Occupy Wall Street is definitely something I am never going to forget and I am glad I have pictures and video to share with my children and grandchildren. “Yes I was there, no I was not a protester but I did make friends with a lot of people and shared moments with them.” For better or for worse or for nothing at all this movement is happening. I have seen all sorts of protesters and I have met all sorts of different personalities in finance and within the NYPD. Needless to say I cannot share their names due to the nature of the ongoing event but they exist.
My first day at the encampment was surreal. I have walked by Zucatti Park dozens of times and I swear on my life for the amount of money that represents the owners of the land it is very unimpressive. The protest actually gave the place a bit of character, much more so then the swarms of tourists coming in and out of the financial area to see the big giant hole, the scar of my heart, that place so many of us have difficulty talking about. Finally something more than nosy fucks taking pictures from the top of a piece of shit double-decker bus.
I walked the perimeter first prior to entering, checked out signs, so humorous, some rang painfully true and others just illogical and ridiculous and generally feeling out the attitude of the happening. I said “Hi” to a grumpy cop who refused to shake my hand, he snarled at me and I laughed at him and snapped a photo. I don’t care if he was 230 or 250 being treated like that was not what I expected, toe to toe, my wiry frame would teach him a few lessons in pugilism. It wasn’t the last experience I had with an officer at Zucatti Park and with the movement breaking into the winter I sure as hell know it will not be my last, but it hasn’t been all bad. There was my experience with “Hipster Cop” who for a city salary dresses far better than a hipster or a cop, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, this forty-year old cop dressed straight out of a GQ catalog.
Entering the inner sanctum of the park from the “Peoples'” Library; a rather redundant name as libraries throughout America are all the people’s buildings, a socialist experiment of our founders Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, there were volunteers everywhere. Grad students mostly watching over and answering questions as a group of boomers celebrated the spirit of the summer of 69 in acoustic harmony. There were technophiles hunched over laptops typing furiously, plotting, communicating, commiserating, with generators humming, it was almost impossible to get wi-fi connection but I did with a little help. The sleeping bags were to my back and close by to the digital brain of OWS were men and women making buttons for the cause (donate what you have) and my favorite place a roaming cigarette rolling outfit called “Nick & Nite”, if you needed a smoke no problem, anytime of the day for a quarter you can get yourself a square of American Spirit RYO. It was the best place to get all the gossip of the camp from security, to alleged leaders of the movement. MTV News strolled around interviewing protesters and on occasion a casting director from the Real World would jump in after questioning trying to garnish interest for Occupiers to audition for the reality show.
I stayed as long as I could, it smelled a bit, tried using the bathroom at the McDonald’s on Broadway but geez did it smell and a homeless man had done a number on the floor so we all waited in line until it was cleaned up but the smell of a few Occupiers was just insulting and I ran to a local high school to use the bathroom. Needless to say hearing one anarchist refer to the cops as “pigs” was slightly contrived and regressive, though I can understand where the anger was coming from as those young women had recently been pepper sprayed; the image captured fueled the movement to what it is today.
The drums blared never in unison, only with the purpose of making noise. God was it noisy too. I wish for all the intelligent people I met there that there would be a few to pen some songs and try them out, give lyrical voice to a movement inspired by the civil disobedience of the 60’s.
It is rather nerve rattling to be surrounded by police and their barricades from every angle even as a member of the press I always felt vulnerable and this was way before any real violence erupted in Oakland. To be stared down by police, to have your movements watched it all felt surreal. To this day the fact that their existed a camp in the middle of Manhattan is hard to wrap my mind around. I digress, for all that I knew that had transpired on University place just a few days before, I was shocked to find out that most of the country had little to no comprehension of what exactly was going on in their own country. It fucked with my head, news about New York did not make it out beyond the major cities? What?!?! But it hadn’t and I learned through my encounters with tourist who stopped and stared at the scene that this was news to them. That in itself inspired me to learn and talk about in the most objective of manner the Occupy movement and all things surrounding it.
What was frightening though in hindsight was the blatant media black out that was going on in the country. People have a right to know what is going on even if they live in Chapel Hill or Sarasota, when they tune into the news at 6 o’clock or at 11 they are buying into that channels product. So I often told those tourists who I spoke with to call up their local news channel and demand that they cover the protests where ever they sprouted up across the nation.
As my first night came to an end, I sat down alone in the park surrounded by the sights, sounds and smells of OWS. The news vans were open, teams were editing their clips for whatever deadline they had, protesters wore anonymous masks a la V for Vendetta, anarchist who were in desperate need of a zoloft and a stick of degree walked by yelling the talking points of the day, the mic checks that have caught on like wild fire across the country delivering announcements and choice words of anger and displeasure with status-quo, the humming of generators emanating from both the lap top/ media center and the opportunistic food cart vendors vying to make a dollar of this very unusual happening, the police officer in riot gear enjoying a strawberry-banana smoothie, the drums and the sounds of discourse surrounding me a full 360.
To be honest I still don’t know what it is I experienced. I have never seen it before, never participated or observed anything like it. Maybe one day when I am old and grey I will understand. Maybe one day we all will understand what this whole thing was truly about.