“Who needs some trickle-down champagne?” asked the woman wearing a black feather boa, as men in top hats passed out glasses on Park Avenue. Standing next to her was a man in a gray suit holding a sign that read “Ask me about my Super PAC!” in one hand and three American flags in the other.
They were the “1 percenters for Mitt!” — activists who had gathered outside the Waldorf-Astoria in midtown Manhattan, where Romney was scheduled to hold a fundraising lunch on Wednesday. Organized by Occupy Wall Street, the satirical protest had united a hodgepodge of progressive activists who had found a common enemy in the former Massachusetts governor.
Much of the crowd took aim at Romney’s business background: Leading the march around the hotel was a group of grim reapers with Romney masks wielding “job cutter” scythes, followed by a black coffin and a burial urn for “job cremation.” There were wonkier takedowns as well, like the young woman holding a sign that breathlessly read: “Mitt Mr 1% Romney has an income tax rate of 14%. He takes advantage of the enormous loopholes that benefit the 1%. Think you can work your way through the loopholes? Think again.”
But when I asked protesters what bothered them most about Romney, many had a more visceral reaction. “His [expletive] hair! Look at my sparkling teeth, full of [expletive],” said one bearded young man in a skull cap and hooded sweatshirt, who called himself an unabashed Obama supporter. “He’s incredibly robotic,” said Matt Hopard, 27, standing next to him. “He has no character or personality,” added Stewart Leonard, a 52-year-old college professor from New Jersey. “ ‘I love grits, and I love cars.’ He just says what people want to hear.”
Others focused on the social issues that have recently loomed over the race. Evelyn Rothstein, a 83-year-old educational consultant decked out in red and an “Obama for America” baseball cap, had brought a wooden spatula wrapped in white paper for Romney. “It’s a vaginal probe,” she explained to me. “Since he’s so in favor of it, I’ve brought it to him as a gift.”
Many protesters insisted, however, that being anti-Romney didn’t mean they were pro-Obama — at least for the time being. Leonard, the college professor, had volunteered for Obama’s 2008 campaign but became disillusioned thereafter by the president’s support for Wall Street bailouts, along with his more recent decision to codify indefinite military detention. “For the first time, I stepped back and decided I’m not going to knee-jerk support Obama,” he told me, while adding that he’s “leaving the door open.”
Hopard, another 2008 Obama supporter, also said he was disappointed in the president, who he believes “was very soft on the banks and Wall Street in general.” But should it come down to Obama vs. Romney in November, Hopard said that he might feel compelled to tell his friends the president “is the better option.”
Certainly, some Occupy protesters will continue to reject both parties altogether, as a few protest signs explained: “Mittrack Obamney 2012 — Wall Street Always Wins” and “1% for Mitt,” with an addendum in tiny letters, “and/or Obama — we still win!” But the most disillusioned voters I spoke to were some of the bystanders who were standing outside the Waldorf-Astoria as the protesters marched under the ornate gold awning.
Jacob Berns, a 31-year-old from New Jersey, was holding up his smartphone to “film the crazies,” as he put it, having come to the hotel to attend a pharmaceutical industry confab. When I asked him what he thought of the protest, he shrugged his shoulders. But when I asked what he thought of Romney, Berns — a registered Republican — shook his head. “None of them represent me,” he said.