By criticizing the leftist Wall Street sit-in, bankers risk showing they don’t “get it,” New York Times reporters Nelson Schwartz and Eric Dash condescendingly suggested in a story at the top of the front page of Saturday’s Business Day, “In Private, Wall St. Bankers Dismiss Protesters as Unsophisticated.”
Publicly, bankers say they understand the anger at Wall Street -- but believe they are misunderstood by the protesters camped on their doorstep.
“Anybody who dismisses them publicly is putting a bull's-eye on their back,” said one hedge fund manager of the protesters.
But when they speak privately, it is often a different story.
“Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” said one top hedge fund manager.
“It’s not a middle-class uprising,” adds another veteran bank executive. “It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”
As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have grown and spread to other cities, an open question is: Do the bankers get it? Their different worldview speaks volumes about the wide chasms that have opened over who is to blame for the continuing economic malaise and what is best for the country.
Some on Wall Street viewed the protesters with disdain, and a degree of caution, as hundreds marched through the financial district on Friday. Others say they feel their pain, but are befuddled about what they are supposed to do to ease it. A few even feel personally attacked, and say the Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been in Zuccotti Park for weeks are just bitter about their own economic fate and looking for an easy target. If anything, they say, people should show some gratitude.
The Times found some open-minded bankers as well who patted themselves on the back in print for their understanding of the protesters' concerns. And just who are these “some” who truly believe these protesters will be marching on banks for years?
A smaller group of bank executives are taking the protests more seriously. They see them as a sign of the growing economic divide in this country -- and are even monitoring the latest developments on Twitter. While peaceful so far, the demonstrations at Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo branches from San Francisco to Peoria are eerily similar to those routinely seen at Citibank outposts in Athens, Hong Kong, and in other overseas markets. Some believe it could be years before the swarms of protesters end their marches on bank branches.
A few outspoken members of the financial industry have broken ranks with their more skeptical brethren to say they understand a bit of the outrage of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.