The Loneliness of the Occupy Napa Protester

There are no drum circles at Occupy Napa. No skirmishes with police (at least not yet). No dissension among the ranks, which speak clearly and with a single voice. That the ranks total one exceedingly reasonable and politically moderate 62-year-old man wearing jeans, a polo shirt, wire frame glasses and a gardening hat to shield his pale face from the sun probably explains all of the above.

The Napa Valley certainly has its fair share of egotists, crackpots, vagrants and lunatics. Contrary to what you might think, Paul Moser, the sole Occupy Napa demonstrator most days, is not among them.

Moser’s first act of defiance was sending sandwiches to the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York. When he’d heard the protestors in Zuccotti Park were low on provisions, he had food sent out to them from Panini and Co. (the FiDi restaurant that later became the subject of media attention when it sparred with demonstrators using its bathroom), which he ordered on his credit card.

In August 2011, the winery Moser co-founded and where he served as winemaker for 25 years was sold for what he describes as “nothing” to the conglomerate Vintage Wine Estates. The bad economy and a lousy harvest left him and the other owners little choice, he says.

The meltdown, says Moser, “bankrupted my business and drove my home underwater, and took a whole bunch of my retirement money.” But the last straw came when he received his first unemployment payment from the state of California, which came in the form of a BofA debit card.

And that is when Paul Moser’s ire really got up. That was when he could not take it anymore. That was when he made the sign that reads “The Big Banks Robbed This Nation. Move Your Money Now. We Are the 99%.” And with that, Moser began his lonely vigil. Standing in solidarity with the spreading protests, but standing by alone in what some might rightly call one of the most out-of-touch enclaves in the country.

“I’m doing this because I have to,” says Moser. “I’m not up to anarchy or anything.” He’s a political moderate (his wife is more extreme, he says; she’s a Ron Paul libertarian). “I don’t know what to do about the civil disobedience angle. I’m thinking that I will get arrested at some point … maybe I’ll take this sign into the BofA or into Chase.” But up until now, he’s just been standing good-naturedly holding up his sign for all to see.

Some people drive by and flip him off (four, so far, by his count). Others shake his hand and thank him. “I have yet to have anyone come up to me and have a serious discussion about why this sign is wrong,” says Moser.

An older couple in a Mercedes stopped right next to him on Monday, “and the woman rolls her window down,” recounts Moser, “And looks at me very frostily and says,’” here Moser purses his lips and shakes his head haughtily, taking on the countenance of the grande dame, “‘I don’t appreciate being told what to do.’ And I said, ‘Well, ma’am, this is really just a suggestion.’ And she said, ‘Well, it’s ridiculous.’ Then she turns toward her husband, and says, ‘Jerk.’”

“I’ll do this as long as I can,” says Moser, which right now is two or three hours a day. His protest schedule cuts down on the logistical hurdles faced by those occupying Wall Street. “I’ve got the prostate issues that a 62-year-old has,” he says, explaining why he’s never out there long enough to have to run into the Starbucks to use the bathroom.

This story originally appeared in slightly different form in The Daily.