In some respects at least, Goldman Sachs likes to keep a low profile. The financial giant’s name appears nowhere on the 43-story edifice at 200 West Street that serves as its headquarters. As New Yorker critic Paul Goldberger wrote in 2010, “Goldman’s culture of secrecy has certainly saved it from offensive, Trump-style ostentation.” Over the last four days, however, that cultivated anonymity has been somewhat marred by the clutch of sleeping bags that have clustered at its foot, penned in by steel police barricades.
The sleeping bags belong to a group of protesters, sometimes swelling to a couple hundred but more often a tenth that size, who are calling their action Government Sachs. At the most immediate level, the Government Sachs action aims to highlight the profound hypocrisy behind Trump’s promising on the campaign trail to “drain the swamp” of Washington, closing the revolving door between government and the special interests that seek to profit from it, only to appoint a cabinet chock-full of alumni from Goldman Sachs, the vampire squid itself.
“I don’t think it’s going to end with the inauguration,” said Renata Pumarol, a spokesperson for New York Communities for Change, which helped organize the action. “Trump is already the most unpopular president at this stage in history. People are very much ready to organize and fight back.” But Pumarol said the protests are looking beyond the immediate phenomenon of Trump to the structures that support him and stand poised to benefit from his presidency. “We want to start a movement to challenge power at its core,” she said. “This is not just about resisting Trump. You could get rid of him in four years, and Goldman Sachs would still be pulling the strings.”
Pumarol said organizers considered the best strategy for their action. Five years ago, when Occupy Wall Street set up camp in Zuccotti Park a few blocks away from Goldman headquarters, participants quickly learned the advantages and challenges of holding public space. The same factors apply to the Government Sachs action, Pumarol says. “On the plus side, Goldman definitely heard us. We’re right here outside their front door, and this action show how committed we are to fight back against their control of our government,” she says. “On the downside, it’s technically difficult.” Over recent days, education sessions and protest actions in the little encampment have focused on Goldman’s role in financing fossil-fuel pipelines, in the privatization of education, in the pillaging of Puerto Rico, in the foreclosure crisis.
Tomorrow, organizers are planning a march to the Mnuchin Gallery, an Upper East Side art gallery founded by the father of Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of the Treasury, and to the younger Mnuchin’s apartment building. Mnuchin was himself a partner at Goldman before striking out on his own, founding several hedge funds, buying a troubled mortgage lender, and presiding over a mass of foreclosures. (Financial disclosure forms Mnuchin submitted in December put his net worth in the neighborhood of $400 million, but he updated those filings last weekend to include an additional $95 million in assets he’d evidently forgotten about.)
Vaughn Armore, a 66-yeard-old from Crown Heights, said it isn’t easy for someone with his back trouble to sleep on the hard sidewalk outside Goldman Sachs, but it’s a price he’s willing to pay. “I’m out here because I don’t want Goldman Sachs in my government or in my community,” he said. “Their influence has a trickle-down effect, from Washington to Albany to New York City – Bill de Blasio’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development, she comes from Goldman!” Alicia Glen, the official in question, memorably told a Crains reporter that Goldman Schs employees are “not all evil squids. We’re nice little calamari.”
Armore, who says he worked at Radio City Music Hall before disability forced him to stop working, depends on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to survive. “That makes me extra scared, “he said, “because there’s a chance they’re actually going to get rid of all that. Then what?”
But even if their cause is just, what chance does a small sidewalk encampment have of loosening the grip of the financial industry and the super-rich on our government? Armore said he’s not daunted. “You can’t just sit back and do nothing,” he said. “People always say you can’t do anything about it, but I know that’s not true. People said the $15 minimum wage would never happen. The next year, it’s a reality.”