Noblesse Oblige Among the Protesting Masses

In their finest evening clothes, Meg A. Bucks, DeForest Cali and a few of their friends deigned to mingle the other day among the Occupy Wall Street protesters camped in Zuccotti Park. It wasn’t so much that they approved of the goings-on in the park as they were thrilled to be at that location, directly across from a Brooks Brothers store on Church Street. “We always like to gather by Brooks Brothers,” Ms. Bucks said.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

It was 4 in the afternoon, a proper hour for tea. Appropriately, they served one another. They also brought along cookies topped with icing that said “1¢,” and handed out some to the hoi polloi — “so people could eat their share of the pie,” Ms. Bucks said.

When you’re a self-styled billionaire, a certain noblesse oblige comes with the territory. It doesn’t mean, however, that you ignore looking out for your own. “I swear,” Ms. Bucks said, “the day that I have to pay as much in taxes as Warren Buffett’s secretary will be a sad, sad day for America, indeed.”

As you have surely figured out by now, this was all a put-on. Ms. Bucks, whose real name is Elissa Jiji, and Mr. Cali, real name Randy Howk, belong to a band of satirists that gained traction a decade ago as Billionaires for Bush. They have reinvented themselves as Billionaires for the One Percent, a name that complements the Occupy Wall Street crowd, who claim to represent the 99 percent they say are left in the dust by the wealthiest.

“We’re standing up for minority rights,” Mr. Howk said. Does this country have many minorities smaller than its 400 or so billionaires, to go by Forbes magazine’s count? “If you think about it,” he said, “except for the police, the courts, the oil companies, the drug companies, the financial institutions and all the lobbyists that work for them, no one is standing up for the billionaires.”

In truth, the Billionaires share the anger over the widening gap between rich and poor that is an overarching theme of the “occupy” movement. In their monthlong siege of the park, the protesters have been dismissed by some for their lack of a unified message. But that criticism misses the point, in the view of Andrew Boyd, a charter member of the Billionaires, whose “1 percent name” is Phil T. Rich.

“I think we needed this sort of rebel yell, the full-throated claiming of outrage,” he said.

Mr. Howk said: “One message that I’ve heard over and over again is accountability. It boils down to that one word, and the lack of it. People who say there isn’t a message aren’t really listening.”

Still, his group has long believed that messages are better delivered with an épée than with a cudgel, that people will pay closer attention if you make them laugh.

For the most part, Zuccotti Park has not been an irony-rich environment. Protesters’ signs are almost always blunt.

A few are downright ugly, even vicious, like one written on brown cardboard that a man paraded around the park on Sunday. “Google: Jewish Billionaires,” it said. To their credit, others walked alongside him with their own signs urging people to ignore the plainly anti-Semitic placard as unrepresentative of the group.

Several protesters did understand how to send a message with a wink, like a young man who held a handwritten sign that said, “We’re here. We’re unclear. Get used to it.” And how could you not smile, however grimly, at this sign: “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

But for sustained crispness, few match the Billionaires.

“We don’t have to massage the message because we own the media,” said Thurston Howell IV, whose “99 percent name” is Kurt Opprecht. “Americans all believe that they’re better than everyone else,” he said. “They identify with us. We’re their royalty, and they love it when we come.”

And so they had their tea party — lower case. Things didn’t go quite as planned, though. As they got started, the skies opened and a hard rain fell. Clearly, somebody up there wanted to soak the rich.


For more local news, including a profile of the man selecting decoys for police lineups, a rent dispute endangering plans for the Park51 mosque, and a union’s deal with the state to prevent 3,500 layoffs, see the N.Y./Region section.

Here is what City Room is reading in other newspapers and blogs this morning.

An Upper West Side woman was charged with stabbing her teenage son to death. [DNAinfo]

Seventeen people were shot, one fatally, and three were stubbed in a weekend crime spree. [Daily News]

Occupy Wall Street plans to take protests to Lincoln Center and to rally against police brutality. [New York Post]

Funds raised for the Occupy Wall Street protest approach $300,000. [CBS New York]

Airport-style security screenings at Liberty Island are finding that the tourists are well armed. [Daily News]

Former Deputy Mayor Joseph J. Lhota will be the next chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. [Daily News]

With reports of sex assaults in Brooklyn and Queens on the rise, enrollment in self-defense classes is growing. [CBS New York]

In the last decade, New York prisons have seen a 62 percent drop in people serving time for drug crimes. [CBS New York]

That trial of a former star lawyer accused of orchestrating the murder of a government informant has begun in Newark. [NJ.com]

Al Quaeda owes $ 9.3 billion for 9/11 damages, a New York judge recommends. [AP]

The Greenwich Village McDonald’s where a cashier was videotaped hitting customers has a history of trouble. [DNAinfo]

“Saturday Night Live” poked fun at Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s take on Occupy Wall Street. [DNAinfo]

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