Up Close And Personal With The Occupy Wall Street Protestors

As the Occupy Wall Street protest continues in New York, I delved into the thick of it and spoke to those involved to try and find out their motives, hopes and intentions...
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As the Occupy Wall Street protest continues in New York, I delved into the thick of it and spoke to those involved to try and find out their motives, hopes and intentions...

Eat my debt

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On Monday, which was Columbus Day in the United States, I went down to Zucotti Park at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street Protests, which started on September 17th. Crowd control barriers surround the 33,000 square meter park, marshaled by police trying to keep the crowds moving. Beyond the barriers and police are endless TV News crew vans.

The park was a hive of activity.  People playing music on the west side, which faces the new World Trade Center site. There is an area on the south side of the park where the protestors sleep. The middle of the park has large groups handing out free food and then there are hundreds of people holding various signs towards the east side of the park. It is a diverse group of people of all ages and ethnicities.

The first person I had a chance to speak to was a well-dressed man named David. He classed himself as a “businessman” working in advertising and communications.

Why are you here today?

“I’m here to advocate for economic justice. Which is in everyone’s interest here in America and in particular it is in the interest of the business community for there to be a more robust economy. I’m here dressed in my suit and tie carrying this sign with two Harvard insignias, which reads “Harvard Men for economic justice.” To help show the world that this is a very broad based movement.

Last week, the media was essentially missing the truth of this story. The mainstream media has been inaccurate in reporting of the breadth and diversity of this movement. When in fact the truth is this is a very big tent of all sorts of people. So I’m trying to change that.”

What would you consider success to be?

“I think already, we have been extremely successful. The premise behind this movement is very simple. There are 99% percent of us, 1% of them. 99% translates into 306 million Americans, which is a tremendous amount of power, of political power. So for one, I think it is successful for people to wake up and realize there are a lot of other people that share their fears and concerns.

In real terms, I think of the short run, I think this will put political pressure on our elected officials, for example to pass the Obama Jobs Act which will help stimulate the economy, which I favor, to repeal the Bush tax cuts, to close corporate loopholes. To enforce the regulations on Wall Street, which are already in place. So there are very concrete political goals, which can be achieved. Then long term it’s just a very simple formula; you just get more people. That’s what it is all about.”

"I’m here dressed in my suit and tie carrying this sign with two Harvard insignias, which reads “Harvard Men for economic justice.” To help show the world that this is a very broad based movement."

After I spoke to David, I met a lady named Tera who came up to speak to the both of us. She described herself as an activist with a focus on getting the people at the protest to vote, as part of her ‘Occupy the Ballot’ movement.

Why are you here today?

“I’m here because I support the people that are here. But at the same time I’m here to let the people know that the 99% comprises of registered voters that still believe in the process and the franchise.”

What do you consider success?

“Our hope is become a part of this bigger movement. Unfortunately that may not be possible considering that the philosophy may not have any confidence in the political status quo. I let these people know that the people doing this around the country right now are not part of the registered voters. So, we need them to know that if the 99% are registered voters, then the only way to affect change in real time is to exercise the vote and work within the system.”

After speaking to Tera I walked up to the east side of the park where the majority of the sign holders were. Having spoken to a middle aged Harvard graduate businessman and a long time political activist I noticed a younger girl of about 16 years old, named Chelsea, silently holding a sign advocating an environmental message as well as a financial one.

Why are you here today?

“I’m here because there is a movement against corporate greed and I want to be a part of that conversation. I see this as the beginning conversation of any final form that concrete resistance might take or the beginning conversation of what our concrete demands are.

I’m also only here for a week, I’m from Detroit, I’m hoping to learn as much as a I can about the movement here and the ways it is functioning well and take it back home to Occupy Detroit which is happening when I return.”

What would you consider success?

“I would say success is determined by a number of factors. The role of protest facilitates human interaction and I would say it has been successful in the aspect that we are talking about issues that weren’t being discussed prior. This is receiving global attention and calling attention to injustices, which are normally kept under wraps. As getting the message out I think it has been tremendously successful. People are talking about this everywhere. Not just talking about it but meeting in their own communities in common groups under common goals by trying to reach those goals from a grass roots level by experimenting with bottom up power structures. So it has been successful in that aspect. But we have a long way to go.”

In the middle of talking to Chelsea an elder gentleman walked over, coughed, interrupted the conversation and started criticizing Chelsea. I asked him if I could ask him some questions and he said “Yeah, if I get tired I’ll walk away.”

Why are you here today?

“I’m just taking a walk. I don’t live far from here so I drop by here every couple of days. Just to see how things are going.”

What do you think of what is happening here?

“What you are looking at here took place ten years ago, took place twenty years ago, and took place forty years ago. A little different in nature but it takes place. Now, what do I think about this particular thing? The age is very young, so you have a lot of people here that don’t know what they are doing. (He turns to the young Chelsea and says, “Excuse me.”) They don’t know what they are doing, they are young. I have a difficult time figuring out their problems with getting jobs. I don’t know what their problems are? I’m not looking for a job, I’m retired. All I know is that it is Christmas time, anyone can get a job right now. Anyone. So that's how I see it. Good luck in England.”

He walks away.

Apart from this retiree, what I saw at the protests were a group of quietly confident people. Articulate, passionate and dedicated. They clearly see this as only the start of something much bigger.

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