Post-Traumatic Press Syndrome
After visiting Occupy camps across the country in the final four months of 2011, I released a travelogue called 99 Nights with the 99 Percent in March of the following year. My promotional run was rife with rhetorical bloodbaths, one of which was with right-wing firebrand Andrew Breitbart, who died just two days after our spat on conservative radio. Along with tales of my ensuing war with his insanely xenophobic legionnaires, my latest project, I Killed Breitbart, revisits a number of intense confrontations including my violent arrest in Manhattan on the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. Below is an excerpt from a chapter called “Center of Aggression,” some of which takes place on Hempstead Turnpike—outside of the second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama—exactly one month after my run-in with police.
October 17, 2012
Due to limited movement in my crooked arm, I wasn’t supposed to cover the inevitable protests outside of the presidential debate at Hofstra University yesterday. But an emergency summoned me back to my native Long Island, so I skipped out on family responsibilities for about five hours to sample the madness, and to get away from the hospice where my grandmother was slipping away. Harsh reality of life and death aside, it felt good to be home; despite all of the warranted abuse that the Gold Coast gets for harboring shallow guidos, it’s a truly complex and diverse social arena that exposed me to the entire cultural and economic spectrum from a young age.
As was made clear in the national debate coverage that obsessed over the wealth out here, outsiders don’t typically understand Long Island. Even their generalizations are misguided. It’s not exclusively for billionaires and Buttafuccos; even stereotypically, the stretch also claims blue collar cats like Billy Joel, and hood legends like the rappers PMD and Prodigy, the latter of whom was raised in the same town where last night’s presidential showdown took place. Even with its little rap fame, though, in the shadow of its glitz and glory, Nassau and Suffolk counties have some of the poorest communities in New York State.
Because of those disparate groups, the same Island that’s best known for self-involved shoppers and East Hampton luxury actually turned out a substantial number of anti-establishment demonstrators. Hours before the debate, an excess of 200 heads showed up across Hempstead Turnpike from Hofstra, and that was before crews from Occupy the East End and Occupy Long Island arrived flanked by a brigade of Wall Street allies.
I was on the ground for less than five minutes when two Nassau cops stopped and frisked a young man with a dark complexion. He was about 50 yards outside of the designated protest zone—not far from where America’s first black president was about to debate—and bothering no one. Officers let the kid go after their search yielded nothing—and after representatives from the New York Civil Liberties Union walked up to scare them. Still, the thought of getting arrested with my arm in such bad repair turned my stomach; for a split second, I felt a heightened pain as if my elbow was warning me to keep safe.
In order to gain access to the allotted picket pen, people had to have their bags searched. So while the pink-clad Planned Parenthood parade and a handful of other pro-Obama cheerleaders entered the designated cage, most people who came to hoot and holler rejected the corral, and set up with their grievances about two blocks away, and closer to the main Hofstra entrance. There, the scrum was action-packed, with such magnificent annoyances as Catholics, Tea Partiers, and the Torah Jews against Zionism screaming at each other in a symphony of outrage. Also rolling deep were the cult of long-shot presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, plus his perennial opponent Vermin Supreme, and a requisite posse of right-wingers holding placards filled with images of mangled fetuses.
In the orgy of agenda items, some of the most fascinating screeds came from a group called Young Evangelicals for Climate Action. They’re not a comedy troupe—I checked—but rather an anomalous sect of college students who live in equal fear of global warming and Jesus. YECA activist Curtis Witek says that, unlike older Evangelicals who think we’re all going to burn, he believes that God is restoring the world. Fine by me.
The hardcore conservatives outside of Hofstra were less kind. After berating a group of Sudanese peace workers who were speaking in the designated zone, about two dozen Tea Partiers walked their flags down Hempstead Turnpike to scold passing cars. They shouted loudly for about an hour—overpowering thrice as many Obama boosters on the same corner—until more than 100 Occupiers showed up to piss in their kettle. Frustrated, the Tea Party faction screamed a bit, then fizzled out.
Entertaining as they were, the aforementioned spectacles all came secondary to yesterday’s major protest moment—the arrest of Green presidential candidate Jill Stein and her running mate, anti-poverty activist Cheri Honkala. After being jailed for trying to enter the arena, they were handcuffed in place and left in isolation for hours. As things go with third party candidates, the humiliation of Stein—for nothing more than seeking a fair playing field—hardly registered in the media.
In the least, it all made for a relevant metaphor. Not unlike the Hofstra stage, where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney enjoyed a debate without any mention of the Green party or poverty, Long Island is populated by over-groomed douchebags; there are plenty of poor and middle class people here, too, but from the outside looking in, they might as well be invisible.