Occupy Wall Street — What's It Really Like?
It's my second day here at the Occupy Wall Street protest.
While the protests have been going on for weeks, I only really became interested when I saw the images of the march onto the Brooklyn Bridge. The images showed me that this was a much, much bigger operation than I had previously thought. This wasn't just a bunch of kids looking for something to do after Burning Man.
I actually had been down to Zuccotti Park a few times earlier, but only briefly. A couple of my friends spent a night or two in the park, and I'd stopped by to visit them.
But now I'm actually working out of the park every day in an attempt to better understand what this Occupy Wall Street business is all about.
I think it's probably a good idea to start with the basics. The protest isn't based on Wall Street. It's actually a few blocks away, in a park about halfway between the New York Stock Exchange and Ground Zero.
The OWS folks have taken over the park entirely. It's basically a big camp site, with lots of people sitting around.
Approaching from the west, you come first to a drum circle. You know this type of thing if you've ever set foot on a college campus. Young folks with dirty hair who look like they are really into the band Phish banging away. The drums are kind of the soundtrack to OWS.
As you enter the park, you pass a table with the days events and a directory of the "working groups." There's a group for security, for communications, for medical assistance, for feeding the encampment, and for legal aid. Around the park, some of these groups have their own little set ups — basically a square of tables inside of which the members of the groups work and sort through various supplies.
There's a lot of cigarette smoking. That's illegal in public parks in New York City, but the police aren't enforcing that regulation here. There's even a table set up to give away free cigarettes.
Perhaps surprisingly, I didn't see any sign of illegal drugs or even drinking. Every protester I've seen seems sober.
There's plenty of free food available in the center of the park. Plastic crates full of food reveal that no one is going to go hungry at OWS.
Piles of backpacks, inflatable mattresses, tarps to keep out the rain, skateboards, blankets, and other personal items are all over the west end of the park. No one seems to be worried that other people will take their stuff. There's even a lost and found where you can turn in things that nobody seems to be claiming.
The city will not let the protesters use amplification, so they've developed a clever way of broadcasting messages across the park. A person who wants to speak to the crowd will stand up and yell "mic check." People nearby repeat the call, alerting others that a speech is going to be made. The speaker then says a few words on a given topic, which is then repeated by the crowd. If they are trying to get a message across the entire park, there will be multiple rounds of repeated messages, like a collective game of telephone.
This morning, as I'm told happens on most mornings, the first "mic check" was simply a message about how this system works. Very meta.
Although there are no official leaders of OWS, there are a few people who have taken on leadership roles. Much of their time is spent, as far as I can tell, attempting to keep the protesters from clashing with police.
Both yesterday and today, I couldn't help but feel that there wasn't really very much going on most of the day. OWS involves a lot of people just sitting around for long spans of time. Listening to those drums.
The site is already becoming a tourist attraction — and the protesters have taken notice. One sign read, "Hey Tourists! Come join us!"
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