On October 4 Ralph Nader’s “Take it to The Street” campaign staged a rally on Wall Street against corporate corruption. Falling somewhere between a Broadway musical and a high school talent show, the rally had every aspect of a good theatrical production: props, role players, a full choir, a rock-and-roll star and a well-known host.
The American flag was tautly stretched across the entranceway of the New York Stock Exchange. Its corners were tacked down, so when the wind blew down the narrow street in the heart of New York’s financial district, the flag did not majestically wave, puffing up instead. “This is an interesting spectacle to see so many anticorporate symbols in this context,” protester Brad Tito said. “It’s an interesting juxtaposition.”
At 11:30 volunteers were in the final stages of nailing together a banner, inflating balloons and peddling last minute fliers. The crowd still had not arrived. Asked why she was there, Staci Rubin, an NYU student, said, “They’re stealing all of our money. These people need to go to jail. They stole millions and millions. This protest is about corporate corruption.” Rubin was one of the many volunteers with Democracy Rising, a new organization founded by Nader to “educate and empower citizens throughout the country.”
“Mya Cash” of Billionaires for Bush and Bloomberg, began the performance. “Darling, when you say corporate crime, we say way of life,” she aloofly drawled, implying billionaire wealth. Adorned in a tight black dress and a faux fur coat that was casually askew, she adjusted her plastic tiara and the blown-up dollar bills nestled between her breasts. “Their biggest sin was getting caught,” she concluded.
Her friend, Ivona Steal, concurred: “Jail is just for little people.”
Employing outrageous comic satire, Mya and her cohorts have been acting as political court jesters since the 2000 presidential election. There are many Billionaires for Bush affinity groups across the country. They began as Billionaires for Bush (or Gore): Because Inequality is Not Growing Fast Enough and have expanded to address social equality issues across the board. When she’s not a billionaire, Jennifer Pozner runs Women In Media & News. “We use humor to get people laughing,” she said later. “It gets under their barriers and is a really effective way to get messages out to people.”
“Hallelujah! Stop Corporate Crime!” exclaimed the slick, bleached-blond preacher over the air pumps filling up an odd inflatable menagerie. There was a blow-up shark warning against “loan sharks,” a yellow oil bin with a plea to “stop big oil & war profiteering” and a giant pig calling for a corporate “Hogtie.” Rocking back and forth, the gospel choir ripped into their first number, “Stop Shopping.” A mix of men and women of various ages, though mostly white, the choir mirrored the crowd gathered for the event: Punks mixed with clean-cut political types, hipsters rubbing shoulders with aging hippies and older activists.
The police barricades penned in the protesters along Broad Street and squeezed them down Wall Street, maintaining space for the crowd-control barrier and daring financial district pedestrians to join the show. The New York City Police Department, which assigned seventy-five patrolmen, who acted as ushers at the event, gave the crowd an official peak count of 2,500. According to Jason Kafoury of Democracy Rising, unlike recent protests in Washington, they easily obtained a protest permit, reporting good relations with the Bloomberg administration.