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by Marc Jampole
The luxury apartment building at 740 Park Avenue in New York’s Upper East Side is so famous that it even has a book dedicated to its history. Now lots of churches and castles have volumes describing their history and residents, but not many apartment buildings achieve this mythic status. When the news media uses a single building to represent real money, it’s usually 740 Park, which stands as a monument to Art Deco architecture at the corner of Park and East 71st Street.
Jackie Kennedy Onassis supposedly grew up here. Among other apartment unit owners we find this interesting triple play: John D. Rockefeller sold it to Saul Steinberg who sold it to Stephen Schwartzman, all billionaires and among the wealthiest men in the world when they set up housekeeping at 740. Among other notable residents of 740 Park at one time or another include Ronald Lauder, Jerzy Kosinski, Ronald Perelman, Steve Ross, John Thain, and Vera Wang, all heavyweight money.
But perhaps the most infamous of the billionaires and multi-millionaires at 740 Park is David Koch, who took advantage of the awful Supreme Court decision in Citizens United to finance, first, the Tea Party, and then the movement to not raise the debt ceiling or fund the government unless the Affordable Care Act was defunded. I think that even casual followers of news recognize David Koch and his less public brother Charles.
Too bad for the other building residents that even as I write this blog entry, camped outside the door of 740 Park is a scruffy, middle-aged man with three anti-Koch signs. He hangs out legally at the edge of the green awning and close to the street on completely public property.
The posters are all manufactured block print lettering in all caps on corrugated cardboard, so the letters hardly stand out and are hard to read at a distance. The copy on the three signs says it all:
KOCH INDUSTRIES/ LEADING THE CHARGE/ IN THE CORPORATE/ COUP D’ÉTAT OF/ OUR DEMOCRACY
THE KOCH BROTHERS/ DESTROYING OUR LAND/ POLLUTING OUR AIR/ POISONING OUR WATER/ KILLING OUR DEMOCRACY
DAVID & CHARLES/ KOCH/ THE NEW FACES OF/ ORGANIZED CRIME
The man is dressed in a denim army-style jacket and blue jeans, standard fare for protest rallies. Sometimes he stands and sometimes he sits. The man’s hair flows down beneath his shoulders and is blond going gray. His face has the sun creases of someone who has spent a lot of time working or playing outside. This sole protester could very easily be middle class, but what betrays his impoverished circumstances is his lack of teeth when he smiles. When he’s not engaged in conversation with willing passers-by, he reads a tattered paperback book.
The guy is passing out little two-sided postcards for a website called PopularResistance.org, which is the current website of one of the main national Occupy groups. The website should prove useful to anyone interested in protesting the current rule by the one-percenters, which has led to the most inequitable distribution of wealth since the Gilded Age. Sections of the website offer resources and information about existing protest groups, forming new groups, getting informed about the issues and learning about community organizing and nonviolent protest.
It did my heart good to learn that someone was bringing the battle — in this case a class war — to the bad guys. But then I realized that the Tea Party financier is probably spending time at another of his several residences.
Or maybe Koch is on a retreat for one of the many boards of which he is a director. Or perhaps he’s visiting the theater named after him at Lincoln Center or the dinosaur wing of the American Museum of Natural History, which also bear his name. He could even be hiding out in one of the many hospitals to which has given a collective $395 million.
I don’t look at Koch’s civic and charitable contributions as a redeeming virtue, but rather as proof that he has too much money, much of it inherited. His charitable activities fail to lend credibility to his extremely ignorant views. Yes, he helps to educate children in paleontology, but he also pays good money to spread doubt on global warming. Even while rich folk were both entertained and edified in the David Koch theater during recent performances, thousands of poor children across the country missed Head Start early education and nutritional programs because of the recent government shutdown.
I applaud the sole picketer and wish more would join him and that other picketers were outside the residences of the ultra wealthy who are bankrolling conservative ideas.
But all the picketing in the world will do no good unless we remember to vote for the most progressive candidates in primaries and general elections — every election, not just every four years. We also have to keep the pressure on elected officials to raise the minimum wage, pass laws that make it easier to unionize and inject more money into repairing roads, increasing mass transit and subsidizing alternative energy.
All the same, it was good to see someone tell the truth about the Kochs in front of their neighbors.
Marc Jampole is a poet and writer who runs Jampole Communications, a public relations and communications firm in Pittsburgh. He blogs several times a week at OpEdge.