If it were not for the gusts of wind from the nearby ocean and the generous amount of sand that snuck into everybody’s shoes, it could have been mistaken for an afternoon at Zuccotti Park last October. There were protestors shouting “our democracy is not for sale” and “the banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” Eccentric middle-aged men dressed like our Founding Fathers, and police dutifully monitored the area to make sure that nobody got out of line. But Sunday’s protest took place in the unlikeliest of places for radical political action: Southampton, New York.
Yesterday, Mitt Romney headed to the Hamptons — the preferred vacation spot for wealthy New Yorkers — to attend a $50,000 per-person fundraiser (colloquially referred to by protestors as the “Koch Party”) at the posh beachfront home of the notorious oil billionaire and Tea Party financier David Koch.
Approximately 200-250 protestors braved the stifling heat and humidity and converged at 3 pm about a mile away from David Koch’s estate. In attendance were representatives from organizations like Occupy Wall Street, MoveOn.org, Occupy the Hamptons, the Long Island Progressive Coalition, Service Employees International Union, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Greenpeace, Strong Economy for All Coalition, United New York, Suffolk Peace Network, Art Not War, Occupy Huntington, Align NY, NY Communities for Change, NYACLU, and Bum Rush the Vote.
As Mitt Romney dined inside David Koch’s estate with the “haves and have-mores” of the Republican Party, protestors stood behind a police barricade, voicing their diverse concerns about the state of our democracy.
John Murdock, co-host of the show Occupational Hazards on WBAI radio, told us that:
The Koch brothers will get what they want. They get the laws that they want, they get the regulations that they want, and they get the press that they want. This protest is not only against Mitt Romney. The same pay-to-play dynamic will be part of the Obama campaign. 50 thousand dollar-a-head fundraisers are business as usual for both political parties.
Many protestors seized upon the patriotic spirit that permeated Independence Day weekend and insisted that Mitt Romney’s super-exclusive fundraiser was not in harmony with the democratic principles that our country was founded on.
Lady Mallard, a protestor from Long Island, argued that:
Our Founding Fathers wanted power to be utilized by the people and not for money to be centralized amongst a small group of people.
Other protestors pointed specifically to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling that has allowed the Koch brothers and their ultra-rich friends to potentially spend more than $1 billion to get Mitt Romney into the Oval Office this November.
Gellani, a spokesperson for Bum Rush the Vote, asserted:
Money is not speech, and poverty is not silence. We believe you should not be able to buy votes. One person, one vote.
As 5:30 pm approached, the crowd of protestors departed the staging area for their ultimate destination: the remote strip of beach behind David Koch’s house that was only accessible by walking through Cooper’s Beach, one of the most popular beaches in the Hamptons. As the group entered the bustling beach, the presence of the protestors on the beach took many beachgoers by surprise; the Cooper’s Beach regulars looked as if they had just caught a customer shoplifting at their local convenience store and were deciding whether or not to tell the owner.
Indeed, the real offense of yesterday afternoon was not that the protestors targeted a major Republican donor (the Hamptons are a notorious stalwart for the Democratic Party). The real transgression was that New York’s economic elite had to be reminded that their growing wealth came at the expense of the impoverishment of millions of their fellow New Yorkers.
The ocean waves crashed at the feet of the protestors as they clumsily rolled up their jeans and folded their signs up to avoid getting soaked by an oncoming wave. 30 minutes and approximately 1.5 miles after the protest departed the initial staging area, they finally arrived at the back of David Koch’s estate. Dressed in jackets and button-down shirts, the Secret Service stood atop of a bluff, looking down on the protestors. The protestors tried different tactics to solicit a reaction out of the apathetic Secret Service members, alternating between shame (“When you were growing up, did you dream of protecting rich people for a living?”) to solidarity (“You have more in common with us than with the people inside!”).
The chanting and sloganeering reached a crescendo as the protestors did their best to make their voices heard to the people inside of the Koch estate. At one point, a couple of Koch partiers even peaked over the edge of the bluff and coyly smiled at the scene unfolding beneath them.
By 6 pm, the momentum for the protest had dissipated. People were sunburned. Men and women alike had massive sweat stains on their shirts. The protestors knew that if they could have disrupted the fundraiser, they probably would have done it already.
As the protestors began packing up and bidding farewell to the friends that they made that day, one man cradled a saxophone in his arms as he walked onto the bluff that the Secret Service was perched on. Standing just a few feet from the Secret Service, the man began playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” As the song reached its conclusion, the protestors erupted in cheer and departed for home.