Observations from Occupy Wall Street
10 Oct 2011

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Sparkleberry Lane has contributors across the nation and has been fortunate enough to have one in the heart of New York City. Sorcha Richerdson, a student at the New School, has been assigned to cover Occupy for one of her journalism classes and is sharing her experience with us here at SBL!  Be sure to read her insightful article after the video, and feel free to leave your thoughts below!  Power to the people.

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Since September 17th, Zucotti Park in Manhattan’s Financial District has been transformed into a makeshift campsite for the growing number of protesters spearheading the ongoing Wall Street Occupation.  What began as a small group of people in New York City has now swelled to a nation wide movement with thousands taking to the streets to contest the inequality in the distribution of wealth in America. Since it began three weeks ago, auxiliary occupations have sprung up in a number of cities including Boston, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Last Wednesday, October 5th, marked a milestone in the protest as number of unions joined the occupation as a few thousand marched through Lower Manhattan.  Some of New York City’s major universities also demonstrated their support for the protest.  Professors at The New School signed a petition expressing their solidarity for the cause while some students at The New School and NYU staged a walk out, joining the union march instead of going to class.  Some professors at The New School who supported the walk out even cancelled class on Wednesday afternoon to accommodate students wishing to protest.

I visited Zucotti Park for the first time on Wednesday to see for myself what was happening.  The streets were busy with young banner carrying protestors as well as the business men and women.  When I reached Zucotti Park I was overwhelmed by what I saw.  Hundreds of people were singing, chanting and dancing together.  Two young men stood beneath the red legs of Mark Di Suvero’s Joie de Vivre sculpture at the top of the park.  Both strumming on guitars, they led the crowd of at least one hundred in a sing-along of “Stand By Me”.  Open top double-decker buses carried tourists down Broadway, all stopping as they passed the park as tourists rose from their seats with cameras and camcorders poised looking down on the buzzing crowd.  “Come on this tour” one man shouted over the chorus of singing voices, “this tour is free.”  The crowd erupted in cheers and whistles as the song slowed to a close, and the musicians began the chords of John Lennon’s “Imagine” and the harmony of voices soared again.

All around the park film crews rushed through crowds, interviewing protestors.  I followed a film crew through the crowd into the heart of the Occupy Wall Street campsite.  At the very center of the park was a kitchen.  A small group of people busied themselves behind a wall of buckets.  Twenty-three-year-old college student Michael Schneider from New Jersey had been volunteering at the kitchen for the afternoon.  After talking to Michael, I realized that the set-up was far more sophisticated than I had been lead to believe in the media.  They were using a bio-filter, consisting of stones and pipes in a bucket to filter the water so it could be reused to wash dishes.  When asked how long he planned to stay Michael said, “probably a few more hours.  I have to go to college tomorrow so I don’t waste the loans that I did take out”.

The organization of the campsite has made the occupation a lot easier for the small group, who has opted to become 24-hour protestors and sleep in Zucotti Park. In addition to the kitchen the protestors have established a medical center, a library, a comfort center providing scarves, hats and blankets for anyone wanting to sleep there.  According to 17-year-old Dre DiMura who had spent the past three nights at Zucotti Park, the local McDonalds donated coffee and the pizza place had been giving free pizzas.  Like many of the protestors, he seemed to be genuinely enjoying the experience.  “I like living here” he said.  Dre said he was there because he believe that government was “for the people by the people, not for the rich by the rich”.

One of the main criticisms of the protest is that lacks any focus, and the array of banners held I saw certainly demonstrated the multitude of issues that are being disputed.  Some people complained about excessive radiation in society, some about the bank bailouts, others criticize college fees, the use of chemicals in food produce and the war on Iraq and Afghanistan.  A manifesto released by the core group of protestors on September 29 contested twenty-three different aspects of the United States government. Dre seemed unphazed by this criticism, however.  “I think the broadness is the most beautiful aspect,” he said.  “Its still just a young thing.  Its everybody coming together to lay their issues down, what they feel strongly about.  That’s the most beautiful part.  I’ve seen all types of people.”

There was a consensus among the protestors that the media coverage of the occupation had been insufficient and somewhat misleading.  16 year old Noah Nielson was disappointed that the days publication of the New York Times included nothing about the protest.  Michael Rouso said “I don’t think its fair.  They’re portraying everybody as a bunch of grateful dead heads and there’s a lot of very educated people from all walks of life out here.”  Brittany Trotter agreed.  She held a sign with a quote from Andrew Carnegie in The Gospel of Wealth that read “A man who dies thus rich, dies disgraced.”  Britanny said she wanted to change the perpective of who would protest this because “its not just young impoverished youth.”

While the demographic was young, there were certainly, as Dre said, an amalgamation of age groups, social classes and ethnicities.  And while they had taken to the streets out of anger, the vibe that was exuded from the people was incredibly positive.  I realized that it was not just a protest but also a celebration of creativity.  Dre gave me a website where I could listen to his music, another woman passed out fliers for an upcoming independent film festival in the city and all around the park people crouched on their knees as they painted pictures and messages on torn up pieces of cardboard.  Some painted their faces, others painted their clothes and the scene was reminiscent of that of a music festival.

At the bottom of the park a crowd of at least one hundred people stood around a drum circle, one middle-aged shirtless man dancing energetically as behind him, participants in the Union March gathered and began their walk through the financial district. Police officers stood off the footpath, directing the flow of human traffic, instructed marches to stay off the roads.  When an NYPD van stopped at a zebra cross and threatened to obstruct the flow of marchers, one man shouted, “just march around it. Don’t stop moving.”  Chants of “All day all week, occupy wall street” echoed through the crowd as camera climbed scaffolding and lampposts to get a good view of the march.

After almost three hours I left the occupation and traveled back uptown.  I saw videos later that night as many have probably now seen of police officers using batons on protestors and making arrests.  The protest has been met with police opposition, with videos of crowds being pepper sprayed and reports of around seven hundred arrests when they attempted to march along the Brooklyn bridge.  Despite this, spirits remain remarkably high in the occupy Wall Street camp.  Most people seemed excited to be part of such a momentous movement.  There is an undeniable sense of community amongst protestors and positive energy radiates through the blocks surrounding the park.  Despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg declaring the protest as damaging to the city and frustration brimming amongst local residents, the occupation shows no sign of losing steam, with protestors such as Michael Rouso announcing “We’re here for the long haul.”


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