“Capitalism works for me. In my life this is: true or false.”
That’s the choice being posed to passersby in Times Square in New York City over the next few days as part of an art installation.
The artist, Steve Lambert, says he wanted to create something that would make people reflect on how capitalism affects them and others in their own lives and initiate conversation about it.
So how do you get people to reflect, and not argue? Lambert’s first thought was to make it personal. It’s not about whether capitalism works for the U.S., or for the government, or for the world, he says — “it is, capitalism works for me!” He says making an issue personal stops arguments — something, he joking says, that he learned from decades of therapy.
Back in Times Square, many of the people I encounter are ambivalent, even embarrassed, to talk about capitalism. Eve Ting, who works in Times Square, says she drinks coffee at Starbucks and buys clothes at Uniqlo. She starts laughing and says, “I feel like this is a confession.”
Or take freelance designer Daniel Dunnam. “I work from home, I work my own schedule, I make lots of money, I have insurance,” he says. “I have a very charmed existence, and I’m aware of that, so obviously the system is working, right? But then I started thinking about it, and I realized that I’ve got people in my family, or even just friends, who it’s not working for them, and I decided that if it doesn’t work for those I love and who I care about, then it doesn’t work for me.”
Then there are those who can’t make up their mind. Laura Wenus walks up to the podium and starts talking to Lambert. Capitalism has benefited her, she says, but “I don’t know if I can live with the moral dilemma of having benefited while others have actually suffered from it.”
Lambert tells her it’s up to her to decide. “Why is this such a tough decision?” she says. “No offense, but it’s just a billboard, you know?”
Lambert says his main purpose is to get people to slow down and ponder. He says people always ask him, “What alternative are you proposing?” He always says, “Something better.” They ask what that means, and he says, “We don’t know yet.”
That last part sounds a lot like being at an Occupy protest.
The sign was first erected about two weeks ago, where an early round of voters weighed in on the question. While the votes favored “false” a little more heavily, it was actually closer than I imagined it might be. One “true” voter had this additional observation of interest, via the NY Times.
When the polling ended at 5 p.m., the tally on the scoreboard, which will return to Times Square for another round of voting Oct. 6-9, stood at 93 for capitalism, and 109 against. Business in Times Square seemed to continue as usual.
But at least one “true” voter, James Wallace, 43, from Manhattan, spotted a hidden note of realism in Mr. Lambert’s idealistic project.
“The sign doesn’t say ‘Capitalism is perfect,’” he said.
This next round of voting runs from October 6 through October 9, where people can vote between 5pm and 7pm.
If you’re in or around New York, perhaps you might be interested in stopping by to vote.DONATE
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