Robert Maresca has been the object of a certain amount of ridicule ever since it was revealed yesterday that he has applied for a trademark for the phrase “Occupy Wall Street.”
Initially published at The Smoking Gun, news of the Long Island stay-at-home dad’s application quickly sped around Occupy Wall Street-inflected corners of the Internet, earning him universal scorn and derision.
After all, what kind of asshole tries to get commodify a movement defined by its opposition to greed and America’s slavish devotion to the profit motive?
To hear Maresca tell it, you don’t have to be an asshole, just a well-meaning sympathizer with a tenuous understanding of trademark law.
Maresca, who spoke with the Voice this morning, says he’s just misunderstood.
“I’m a big supporter of Occupy Wall Street,” the former steelworker says. “I’ve been down there seven times already.”
Maresca first visited Occupy Wall Street on October 5, and he liked what he saw. “My thing has always been that there’s too much corporate influence on politics,” he says. “Now, finally, here was a movement out on the street doing something about it.”
Maresca returned to Zuccotti Park again several times, but felt that the movement was lacking cohesion. So before he returned the fourth time, he made up 20 T-shirts to hand out. Using a Magic Marker, he wrote “We Are The 99%” on the front, in blue, and “You matter” on the back.
He handed the shirts out, and returned again three times to deliver more shirts.
“I wanted to keep doing it, but I thought I should switch over to screen-printing,” Maresca says. “I’d already spent 16 hours smelling the Magic Markers. That’s not healthy.”
But he was concerned that if he expanded his shirt distribution, he might be sued by someone who owned the phrases he used. Indeed, someone had already filed an application to trademark the phrase “We are the 99 percent.” So instead, Maresca, using his wife’s credit card, threw down $975 to trademark “Occupy Wall Street.”
“I just wanted to protect myself,” he says. “I didn’t know that once something has been used enough like that it enters the public domain. I think that’s great. That’s how it should be.”
But Maresca concedes his motivations weren’t wholly selfless. “I’m not going to tell you I didn’t think of maybe making some money off it,” he says.
Maresca’s hardly the only one cashing in on the #OWS radical-chic moment in the sun. But since applying for the trademark, he’s become a lightning rod for concerns about the commercialization of the protests.
Knowing what he knows now, he says, he’s not counting on his trademark application being approved, but if it does, he swears he’ll be a good steward of the brand.
“I feel like what started out as a positive thing has been turned into a negative thing by all the press,” Maresca says. “I just wanted to help the movement go forward.”
So what actionable political goals does Maresca think the Occupy movement should be focusing on? “Massive voter-registration drives and a constitutional amendment banning corporate political contributions.”
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