On Saturday over 100 people gathered in Sag Harbor to join a movement that is spreading all across the world. Nobody really knows what the people involved in this movement specifically want and nobody really knows what to quite make of the Occupy Wall Street protests, but one thing seems clear, it’s here to stay.
On the Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, over 100 people from all different demographics, age groups and political affiliations, got together in what was called Occupy The Hamptons.
The majority of the people at this protest were over the age of 40. The protest was scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., so unlike Occupy Wall Street, nobody was sleeping in sleeping bags, but the protest in itself, meant a lot to everybody there.
One of the most striking protesters, at least to me, was a Montauk father of five, Michael Martinsen, who brought his entire family down. “We’re here because like most of the population in this country, we’ve been enduring very hard times for a very long time, and we’ve been kept in a slumber, and I’ve been very frustrated with the complacency of the masses for a long time. I’ve watched the Gulf Oil Spill destroy an entire ocean and saw very little change as a result of it. Couple that with other issues that involve corporate sponsorship of our politicians and policy makers, it’s just terrible. As a fisherman, I’ve personally witnessed environmental catastrophes thanks to failed policies. I think the whole movement of occupy is to change the corporate dictarorship that is going on in this country. It wasn’t always like this, and now it’s out of hand.”
Surprisingly, I found very few people at the Occupy Hamptons event that didn’t take it very seriously. When I first heard about the event, my instincts told me that this was just about a couple of people who like to get together and organize events in general, and viewed going to a protest in Sag Harbor as something folksy and fun. I thought for sure it would be attended mostly by elitists who don’t know they are elitists, the type of people who sit in their million-dollar homes and complain about “the man.” But this was not the case at all, there were a lot of people present with very clear thoughts on what they felt was wrong, and were really hurting personally because of it. There is very much a 99% in the Hamptons; they are the families of fishermen, chefs, caterers, store managers, construction workers and other blue-collar professions. And while you might see the romance in that lifestyle in the Hamptons, if you can’t afford to buy the basics of housing and food while working your tail off at jobs that are the best you can hope for, people begin to break.
Alison Cornish, the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the South Fork, said, “I’m here because I think something new is being born, and it’s really nice to be at the birth of something new. I don’t know what it’s going to look like or do, but I really hope that these protests will lead to some kind of change where people can find opportunities again.”
There was one woman passing out a small newspaper called the Occupy Wall Street Journal, which included information on how to get involved with the movement and what could be done about it.
There were no nasty confrontations with police during the protests, unlike the current protests in New York City, and there were no arrests. The protesters, however, do not plan on going away, and Occupy the Hamptons is planning another one. During the protest, the group circled around the Windmill in Sag Harbor to listen to a young man with a green Mohawk and a nose ring named Matt, who spoke to the protesters “not as their leader,” but to give them information.
He explained how the protestors at Occupy Wall Street communicate, as they are prohibited from using bullhorns. He demonstrated, with hand gestures, short phrases, to which the group of protesters repeated back, which was a bit creepy when observed. The phrases were simple, such as “This hand signal means you approve,” and then the crowd would repeat it in unison.
What did I think of Occupy The Hamptons? That’s a tough question for me to answer. On the one hand, there is a VERY clear problem with our current society. There are simply way too many people—educated people—out of work, drowning in debt and with no hope of ever getting out of it. This is how indentured servants over the centuries were controlled, through unpayable debt instruments. On the other hand, nobody put a gun to your head to sign that un-payable mortgage or to get that student loan for an arts degree, so it’s hard for me to go blindly in one direction or the other. Sometimes it’s frustrating having so many competing and contradictory opinions.
Un-payable debt is the problem, whether it’s the government, a personal household, or a student in debt. We somehow as a nation, thought it was okay to do this with our lives. I can remember being 21-years-old and getting into shouting matches with people over the dangers of debt as I watched friend after friend rack up credit card debt and student loan debt. I still talk about this today. Debt is a crushing, horrible force on people and the nation isn’t just paying for it in dollars, but with, quite literally, all of the time that they have on this planet.