Climbing Wall Street

The train was moving at a brisk pace; the New York countryside whizzing by as we made2011-10-08_11-45-28_803-169x300 our way down the eastern side of the upstate portion. I sat in a seat row by myself, phone plugged in to the convenience outlet, alternating between reading pages from the latest book in progress (“The Trap“) and chatting on my phone. With a 2.5 hour ride from Albany to Manhattan, I was pretty sure that my phone would be fully charged by the time I got there, but I was somewhat anxious it wouldn’t be, since there was a good possibility I might not have access to a power outlet for over a day.

Earlier that day, my friend Jon and I drove from his brother’s house in Latham, NY (a suburb of Albany) to Buck Mountain, a hiking trail near Lake George in the Adirondack mountains. We had been planning a hiking outing for a couple months, and his brother knew of a good trail that we could do. The plan was to do the trail in the morning, finish by the afternoon and then I would take a train down to Manhattan and go to the Occupy Wallstreet protests in Zuccotti park (1 Liberty Plaza, downtown).

Buck Mountain is a trail of moderate difficulty in the Adirondacks. The climb is somewhere around 2,000 feet spread over ~2.5 miles. It can be done without any special equipment but it is definitely a nice workout. We had packed some snacks, water bottles, and dressed in layers, unsure about the weather or presence of mosquitoes this time of year.

2011-10-09_13-17-36_577-300x169The Occupy Wallstreet movement began on September 17th, prompted by a campaign of the AdBusters magazine. The intention is to establish an occupying presence in the downtown New York financial district, with the disenfranchised and disempowered “99%” of us doing the occupation. What began as a mere mass demonstration has grown into a viral meme that has spread across the nation and now even across international borders. Cities around the country (including Ithaca) are establishing their own “Occupy” protests, in solidarity, some of them actually occupying a public space, others simply coordinating intermittent public demonstrations of protest. While public opinions are mixed, and the mainstream media is apparently clueless about what to make of all of it, there is no debating the fact that it is growing and expanding.

Jon, his extended family, and I gathered our gear and set out on the 2011-10-08_12-01-30_911-300x169trail. The trail opens with a sign-in book, apparently so that in case you get lost or disaster strikes, they have a record of your presence. I like the less-sobering idea that we’re signing a guest registry to be mailed packages of acorn and pinecone samplers. I was excited, and the six of us energetically attacked the trail with vigor, briskly entering the beautiful forest surroundings while we chatted. Occasionally we would have to cross a stream or climb over some small rocks, but the hill rolled along, gently ascending upwards. Dan, Jon’s brother, commented that it went up and down a little higher each time. The idea of getting to the top seemed a foregone conclusion; something that we would eventually reach given enough time, and none of us said much about whether or not the trail would become more difficult.

The first couple weeks of Occupy Wallstreet were a mix of confusing 2011-10-09_00-52-39_333-300x169and tumultuous. There were a lot of very spirited demonstrations, some of which apparently required police restraint. There were incidences of police abuse, anti-protest tactics, both of which may be linked to apparent corruption in NYPD by the private sector (search google for “NYPD paid detail”, but spirits were high and modern technology allowed citizen journalists to report on these injustices, fomenting even more support for the movement. Over the course of 3 weeks, solidarity movements popped up all over the place, with chants of “We are the 99%” and “This is what democracy looks like.” Tensions escalated all over, with the protests in some of the larger cities facing injustices and abuses similar to those in the early days of the Wall Street occupation. One issue that consistently gets brought up by the media is that “the Occupy Wallstreet movement lacks clear goals or objectives,” implying that defining those clear goals and objectives are a necessity for the movement to function.

About an hour into our hike, the trail has started to become more inclined. We take a 2011-10-08_12-11-12_554-169x300collective pause to relieve and re-hydrate. Our memories of the beginnings of the trail, including our initial gusto, has started to fade away as the reality that none of us were quite sure how far along we were, there was also the nagging sense that once we were at the top we would have to come back down again. As the foot-worn dirt path-among-trees starts to become craggy steps of large boulders, I began to wonder how close to the top we really were? Will we be able to make it? Can I do this? Wouldn’t it just be easier to go back down and save myself the time and energy of climbing the mountain? I was even unsure of what “the top” looked like; was I there already? Was it an arbitrary stopping point before a different, more difficult, trail, continued in another direction? How would I know when I reached the top?

The protests must continue. The problems at the base of it all, the dissatisfying feeling of oppression and futility that many feel, are still back there at the foot of this mountain, waiting for us to return. We can — we must — continue to march forwards up this hill, even though we do not know how much longer it will be, or where it ends, or how far along we are. We must continue to push forwards and endure because the alternative is a regression from whence we came. Yes, there are many grievances, many things driving us away from the base of the mountain, but they push us upwards and onwards, united and together, and as long as we continue in that direction we will eventually reach the end.

The foliage began to change to be more coniferous; the rocks became craggier, more obstructive; the climb steeper. I could see blue sky. We saw more people passing us as they descended the mountain. In the distance I could see neighboring mountains and I felt the sun, which was now able to break through the less dense canopy above, warm the crown of my head and the back of my neck. A sign with an arrow: “Summit.” Using my hands and feet, clamoring up what appeared to be very large boulders, I clawed my way up to the summit. The blue sky expanded, the foliage faded away, and I saw a breathtaking panorama of green and orange mountains caressing a the deep blue of Lake George.

And I was free.

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4 Responses

  1. Jon Meade

    Your combination of natural exploration of a mountain and the Civil Disobedience of the Occupy Wall Street movement reminds me of Thoreau. Maybe we all need to spend some time in simple natural surroundings philosophizing before we work on the major issues of the day. Well written and I hope I’ve taken your point accurately.

  2. John Westerdale

    Interesting read. Hope good things come from the social action. Be ready when the microphone comes your way.