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Occupy Wall Street fights ‘vampire squid’ bankers with art

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NEW YORK — The drums begin sounding early in the morning, and they don’t stop for hours.

Lacquered red drums, glittery blue marching band type bass drums, bongo drums, tambourines and a cowbell, an overturned bin painted streaky red and hand-lettered with “OCCUPY WALL STREET,” slapped at with palms and mallets and drumsticks, anything really.

The drumming and clamor of the Occupy Wall Street protest in the Financial District’s Liberty Plaza can be heard, unending, from blocks around and even underground, in nearby subway stops.

A fledgling arts community has sprung up in the niche world of Occupy Wall Street, showcasing musicians, dancers, visual artists and spoken word performers, not to mention the thousands of words and pictures that have emerged from the weeks of protest.

“It’s really only a matter of time before a New York Times culture reporter comes down here,” protester Paolo Mastrangelo told Raw Story about the virtual artist’s colony the protest has become. “People show their art, the whole park is a stage, there’s a library, people play music and recite poetry. It’s only a matter of time before there’s a feature on the front page of the Times art section.”

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Indeed, a pop-up gallery hosting art inspired by Occupy Wall Street, called “No Comment,” will open across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. Twelve removable, graffiti-covered walls will surround the gallery and then will be displayed near the protest’s heart at Zuccotti Park.

More than a dozen bins of books along one edge of the park act as “the People’s Library,” a trove of donated and swapped books for the protesters to share and enjoy.

Illustrator Molly Crabapple has also been spotted at the protest camp, where she created a stencil-ready “vampire squid” mascot, based on Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi’s characterization of Wall Streeters.

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Though the requisite acoustic guitars and drum circles make up a constant soundtrack, other boldface musical names have also been connected with the movement. Last week, Radiohead was rumored to be playing the protest, but never showed. Jeff Mangum, frontman of Neutral Milk Hotel, wowed protesters with a free show Tuesday night.

One protest organizer, a man named Jesse, said that the peaceful and creative nature of the long-running protest could be attributed to the people who showed up, those who wanted to “empower themselves.”

“Things here are working because people care about them working,” he said. “If people were greedy or mean, this just wouldn’t work.”

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Just yards from where the drummers have assembled with their array of dancers — from b-boys to a bellydancer in a crocheted top to an older woman in a purple cable-knit sweater, her auburn-tipped gray hair flopping as she bounces to the beat — a table is laden with paints and markers and chalk, surrounded by wobbly towers of cardboard and used pizza boxes for making signs.

Michael, a visual artist who came from Dallas to join the protest because, as he said, he “just wanted to come out here and touch it,” painted three figures over the words “We are the 99 percent.” The phrase has become a slogan for the protest, the idea of 99 percent of people serving the richest 1 percent in the country.

“Artists tend to be people who really struggle in an economy like this,” he noted.

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A man named David sat smoking a cigarette and carefully painting a sign with broad, black strokes. He cut in, talking over Michael.

“If a school has trouble getting funding, what’s the first thing that gets cut?”

David nodded in agreement. The two did not know each other today.

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“We’re just in our element here,” David said.

Back at the drum circle, a woman skittered joyfully across the pavement in tap shoes, her steps clacking and arms waving above her.

Here, surrounded by noise and breakdancers jumping over news photographers and kids writing about corporate greed with sidewalk chalk just blocks away from Wall Street, it doesn’t seem surprising that somebody would bring tap shoes to a protest. The woman disappears into the crowd, and the drums beat on.


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