There was supposed to be a protest at Apple's monstrous architectural annex in New York's Grand Central Station today. If you weren't looking for it, you'd would've only seen the usual commuter hell. But the protestors showed up. Four of them.
Two women from Change.org -- one dressed as an iPhone, and one holding a large cardboard box, slowly marched up the palatial marble steps at the Apple Store's base. They were joined by Mike Daisey, whose stage work and recent NPR segment have churned up interest and outrage regarding the Apple supplier's allegedly suicide-inducing, inhumane labour practices..
Inside their box were a claimed 245,000 signatures asking for an "ethical iPhone" -- one manufactured with improved working conditions for the Chinese labourers at Foxconn. A store manager named Ryan took the box, calmly, and handed it off to another employee, who probably threw it in the trash.
At this point, something of note finally happened. Out of nowhere appeared a group of men who looked like they'd kick down your door and headbutt you after a bad day at the racetrack. All clad in black jackets, some of them with a red eye logo and the letters "OIC" on their chests, the men told everyone who had climbed the steps with the protestors that they had to leave immediately. The small cadre of protestors were swarmed by press covering the protestors -- probably 30 or 40 of us, a handful of NYPD, and a bunch of sad bourgeois people who spend their mornings loitering at the Grand Central Apple Store. The latter group was allowed to stay, but anyone with a camera was told instructed sternly to leave. Apple's jurisdiction, apparently, extends all the way to the bottom of the steps -- an extremely large swath of space in a public train station.
I asked one of the black jacket brutes who he was with. "Security". The apparet leader -- "Mitch" -- admitted that he worked for Apple, but wouldn't elaborate. "Talk to Apple PR." When I approached one of Mitch's cohorts, he refused to say anything other than "ask an Apple executive." When I asked him if there were any Apple executives present at the store this morning, he gestured for Mitch to come over and punch me in the stomach, I guess. "Can you believe this?," the moustachioed enforcer asked Mitch. "This" being me standing by myself on the steps asking if he and his company were regular security for the Apple store, or if they'd been called in specially for the protest. Mitch, ominously, provided the only thing resembling an answer: "Sometimes I'm here and sometimes I'm not."
The protest was extremely small -- I'm hesitant to even call it a protest. But it was a spectacle at an Apple Store, one of the most sanitised, rationalized retail operations in the universe. In a zone where everyone wears a neat blue shirt, asks how they can help, smiles, and sells beautiful things, it was temporary ugliness and hustle. Commuters stopped and asked what the small fuss was about? Why would anyone protest against Apple? We all have iPhones, right? Those behind the protest can only hope bedraggled commuters got a decent answer, or caught a glimpse of Apple's mustachioed South Jersey corporate gestapo, or at least looked at Manhattan's shimmering iPad castle as something other than that.