I came to New York to witness an incredible social phenomenon – and found another. Very different, but then again not so much.
The policeman I just asked for directions is eyeing me suspiciously but then suddenly winks, as if to suggest he might even be joining me there later. Walking towards Zucotti Park, I recall my intentions for this trip: to find and tell original stories about our changing world. As a traveller you are always a stranger to a place, a place changing around you, almost oblivious to your presence. It is up to the traveller to be the witness, to be aware of the changing beat in your surroundings. Right now, the place is New York. And oh boy, how it is changing!
One of the fascinating things about New York for me was always the American Stock Exchange, where day in day out hundreds of well-educated people in suits perform some sort of curious dance with its own rules, movements, routines and signs. I remember gazing at the TV as a kid, completely absorbed by their choreography. And now here I am in Manhattan, heading towards Wall Street, ready to observe this contemporary “ballet” first-hand. But in front of me unfolds an entirely different story – one worth telling, no doubt about it. Wall Street, the stage of the “ballet“ of world finances, has been stormed.
I am soon surrounded by an incredibly colorful crowd and just dive in, talking to strangers, receiving smiles and smiling back. The air is buzzing with this feverish, electrical energy of people taking part in something greater than themselves. Suddenly several voices raise over the ever-present noise level. Together they declare: “Mic check! Mic check!” There seems to be a debate happening at the Charging Bull, and the people able to hear what is being said repeat it – row by row, group by group. They are actually forming a “human microphone“. “Peaceful is the way to go!” The reply does not take long: „Burn it all!” shouts this angry guy who looks like he does not get out much. The crowd repeats, without judgement. Then the collectively repeated reply:”That is a really harsh statement!” followed by a wave of contagious laughter. Later, I would learn that a special permit is needed to have amplified sound in a demonstration.
It amazed me to see the people of New York – in all their diversity – mobilized for a common cause, forming a congregation of concern. Something common had been created. Their presence alone was enough to attest to that, but the human microphone experience, their agreed-upon performance towards a common goal, for me was the perfect metaphor. In the end, this glimpse of history in the making is not so far from my original intention for New York. The buzz and movement, the strange choreography I expected to dee within Wall Street was mirrored in a very real way by those protesting on its doorsteps.