Descendants of an old American revolution crossed paths on Sunday with some people who fancy themselves as progenitors of a new one. The first revolution was fought long ago by men who took up arms. This latest one, if it can even be called a revolution without distorting the meaning of that word beyond recognition, is conducted by men and women who take up sidewalk space.
Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.
We have a pretty good idea which insurgency will prove the more enduring.
First, let’s go back in time, to the Battle of Saratoga in upstate New York. There, in 1777, revolutionary forces defeated the British and made it possible for the Americans to believe they just might emerge from the war with a country to call their own.
The commanding general in northern New York was Horatio Gates, whose name would grace Gates Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and Horatio Street in Greenwich Village. Gates died in 1806, and was buried in the Trinity Church graveyard, off Wall Street. For reasons obscured by the gauze of time, his grave is unmarked. But people versed in these matters are certain that he is there, somewhere.
Gates is a controversial figure on several counts, including whether he deserved the credit at Saratoga. Some historians are more inclined to shower huzzahs on Benedict Arnold, who unlike Gates was a field commander. Obviously, this was before Arnold’s name became synonymous with treason.
One person who feels strongly that Gates never got his due is James Kaplan, who conducts tours of historic New York sites when he is not at his day job as a tax lawyer with the Herzfeld & Rubin firm in Lower Manhattan. Mr. Kaplan became convinced years ago that Gates had been given short shrift, a slight that he said “has never ceased to amaze me.”
That failing was corrected at the Trinity churchyard on Sunday with the dedication of a granite plaque honoring Gates and proclaiming him unflinchingly as “victor at Saratoga.” A half-hour ceremony was held under the aegis of the New York State Organization of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
Mr. Kaplan had piqued the interest of Denise Doring VanBuren, who is regent, or chief officer, of the New York organization. Ms. VanBuren wrote to Trinity and to national officers of her own group. One thing led to another, with the result that about 150 people, dozens of them descendants of Revolutionary era figures, gathered in the churchyard for Sunday’s ceremony.
They passed protesters who have camped outside Trinity Church for the past four months. These people consider themselves an extension of Occupy Wall Street, which likes to think it has led a revolution of its own in regard to American concepts of economic and social justice.
Trinity became a target because it didn’t accept the occupiers’ insistence on their right to plop down wherever they felt like. After protesters were evicted from Zuccotti Park last year, church leaders declined to forgive them their trespasses by yielding to their insistence on taking over an empty lot belonging to the church.
That led to an encampment of sleeping bags outside Trinity’s front gate. It has become a constant in that part of town. About 20 protesters were there on Sunday, some referring to themselves as Occupy Trinity. Frankly, it was hard to distinguish them from any collection of vagrants you might stumble upon. Their principal activity seems to be to lie on the sidewalk, often asleep.
We seem to be breeding unusual strains of self-styled freedom fighters.
On Saturday, hundreds of skateboarders sped down Broadway to the financial district, thumbing their collective nose at a state judge who had declared their race to be unlawful — and, city officials added, dangerous. “This is no longer a race,” one defiant skateboarder told a reporter for The New York Times. “This is a demonstration for our freedom.”
Right, freedom. One had to wonder what Gandhi or Dr. King would have thought about civil disobedience in the name of skateboarder self-absorption.
As for the sleeping bag contingent, nobody is suggesting that they imitate General Gates and his brethren by taking up arms. But one might well ask if their doing little more than taking up space on the sidewalk all day truly qualifies as having accomplished something.
E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]