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Occupy Wall Street: A personal look

Christina O'Sullivan

By Circle Contributor
On October 11, 2011

  • Sign clad occupiers make their opinions known on the streets of New York. Photo courtesy of Christina O'Sullivan

On Oct. 11, my friends and I joined "Occupy Wall Street," the peaceful protest for the end of corporate domination in the economy and politics.  This leaderless movement for true democracy began four weeks ago and has been gaining ever traction since, spreading to cities all over the world.  Supporters include the American Federation of Teachers, companies like Ben & Jerry's and celebrities like Kanye West. 

I was intrigued after hearing about the Oct. 1 arrest of 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge, and by Jon Stewart of "The Daily Show" commenting on brutal footage of a policeman using pepper-spray against several innocent young women.  Media outlets either dismissed Occupy Wall Street as a mob of hippies or questioned its focus.  We can agree that the profit motive has completely taken over, and that does not look good for corporate citizens.  But what do they intend to accomplish with this protest?  My friends and I decided to check it out.  

When we got off the subway stop at Wall Street mid-afternoon, however, we were surprised to find it eerily deserted.  There were barricades on the sidewalks, but no protesters—just bored-looking policemen and women patrolling the block.  Eventually we checked http://OccupyWallstreet.org on my friend's Blackberry and realizes that the movement had been moved to Liberty Square.

Admittedly, I have a slight romanticized view of the 1960s, so I was really looking forward to joining a protest and speaking with politically-minded thinkers.  I wasn't disappointed.  We entered the square in awe as we saw all different people; young guys with tattoos wearing skinny jeans, naked women with body paint, men in suits, African-Americans, Mexicans, Asians, babies, students and people with "V for Vendetta" masks.  People lined the square holding signs, and inside the park was packed with bearded guys in sleeping bags, and booths covered with stacks of pamphlets.

Besides the group of drummers on the edge of the square and the occasional argument about Obama, people were calm and observant.  Everyone was holding posters or reading other people's posters or sitting cross-legged on a tarp, painting posters.  Some of the notable ones include: "It's called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it," and the less caustic "Our economy could be more fair."

Anna, a graduate student at UMass, had a sign on her lap that said, "Talk to me!" so I did.  She said that economic inequality in this country is the source of all social ills, from the pollution of the environment to the staggering price of higher education.  Anna believes that many super wealthy bankers have a "callous disregard for fellow man."

Several protesters held signs regarding America as a plutocracy—ruled by the wealthy, rather than representative of the people.  Politicians act in ways pleasing to corporations, because they know that is where they will receive funding.

An unofficial member of the Occupy Wall Street press team, Ed – who did not provide a last name, said that this is a human rights movement rather than a political one.  Protesters are Democrats, Republicans, Marxists and Libertarians, but that is irrelevant because they are all united  and fed up with being mistreated by the wealthy elite.  Ed said that people are misled into believing they can create their own destiny, without realizing the system is against that.

Although everyone was respectful and friendly, some protesters had clearly given these issues less thought than Anna and Ed had.  Several, when I questioned them about their signs, looked down as if they had forgotten they were holding them and shrugged.  One, who called himself Big Bird, did not know if he was a libertarian or not, but would I like a massage? No, thanks.

The protesters were accepting of everyone, there was a warm, community feel to it.  About 100 people sleep over in the square every night, and there was a booth set up offering heaps of donated clothing, blankets and yoga mats (which I was told go pretty quickly). The park was a judgment-free zone—men in suits sat alongside teens with nose rings.  People were meditating, spray-painting "Occupy Wall Street" on their skateboards, and hand sewing a giant American flag. 

And then we saw Kanye West.  We came across photographers and people raising their iPhones high, lenses pointed at someone or something through the crowd.  I asked the guy next to me what was going on, and he told me West was here.  Sure enough, I stood on my tiptoes and caught a glimpse of him, gold chains and all.  As far as I know, he wasn't saying anything—he just hung out, unsmiling in his West way for a few minutes.

I left Occupy Wall Street with a sense of hope, because these people are genuine, passionate and fighting for human rights, no matter how small.  Although they don't have a specific course of action to propose, they know what they do notwant—corporate greed to continue to lead this country and world into disarray.  A vision of peace and equality should not be scoffed at.  They, we, are the 99 percent, and our voices will be heard.


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