Musings on Occustock

by by Jonah Wolf

This Saturday, I lent my voice to the Occupy movement. The sparse crowd at the Whiskey Republic was nourished by on-the-house nachos and beer courtesy of Occustock organizer Matt Weisberg. Matt and I share a bathroom, and for the past week I had been over-hearing him plan the concert with fellow Brown undergrad Sarah Grimm and Jay Wills, a Seattle native Sarah met at Burnside Park. When Sarah and Jay asked Matt, a member of the Brown Concert Agency, to help plan a three-day music festival, he couldn't say no, and nor could I when Matt asked me to play.

I was a little skeptical of the whole endeavor, though. What drew me to the Occupy Movement was how different it was from Woodstock: instead of hippies too stoned to notice they were sleeping in shit, here were radical punks boned up on Adbusters and Howard Zinn. In fact, it was a renegade drum circle that almost got the protesters evicted from Zuccotti Park last week. It was thrilling to hear that hip priest Jeff Mangum had shown up at Zuccotti to sing obscurely about Anne Frank and vegetables. The fact that we didn't already know his politics made Mangum's contribution so much more meaningful than Michael Franti's attempted rhyming of "Three piece suits and bank accounts in Bahamas" with "Wall Street crime will never send you to the slammer" on the same day.

These kinds of cringe-worthy lyrics were in evidence at Burnside Park Sunday October 30, when, threatened by the rival Rhode Island Blood Bank benefit down the street, the last day of Occustock shriveled into a brief, unamplified open mic before the General Assembly. One woman divided the crowd into three groups to harmonize the phrases "occupy everywhere," "we are the 99 percent," and "we will have our voices heard."

Saturday's show also seemed inauspicious at first. The snow had moved the event inside the Whiskey Republic, and kept away a large audience. A woman shouted, "That was beautiful" as Srini Reddy finished tuning his sitar, just like the hippies who applauded Ravi Shankar's tuning at the Concert for Bangladesh. But then Matt thanked everyone who had made the concert possible, and explained that the show was evidence of "what can happen when people just help each other out." Which kind of made sense. There was no reason the Whiskey Republic had to donate their space and nachos, just as there was no reason I had to donate my time, and just as there was no reason Jamie Dimon had to take a $17 million bonus. I had been seeing the Occupy Movement as a stand against inevitable corruption, but when I saw Matt, both of whose parents work in finance in New York, donate his time to the cause, that corruption seemed a little more editable.