Sunday in the Park With Occupy Wall Street

Finding myself home from school for the weekend, I hopped the subway down to Zucotti Park on October 16, curious to see just how much of the mainstream media’s inane assessments of the Occupy Wall Street protesters would turn out to be accurate. Had I spent the last month watching only CNN or Fox News’ coverage of the protests, I would have been assured that the participants were either 1) disorganized pot smoking hippies who had no idea what they were protesting in the first place, or 2) dangerous, America-hating radicals perpetuating class warfare in order to bring about a Marxist takeover of the country. Both couldn’t be true – and, as I arrived at the Fulton Street station, I found myself quite assured that I would find neither to be true.

There were elements of both, of course. There were plenty of pierced, tattooed, whacked out hippies lying around smoking and strumming mandolins, while at the same time I found myself regaled with a newspaper printed by a revolutionary communist organization by the time I left. But that’s the beauty of the thing. In the three or so hours I spent in the park, I was startled by how a congregation so vastly diverse in so many ways could feel so unified and so communal. The park almost took on the character of a small, commune-esque city. One large area, covered in tarps and sleeping bags, was devoted to the actual business of occupation; there was a sanitation department that dispatched agents with brooms and dustbins to clean up any litter; and there was a kitchen that dished out free food with donations suggested (there was a variety of healthy-looking culinary options, but mostly there was pizza). The diversity wasn’t limited to race, though the crowd was very racially diverse; I saw as many geriatrics as I did preteens, as many middle aged, professorial-looking intellectuals as I did long haired college kids. It didn’t take me long to discredit the theory that the protestors are disorganized and directionless, either. There was a large chalkboard in the park with a schedule of several events that would be taking place during the day, and an effective method of communication was used by all: because it was very hard to hear anyone talk due to there being so many people there, whenever someone would want to make an announcement, they would yell “mic check!” several times until a crowd of people would begin repeating their every word so that the announcement could be heard at a wider berth. So I would say that Occupy Wall Street is in fact a very efficient, organized operation. Yes, I noticed many people there advocating for various micro-issues that weren’t necessarily only about Wall Street – I myself stood in on a discussion circle about the state of public education, and another about relations with Israel. But they all fit under the umbrella of economic inequality and social justice, and another discussion I sat in on at one point turned to the positives of the protests being relatively leaderless or having an explicit set of demands because this allows for greater expression and less limitation on what can be accomplished.

I was impressed. I was also entertained! It was like the 60s, man! I arrived at the park at 12:30; there were plenty of people standing around with signs, but the activity was relatively subdued compared to what it would become later in the day. One thing that was happening on the west end of the (actually quite small) park was a booming drum circle. I rolled my eyes – come on, a drum circle? Complete with shirtless dudes doing wavy Allen Ginsberg-esque dances? Maybe they are all a bunch of damn dirty hippies, I thought. So I lingered outside the barricade on the sidewalk at first, just watching and listening to the drummers. But after I’d been standing there for no more than a minute or two, a curly-haired twenty something guy approached me from inside the park and asked, “Hey man, have you been on the other side yet?” I replied that I hadn’t, so I immediately made the big crossover. I stood around listening to the drummers for a little while longer, but then began wandering around – and my excitement began to build. There were a great number of discussion circles popping up around the park, with focuses ranging from topical (education and Israel, which I mentioned) to practical (a discussion on what the occupiers should do when it starts to get really cold). There was tons of music and performance going on – on the steps at the front of the park, a jovial, old-fashioned jug band of hipsterly young folks from Staten Island eventually ceded to a couple people strumming guitars and leading the crowd in singing freedom songs of the Civil Rights era – “We Shall Not Be Moved,” “If I Had A Hammer,” “We Shall Overcome,” and others. At the other end of the park, I encountered members of the We Are The 99% Theater Company performing a makeshift rendition of Waiting for Godot. And when I turned around from that, I found myself looking straight at John Oliver from The Daily Show interviewing a few protestors. Back at the other end again, a group of priests, purporting to represent 150 different faith-based communities from around New York, had commandeered the steps, where particularly large crowds had now gathered, and were making statements about the role of faith in attaining social justice. I was again excited by the diversity of backgrounds present, but, needing to buy guitar strings before meeting my mom for dinner, I, after listening to the priests for a while, took my leave. I intend to be back soon – I don’t think the occupiers are going anywhere.



3 Comments

  1. Emily wrote:

    Very cool. I’m particularly interested in how this “movement” or whatever you want to call it has spread globally so quickly. I was talking about Occupy France with one of my French friends and we both agreed that it’s pretty cool that this has travelled abroad, but at the same time it really stresses the universality of the issue(s). I think it’s really great that you got to be a part of this and I’m glad you posted about your experience!

  2. victoreador wrote:

    OWS really has only a trace of ’60’s DNA in its biology. One of the few persisting public remnants of that glorious moment in time exists in Golden Gate Park in San Fran. All of the music, drugs and play with a bit of political consciousness permeating the ether. No organized movement is likely to sprout there.

  3. Robin wrote:

    I was hoping that a few leaders might emerge to explain to America what the point of view is and what one might do to help the 99%. I haven’t lost hope but what started out as something exciting, now seems to be floundering. I am ever hopeful, though. OCCUPY WALL ST is the best name for a social movement ever! I hate to see it wasted.