begins to roll a cigarette. We look out on the street in silence and consider how messed up the world is.
Then he says, “Do you know any good parables?”
I ask if he’s looking for any in particular.
“I collect parables. They’re a good way to teach people. I know a couple great Buddhist parables.”
I say I have to get to class. “Do you have time for a parable before you go?” he asks.
I have time for one.
“Once there was a man who insulted a Buddhist monk by calling him a dirty piece of shit, and the monk said to him, ‘You remind me of the Buddha.’ The man, cocksure and arrogant, went home to his wife and told her of his exchange. ‘You fool,’ said his wife. ‘Don’t you realize that he who has the Buddha in his heart sees the Buddha in everyone, but he who sees others as pieces of shit has a heart of shit?’”
Captain finishes and looks at me. “I see it as saying that we should see the good in everyone,” he says.
I think of the policemen and propagandists, the shoe shiners and Wall Street financiers, the parishioners and protesters. And I think of Sparrow.
“Sounds like a good philosophy,” I say.