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Rushdie soaks up the creative ferment of Occupy Wall Street

New York: Mumbai-born Salman Rushdie strolled through Zuccotti Park with his son who was visiting him from London. He soaked up the atmosphere at the park which is a mélange of Great Depression and Vietnam-era social protest, leavened by a Woodstock carnival atmosphere.

Occupy Wall Street has its share of misspelled, ungrammatical placards, but the ongoing protests in Lower Manhattan are receiving unexpected support from a galaxy of star writers and literary pundits. Rushdie, Neil Gaiman and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Jennifer Egan and Michael Cunningham are among more than 100 authors who in an online petition have declared their support for Occupy Wall Street.

 Rushdie soaks up the creative ferment of Occupy Wall Street

Demonstrators with Occupy Wall Street react to heavy rain at the encampment in Zuccotti Park, in New York. Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times

A street theater troupe dressed in dark suits performed an improvised a skit about the perils of becoming a greedy banker when Rushdie and his son were at the park on Sunday afternoon.

Rushdie who wore dark shades and a leather jacket was charming and cheerful, as he spoke to many protesters, fans and reporters. At one point he stood at the edge of a drum circle which grew at the western end of the park.

“My son is here visiting from London and I wanted to bring him to see it. I am very touched by it. First of all, it is so civil, so orderly and it is full of people discussing ideas, but discussing ideas without ideologies,” Rushdie told Cathleen Falsani, director of new media for Sojourners.

“It is very idealistic. It is kind of overwhelming. I love it. Good for them,” added Rushdie who became a symbol of intellectual freedom under siege after "The Satanic Verses."

Of course, not everyone is inspired by the protests. Some feel the incessant, pounding beat of drums at the park is nothing but noise.

"It makes you crazy," said Steve Zamoftis, owner of Steve's Pizza directly across the park.

The drummers have agreed not to perform after 10 pm. A ragtag band which uses a metal washtub as a resonator and sings American folk songs to entertain crowds on the eastern side of the park also respects the same deadline.

Though the number of daytime protesters can number in the thousands, the core group — those camped out in sleeping bags — number only several hundred at most.

Still, after this weekend’s large turnout, the month-long movement has snowballed. John Meade, a plumber, captured the upbeat mood in his new cardboard sign, which announced; “Now WE are too big to fail!”

There is an undeniable intensity to the idea of a genuinely populist mass movement challenging the global political-economic status quo. As is often the case, the movement is getting a lot of endorsements from writers, rockers and people in the arts. Music producer Russell Simmons, who co-founded Def Jam records, talked to protesters about increasing taxes on the wealthy and choking the political influence of corporations.

“I was talking to Jay-Z yesterday, and he said he’d be happy to pay more taxes to help pay for health care and education. I feel the same way,” Simmons told “The New York Times.”

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Updated Date: Oct 18, 2011 11:18:57 IST