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The canyons of downtown Manhattan echoed again, with guitars screaming and fists shaking at the monuments of Wall Street — even if the buildings were empty.
The three day reunion at Foley Square, celebrating Occupy Wall Street’s one year anniversary, began with teach-ins and arrests on Saturday, and then shifted to more controlled chaos in front of a small stage constructed on the concrete apex of the park. As occupiers drummed, wrote letters, laid on each others’ laps on grass patches, and hawked their leaflets — socialists, green party, anti-racist and alternative history books — a lineup of determined rockers and rappers delivered musical broadsides at the perceived excesses of capitalism.
For a movement that was derided as having no specific message when it rose and entrenched itself in Zuccotti Park (and then around the world) last year, its rhetoric — namely, the battle between the 99 percent vs. the one percent — has taken a prominent part of the national conversation, something the returning protestors were keen to point out. The concert, hosted by former Dead Kennedys frontman and activist Jello Biafra, featured a mix of politically-charged punk and rap acts channeling accusations of theft and conspiracy at corporations and political suits, amplified for a few blocks by medium-range speakers and across the beehive of web activism by video-shooting cell phones and Twitter accounts.
Tom Morello, who has spent the last year touring with Occupy’s message, headlined the event, and by the time he got to the stage, hundreds crushed forward to get a good glimpse at their hero. When the movement launched last year, it was visited by a whole stable of celebrities, and many participated in sing-ins and publicity events, but Morello has been one of the few to stick with the group in the long months since it was booted from Zuccotti and scattered about.
Once the guitarist for Rage Against the Machine — he recently sent GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan a scathing letter slamming him for saying he was a fan of the band — he now operates under the name The Night Watchman. Along with a few strumming members of a collective known as the Occupy Guitarmy, he performed a five-song set that mixed some originals and classic protest songs.
After opening with a war-beat “We are the 99%,” Morello introduced a song by “the only boss worth listening to,” as he launched into “The Ghost of Tom Joad” by Bruce Springsteen. The pair have played the song together in concert, two stars channeling the blue collar angst of the Great Depression, and without his hero, Morello ably took on the scratchy, yearning lead vocals. The young punk activists in the crowd thrashed about in a growing mosh pit, their rage temporarily focused into kinetic energy.
Also on the set list was Woody Guthrie‘s “This Land is Your Land,” into which Morello re-inserted the more radical, down-on-capitalism verse that was originally excised from the song during a time of more overt censorship.
“Hopefully today your eyes, ears, hearts and minds have been revolutionized by what you’ve seen and heard on the stage, and tomorrow you can go out to confront injustice wherever it rears its ugly head: your homes, your schools, your place of work, your city and country and the world at large,” Morello shouted over a guitar interlude. “But the Night Watchman is going to let you in on a little secret people: all that can wait until tomorrow, because right now we’re going to have a good motherf—– time in this place!”
Email: Jordan.Zakarin@THR.com; Twitter: @JordanZakarin
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