When protesters began sleeping down in Zuccotti Park on September 17, I admit I thought it sounded pretty ridiculous. I pictured a few unemployed hipsters from Williamsburg with nothing better to do and figured after a week or so, when no one paid them much attention and their numbers failed to grow, they'd all pack up and go home. I had no idea that the "Occupy" idea would not only grab hold here, but would gain traction around the world, giving me as well as many others hope that maybe, just maybe, things might actually change.
In late October, I saw this:
And I was inspired by Marsha Spencer. I thought, I can knit. I may not be down at Wall Street, but it's getting cold, and I can knit some hats. So I knit steadily for about two weeks.
On Friday, November 4, I headed into downtown Manhattan just as dusk was falling. I assumed that it'd be easy to find OWS when I got off the subway at Wall Street --every time I've ever encountered or participated in a protest, you can hear the roar of the crowd from many blocks away. But Wall Street was quiet, as it usually is after 6 pm on a weeknight. There were a few people in suits leaving office buildings, some police officers hanging about the subway entrances and in doorways here and there, and a few mounted on horseback. No crowds. It looked almost exactly like this:
I realized I didn't even know where Zuccotti Park was. (It was called Liberty Plaza Park until 2006, which sounds much more familiar.) I walked back and forth on Wall Street--finding no park, and no crowd. Wall Street is actually only eight blocks long (actually, Manhattan is pretty narrow down there anyway) and after I covered about half of Wall Street, it occurred to me that the park might not even be on Wall Street. Fortunately, signage for tourists abounds in the financial district, and I quickly located Zuccotti Park on a map and headed west to Broadway.
Zuccotti Park is that little green bit close to the center of the map,
just above the red A marker.
just above the red A marker.
First I saw a row of food trucks, falafel and halal, tacos and fruit smoothies. I imagine they originally were daytime denizens, feeding analysts, traders, and tourists, but now they can stay around the clock for the occupiers, news media, and additional tourists. Their generators were humming but the park itself was quiet. It was chilly, in the 50s (10-13C), but not windy and the snow that we'd had the previous weekend was long gone.
Photo: Washington PostHere again, I admit I was expecting the 33,000 square-foot (3,100 m2) park--home to hundreds of people with no plumbing for seven weeks--to be rank, smelly, noisy, off-putting, and disorganized. It was none of these things. I have an extremely sensitive nose, and, to my amazement, there was nothing smelly or dirty about the park. And it was quiet. No crazy drumming circles, no one doing drugs, no one playing hacky sack, no pervasive smell of pot wafting over the grounds. Imagine.
There was a broad path through the park lined by clearly marked areas, mostly with tables and chairs and people with literature and info available: Library, First Aid, Comfort (where I saw a number of coats and winter clothes, and left the hats and wristwarmers I'd knitted), Press Inquiries, Sustainability, Food, Civil Rights, Legal, Media, and many more.
After one pass through the quiet park, I went out and circled back to where I'd come in. The sidewalk around the park was wide and clear, completely clean and impediment-free. On one end of the park a few flyers had been taped, most prominently the Good Neighbor Policy, which I'd also seen on large posters within the park. It included "zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol anywhere in Liberty Plaza; Zero tolerance for violence or verbal abuse towards anyone; [and] Zero tolerance for abuse of personal or public property."
When I'd come in, I'd noticed a group on the stairs at the end of the park. One person would say a few words, and then the group closest to them would repeat the words so the surrounding crowd could hear what was said. I've since learned that this is the "People's Microphone" that circumvents NYC's requirement for an “amplified sound” permit, which would ban microphones, speakers, and even bullhorns from Liberty Plaza. Well, no wonder it's so quiet down there. With drumming "limit[ed] ... on the site to 2 hours per day, between the hours of 11am and 5pm only" by OWS' own Good Neighbor Policy, the group seemed to me far from troublesome, at least in the way it's been depicted in the press.
Photo: Griffin Lotz
Now if you disagree strongly with the ideas behind OWS...well, that's a whole different discussion. But if (as I was inclined to do back in September) you're just complaining that they're a bunch of dirty, disorganized hippies (and, until now, has anyone used that word since the 70s except for Cartman?), you're just plain wrong.
I've been particularly saddened by the news of recent evictions of occupiers in Oakland and, last night, here in NYC. What city officials don't seem to realize is that such actions are only going to serve to make the Occupy movement stronger, because those of us who may have started out on the fence are going to take sides.
As they say, "You cannot evict an idea."
My friend Brian Scott has some wonderful photos of OWS here.