Wall Street meets occupier: Edward T. Hall III, left, and Jimmy Vivona in a cafe near Zuccotti Park.
Photo By Robert Stolarik
By Corey Kilgagannon
The New York Times
The two men at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on Thursday afternoon could hardly look more different.
One, Edward T. Hall III, 25, was barefoot and dressed in loud, multicolored tights. He wore native American clothes and New Age jewelry, with a baseball cap pulled sideways over his long hair.
The other, Jimmy Vivona, 40, wore a smart blue pinstripe suit, a conservative blue-and-white striped tie and good shoes. He had neatly coiffed hair and a close shave. He has caught glimpses of the protesters on walks during his lunch break.
In a way, they could be poster boys for a divide that has come into stark relief, as the fourth week of the Occupy Wall Street protests in downtown Manhattan wind down.
Mr. Hall is a well-educated young man with a privileged upbringing who says he is following a greater calling than getting a job and making money. He sees the current protest as a “global movement” to help fight poverty and economic inequality. He has spent the past month sleeping in the park and is one of the organizers of the protest.
Mr. Vivona grew up in a working-class family on Staten Island and now lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, with his wife and two young children. He has been a stockbroker for 17 years, works “13 or 14 hour days” and has done well for himself on Wall Street.
“Not tens of millions of dollars, but I do O.K.,” was as specific as he would get.
City Room had arranged the meeting between the two men and invited them for a one-on-one discussion about the issues raised by the protesters. Trying to find someone to represent the views of the financial industry proved challenging and several workers declined. After running into Mr. Vivona outside Zuccotti Park, he agreed.
At a nearby cafe, this unlikely duo sat across from each other. Mr. Vivona, who works in an office building two blocks from the park, had a Snapple. Mr. Hall, who when told the meeting would be indoors ended up covering his bare feet with a pair of women’s rubber boots, went for a cappuccino.
The two men made cordial small talk at first. Mr. Hall said he played squash. Mr. Vivano said he played ice hockey. Then Mr. Hall began explaining some issues central to the protest, including concerns about a growing disparity in wealth between the rich and poor in America.
Mr. Vivona reminded Mr. Hall that America was a democracy and that many of these issues should be resolved at the ballot box. He said that he respected the protesters’ right to demonstrate and that this, in fact, was a testament to freedom of expression in America.
“We don’t begrudge you the opportunity to protest,” he said, adding that the right to free expression “makes us the best country in the world.”
Mr. Hall said he too was patriotic and that a goal of the protest was to help strengthen the United States by trying to help the unemployment problem and lift wages for the working class that have been “crushed by banks.”
Mr. Vivona said that he felt the protest was a bit unfocused in its message and that some of the signs made points that were “all over the place.”
Mr. Hall acknowledged that “a lot of our message is easily distorted as well as very hard to handle” and that “we’ve used, sort of, a sledgehammer” when a “tiny” hammer would have sufficed.
Mr. Hall said that he grew up in New Mexico and that both his parents were politically active lawyers who were thrilled that he was pursuing a socially conscious life and was involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest. Mr. Hall said he attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and then transferred to Bard College in upstate New York because of its reputation as a socially conscious school.
He had been renting in Washington Heights for the past two years while attending doctoral classes at Columbia University as a nonmatriculated student. He said that he supported his modest lifestyle on savings he earned working as a teenager and that he also had “a small trust fund” from his grandfather that he had not drawn from yet. For the past four weeks, he has eaten free meals and has slept in the park.
Mr. Vivano, a freelance broker for Empire Asset Management, a brokerage firm of about 30 brokers, said his prosperity depended on the economy. At best, he might be able to retire at age 50, but with a tougher economy would have to work into his 60s.
Perhaps his main message to Mr. Hall was that many Wall Street finance workers were not “fat cats,” but rather hard-working strivers who have simply “done well for themselves” without becoming exorbitantly rich.
“They’re guys like me, who work hard every day,” he said. “Every nickel I make, I work hard for.”
When Mr. Hall questioned why top executives making such big bonuses. Mr. Vivona countered with a sports analogy: of course Wayne Gretzky is going to earn much more than a much lesser hockey player.
When Mr. Hall mentioned capping high salaries, Mr. Vivona said, “But isn’t that a brand of socialism in a way?”
The discussion between the two men occurred before news broke that the planned cleanup of Zuccotti Park on Friday morning had been called off.
Reached by phone, Mr. Vivona said he hoped that was not a sign that the protesters would be staying much longer.
“I’d like to see things get back to some normalcy down here,” he said.
That was much the same point he made to Mr. Hall on Thursday.
“At some point, you have to be satisfied with the message you came to convey,” he said.
Mr. Hall sees no immediate end to the protest.
“We have to be patient with each other,” he said.
After the conversation, the two men exchanged phone numbers. Mr. Vivano straightened his tie and went back to his brokerage firm. Mr. Hall kicked off the boots and cheerfully walked barefoot back to the park to continue strategizing.
See Related: American Distrust of Banks Archive