The past two weekends I have gone to the Occupy Wallstreet protests in downtown New York City (I’ve talked briefly about the history leading up to it previously). The experience has been absolutely phenomenal. I’ve met so many amazing people, from all walks of life, and witnessed the early days of what I believe will become a very important period for the country in which I live.
I have had some discussions / arguments with people on the internet (SIWOTI is a foul temptress), and while some of them are about the movement in general, many of them are a mischaracterization of the occupiers themselves. There are others that have been genuinely interested or curious as to what’s going on. For both of these groups, and anyone else, I’ll go over what I’ve found there.
Life in the Park
Every night, between 10 and 12 at night, the occupiers start to settle in for the evening. By 1am, the park is mostly quiet, save for a few random night owls standing around, waxing the poetic midnight oil with talks of revolution.
By 3am, nearly everyone is asleep, except for the on-duty police blueshirts, standing 10-20 feet from the perimeter of the park boundaries.
The weekend prior to the standoff on October 14th, one of the infodesk workers (Dan) told me that the rules of the park (which is a “public space” but is “owned privately” by the owners of the adjacent building) prohibit the use of any structures, such as port-a-potties or tents. Occupiers would sleep in sleeping bags or with blankets.
Since the standoff victory, the occupiers have been emboldened and this past weekend have brought tents (I saw at least 2 pup tents) and tarp-based shelters (either a soft tarp covering, or a tarp-roofed small structure). Some of these structures may look like trash (from a distance) but are sanitary and, for the most part, clean. It doesn’t smell bad, and is more “messy” (like a kids room) than “disgusting” (like a frat house after a rager), as observed by one shallow twitter user. They’re improvising working solutions with what’s available.
I slept there for my first time this past weekend. It wasn’t my first time sleeping outdoors nor even sleeping in a public park, so I thought that I would be prepared with a blanket, a vest, a flanneled shirt, a t-shirt under that, jeans, a knitted-hat and a pair of socks for gloves. I probably would have been fine with a second blanket, or with a single sleeping bag, but the temperature dropped several degrees and I wasn’t able to fall asleep. Oy.
On Saturday, they were serving up some chafing dishes of Indian food that was probably donated. Since I was a visitor and had money to buy food for myself, I left it to the others; though it looked absolutely delicious. Robyn, Greg, and I brought some food and water to donate.
I spoke with my mom tonight, and she said the Teacher’s union has donated some storage space for the protesters nearby to handle the donations. There are a number of ways to donate to them, one of those methods involves shipping food or water to their drop-box.
In addition to the Zuccotti kitchen, there are always several cart vendors selling a variety of typical New York street food (think: falafel, bagels, hot dogs, wraps, etc). The vendors are there pretty much 24 hours a day.
Day to Day
In a recent Wall Street Journal Op-ed, former campaign strategist Karl Rove describes the occupiers as “disorganized and unfocused”, further stating:
Occupy Wall Street isn’t a movement. It’s a series of events populated by a weird cast of disaffected characters, ranging from anarchists and anti-Semites to socialists and LaRouchies. What they have in common is an amorphous anger aimed at banks, investors, rich people and bourgeois values.
Similar sentiments have been expressed by others on Wall Street. It’s pretty clear that there is a disconnect between those at the very top and the rest of us.
The Zuccotti park is actually very organized, though from the outside I suppose it may appear quite chaotic. It’s kind of like walking into someone else’s office space: everything appears out of place because it’s not where you would put it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a method to it all.
The daily schedule shows a breakdown of how a particular day proceeds. In my experience there it’s not written in stone, per se, as they are somewhat flexible on when the events begin; but they are routine and transpire regularly. Stuff gets done. The park stays pretty clean.
There are also daily teach-in and discussion groups, and the sign-up chart is public; anyone can register to do one.
The Zuccotti occupation has a few conference tables with boxes containing many books, all available for free to occupants. There are assorted topical books, children’s books, fun books, etc.
The Medic center has basic medical supplies for treating simple ailments (cuts, bruises, headaches, etc). Essentially, it’s a home medicine chest that’s really big, with people to assist with dispensing. There is nothing here that requires medical expertise, and no supplies that I could see that were not over the counter. All medic center staff will refer people to their doctors or the ER if the problem is not easily identifiable / treatable.
(Pictured here is the medic center at the temporary Washington Square presence, though the Zuccotti square center looks very similar)
The Media Center is a hub for people to dump their video files and picture files into the central repo, where those photos and videos are used in promotional materials that are uploaded to the Internet. I would imagine that anyone can borrow the media as well.
The media center also has a large flat-screen television and webcam that is used for the live video feeds, which are aired frequently throughout the day and night. A generator provides power, and people may sign up to charge their phones and other devices.
Pictured here is a project by a documentarian to photograph many different faces of OccupyWallstreet. I had my photo taken too. Everyone was given a whiteboard to write a statement, and then their photo was taken with both a digital camera and a medium format film camera. (For the photogeeks, it was a Mamiya, something like ZX7G? 120-film back, no digital — unknown glass length, though given the distance I presume ~50mm or more; manual focus)
There are two info desks: one on the eastern side (near Broadway) and one towards the western side (near Church St). The info desks are chaired by at least one person who is there to answer whatever questions people have, as well as provide informational materials.
I have had several chats with them, and Dan (pictured) is a nice fellow who lives and works in NYC. If you visit the occupation and its your first time, definitely stop by the Info Desk. If you can’t make it there, there is an assortment of information at occupywallst.org.
The park has had an established kitchen since early-on. The kitchen has a few large orange coolers that they use to dispense water. There are a few tables for holding served food. Some rudimentary shelving provides storage for the non-perishables that have been donated.
Kitchen management is one of the “working groups” that has daily routine. According to Dan (the info desk guy), the kitchen workers have a high turnover. During mealtime, I saw an impromptu triple-sink for washing some of the dishware.