Occupyin’!

In our story so far, I was heading out from Poets House to meet Steve at Zuccotti (neé Liberty) Park, kept warm by my stretchy hat.

I went eastward along Vesey Street, just north of the enormous World Trade Center construction site (big cranes up on huge towers! mega!), frequently consulting the city map on th’ iPad.

Somewhere just before coming to Greenwich Street, I caught up with six or eight folks walking along holding a big yellow banner; one of these kind:

and escorted by eight or ten folks from the New York Police Department. This seemed fun, so I matched their pace, and turned south on Greenwich when they did.

“Going to Zuccotti?” I asked the one at the end.

“Yep!”

So I figured I would follow them so as not to get lost.

We talked a little about the NYPD honor guard and all; he suggested to a nearby officer that since there were at least as many police as sign-carrying civilians, they could adopt the buddy system to make sure that everyone stayed together. The officer didn’t say anything.

When we got to the Park the police escort melted into the milling crowd of about fourteen million other NYPD officers who were there looking serious. I stayed with the sign-carriers, who went up to the gap in the barriers where the watchful police were politely letting in anyone without an obvious tent or sleeping bag or bazooka or anything (big signs were apparently okay; while you could have made two or three tents out of the sign, they wouldn’t really have been very good tents).

It was around 2pm when I got there, and there weren’t a huge number of non-police people inside the barricades; maybe 50 to 60, all in the upper part of the park (the Broadway end). Here’s some of ’em:

#ows

The guy with the “I’m one of the 99%” sign was a regular feature for the whole rest of the time I was there. I thought of offering to take a stretch with the sign, but he seemed to be enjoying it, and I was generally too busy talking to Steve anyway (but I get ahead of my story).

So there I was inside of the barricades around the Park, not an officer of the law or a journalist, and therefore an Occupier! I was Occupying Wall Street! (Although not occupying Wall Street, since that’s a few blocks away, but that’s okay.)

It was a good, and a wild, feeling.

(I plan to do yet another post, perhaps also today, about the politics of it all, and the sense in which I’m one of the 99%, and what the Occupying is all about; so in this post I will mostly just tell the story.)

Not seeing Steve around yet, I sent him some bits saying that I would be under the red art, and I went and stood for awhile under the red art (Mark di Suvero’s Joie de Vivre, apparently, which seems nice and appropriate).

The red art is up at the Broadway-and-Cedar-Street corner of the Park, and at the time was within the barricades (later on the NYPD put up extra barricades between it and the park, so no one could get to the art from either the street or the park; not clear to me why, I think partly they were just bored and playing with the barricaes).

I had a good view of everything from standing under the art: Occupiers standing inside the Broadway-side barricades holding their signs and talking to people passing by on Broadway; lots of people passing by on Broadway looking over curiously, taking pictures, sometimes talking to the people with the signs; folks down in the park itself (the main part of the park being down three or five steps from Broadway level) making signs, playing the guitar, selling each other buttons, talking.

While waiting for Steve I went far enough from the red art to acquire my own 99% button; here it is sitting on the copy of the Occupied Wall Street Journal that I picked up later:

(I wore it all the way through T G I Friday’s and the subway and the train home without getting beat up or anything!)

Steve got there after not very long and we hugged and started talking. Steve and I always talk, often at high speed and volume. We have been shushed by total strangers on airplanes!

At one point as we talked about what the Occupy movement might usefully do next, a young and snappily-dressed person named Tyrone asking politely if he might join the conversation, and of course we said of course, and we talked about stuff. He was young and enthusiastic; being young his main point was that we needed to change the power structures in society, without having all that much to say about exactly what button you push to actually accomplish that. He also suggested that when you challenge the powers that be, you die; I pointed out that these days you tend to get parodied or co-opted instead, and he allowed that that was perhaps true (although I know it’s not nearly as exciting a thought when you’re young).

At another point when we were standing and talking an older gentleman came up to us and asked if we were scholars or professors or something like that (despite my stretchy hat; we must have been simply radiating intellectualism), and we said that we were not, strictly speaking, although between us we did have degrees in Physics and Philosophy and stuff. He asked if we would be interested in forming a “higher level” Think Tank than the existing one; we said with regret that probably not, as it would not really be Steve’s thing, and I was from out of town.

The Think Tank (or at least I think that was the Think Tank) was a bunch of people standing around a few people who were sitting down, some of them pointing small media devices at each other, and apparently talking although one couldn’t actually get close enough to hear. There was also a piece of cardboard saying “Think Tank” on it.

Here is a picture of them from their Facebook page (beware: Facebook may abscond with and fence your personal information):

It probably would have been fun to get in there and take part in the talking, but there was enough other fun stuff to do and look at that I didn’t want to make the time commitment.

So Steve and I stood around talking and observing stuff. All sorts of various things happened. Some food arrived over on the Cedar Street side of the lower part of the park, and the NYPD wouldn’t let it into the Park, but did open a new gap in the barricades so that people could go to it and bring in amounts for themselves. Later on a big stack of pizzas arrived, and for whatever reason those had no trouble getting in. Someone went around giving out clementines, and I took one of those; it was very good. I gave a dollar to a soi disant homeless guy, and he gave me a two-pack of chemical handwarmers (hey, I bet those are still in my vest pocket!).

We saw a couple of small uses of the People’s Mic(rophone), where words that need to be amplified are picked up and repeated by lots of people (since the City has forbidden artificial amplification in the Park). It wasn’t a big General Assembly setting, and it didn’t work terribly well, but the fact that food was available here, or pizza over there, or that some people were leaving to go occupy Newark (“why would you want to occupy Jersey?” someone, probably from New York, asked), did get heard by at least a few more people than it would have otherwise.

I remarked to Steve at one point early on, when there were still probably only 50 or 60 people around, that I didn’t really see any of the people who generally make things actually work in this kind of group. Not leaders or spokespeople or anything, more just the people who do those small things like reminding people of protocol and knowing where Tony went and having a spare marker for the meditation group to make their sign, and stuff like that.

The woman who used the People’s Mic to announce the arrival of pizza seemed to be one of those. After the pizza had begun diffusing into the crowd, she started up a sadly short-lived chant among those nearby, saying

There ain’t no team
like the Occupy team
’cause the Occupy team
don’t quit!

I didn’t notice her again after that, so either she was doing things so much in the background that I didn’t see her, or she was somewhere else.

Eventually I acquired an End Corporate Personhood sign of my own:

by picking it up from the pile that was sitting on a table, and carried that around and waved it at cameras. Steve and I mostly hung out near the Broadway barricades, and now and then I would go over and shout in a friendly fashion to the people looking in from Broadway, pointing to the entrances and urging them to come into the Park. “Free admission!” I would say. Sometimes they would smile.

I developed various conspiracy theories about how the NYPD were intentionally not opening any gates in the barricade on the Broadway side, because that would make it too easy for more people to come in and swell the ranks of the Occupiers, and about this one guy in a red reflector vest (as opposed to the NYPD’s yellow reflector vests) who spent about an hour and a half sweeping a couple of dozen leaves off of two or three short pieces of the steps on the Broadway side of the park. Was he a photo-op, I suggested, in case Fox News wanted to do an “Occupy Wall Street hippies mess up Zuccotti Park, massive cleanup effort required” story? Steve thought it was more likely that those were just His Steps, and if someone wanted any of the other steps cleaned off, they’d have to hire another guy.

Then at one point two guys with a microphone and a videocamera who were on the other side of the Broadway barricade asked if they could talk to me. So I was interviewed as one of them nutty OWS people, by someone from probably some news program of some kind or something! I suppose I really should have asked, or at least remembered the initials on the microphone. It wasn’t anything I recognized, though, and they had Accents, so most likely I am a two-second snippet on Croation TV or something, of an Occupy Wall Street Protestor saying “ummm”. But you never know!

(And then later on Steve and I were both interviewed, recorded on audio on a Blackberry, by someone claiming to be a student at Syracuse University getting various perspectives on the Occupying, and wanting ours as more or less outsiders. So it was quite a day fame-wise!)

(Also this really cute woman with red hair and freckles took our picture several times. Probably she liked the stretchy hat.)

There was a guy with a hardhat over the hood of his hoody, and a small but quite readable “Mayor Bloomberg is a union buster” sort of sign; I noticed him being interviewed at least twice, for instance:

RNN interviews the "Bloomberg is a union buster" guy

Maybe reporters understand “union busting” better than “economic justice”. :)

It was a great crowd, not as lily-white as I’d been led to expect, a decent mix of pink and brown and yellow. The above-mentioned Tyrone was a sort of chocolate brown with a bit of an inner-city accent, various people were speaking Spanish and being not especially pale, and so on. There were a couple of people with guitars, some people sitting at one of the Park’s marble tables playing War on Terror, the board game, people with signs complaining that The 1% Wear Fur, one person looking for help because her daughter owed lots of money on a student loan but the college she’d attended claimed to have no record of her (or something), and various other persons.

This amusing if truculent guy in a jogging suit and a New York City Italian accent, waving a newspaper picture of an injured person, walked around the Park several times, outside the barricades, saying various more or less comprehensible things. The first time we noticed him he was saying “I am the one percent! I got jobs for you, you want jobs? You don’t want to end up like this! [waves picture]”, and walking rather too fast for anyone to conveniently ask about the jobs. Later on when the NYPD were playing with the barricades he was saying “it’s barricade time oh yes”, and another time he was saying something sufficiently random that I don’t remember it at all.

We saw a gentleman in full police uniform standing with a “NYPD don’t be Wall St mercenaries” sign; this was almost certainly Ray Lewis:

a brave man that you can read more about at that link there.

There was just one opening in the barricades when I arrived at around two; another one was opened near the food trucks sometime after that. Around five the NYPD began moving barricades around in large numbers. They reinforced and made more formal the second entrance, they walled off the red art, they doubled up the barricades along the Broadway side of the park.

The barricades were these sort of bikerack-sized silver metal things that make alot of noise when you drag them across, say, the stone floor of the Park. They hook together with metal hook-and-eye arrangements at the ends that the police officers couldn’t always quite figure out.

#ows barricades

Tricky things, barricades. I was tempted to go over and offer to help, but I wasn’t sure if would be appreciated.

As the afternoon wore on, especially as it approached and passed 5pm, the crowd in the park grew significantly. There still wasn’t anyone in the lower section, but the upper section was very well occupied; maybe a couple hundred non-police folks? Here are some of the some-more people standing around and stuff:

#ows later

I made myself slightly useful by putting the roll of duct-tape back onto the stack of Occupied Wall Street Journals that it was keeping from blowing away, and picking up some trash (dropped by a journalist, I think; the Occupiers were very neat an’ tidy).

There was going to be some meditation, which sounded interesting but again I didn’t want to make the time commitment. Also we were getting cold and there were known to be no working and available bathrooms within a few blocks in every direction. So eventually (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten lots of fun an’ interesting stuff in there) we decided to walk more than a few blocks in some direction, found a T G I Fridays with working and available rest rooms, had tea and coffee respectively, and I had some potstickers (for some unaccountable reason Steve did not want to eat any delicious T G I Friday’s potstickers!), and then Steve found a 4 or 5 or 6 or something subway station, and in the subway station we found a subway train to get on, and after talking constantly for the whole ride we said goodbye underneath Grand Central Station, and I got on a train, and came home, my iPad and End Corporate Personhood sign and Occupied Wall Street Journal under my arm and a tired but manic smile on my face.

So that was my afternoon of Occupying, except for the stuff that I have forgotten, and the political stuff, which I may or may not get to today, but which will in any case be in a different post.

Because now I am finished with this one!

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5 Comments to “Occupyin’!”

  1. I’m glad to see people speaking out… I’m just terrified that unless Occupy manages to coalesce around a more specific set of proposals (build a platform, essentially) they’re going to get co-opted by the first really charismatic speaker to come along and possibly dragged in a direction they didn’t intend.

    So far, they’re a heck of a lot more rational than the Tea Party… but that ain’t saying much, and it may be hard to maintain.

    • Yeah, as I will probably say in my political post, probably tomorrow, I think the Occupy folks have already done an -enormous- service just by taking the focus away from the Tea Party’s “deregulate the rich and give less to the poor” message, to something closer to “punish the rich criminals”. If they can just stay visible enough to keep that focus there I will be pretty pleased with them. If they did get co-opted by some Socialists or something it might not actually mean much (unless it let the focus swing back to the Tea Party). If it got co-opted by the Democrats, say, it would be sad, but probably not bad in concrete ways. We’ll see!

  2. I agree with Joe K. that there is no focus and no concrete ideas on how to proceed. Staying visible is not the answer because it doesn’t accomplish anything but get Wall Street used to their presence. They lack all semblance of organization, ideas and a platform on how to accomplish those ideas. They have none of that. As far as being co-opted they will have to be on their toes not to let that happen.

    • There was no shortage of ideas, or even organization, when I was there. There were nicely-labelled medics, people fetching the pizza and announcing the food, people giving out clementines, people sitting around exchanging ideas in the Think Tank. So I wouldn’t word it nearly that strongly; they are closer to having all of that than to having none of it. Maybe you were there at a different time than I was?

      I’ll talk more about the political side in the next posting, but “End Corporate Personhood” is a nice specific idea that had considerable support, and it has a platform and a website and all. As for impact, they have already (as I mentioned above) taken the focus off of the Tea Party’s astroturf agenda, and they’ve got at least one piece of legislation directly named for them (do a web search on “occupied amendment”).

      I agree they will have to be on their toes to avoid being co-opted. In fact the less hierarchical and identifiable an organization they have, they harder I suspect it will be to co-opt them. :)

  3. … and on having no organization :) see this video: http://front.moveon.org/what-are-consensus-stack-twinkle-and-block/

    I find it just fascinatin’…

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