american made magazine spent the day October 15, 2011 with Occupy Wall Street. From the student assembly at 12:00 noon in Washington Square Park, to Time Square, back to Washington Square Park to witness a General Assembly, and then finally ending a very long day in Zuccotti Park (Liberty Park) at 2:00 AM. It was grueling, but eye-opening.
Concerns ranged from extensive student debt to questions about a precarious future centered on current global political, economic and environmental perils we are all facing. As parents, grandparents, teachers, union leaders, environmentalists, business executives, the media and politicians try to wrap their heads around “what does Occupy Wall Street stand for” their message, although broad, is clear. They have woken from the global American dream and want more than to be defined by the values of money and stuff. The other clear message is a discontent and belief that democracy and greed are now one and the same.
I had started my day in Times Square in the quiet of the morning to photograph the before. The messaging is assaulting. We live to consume. Marching to Time Square, Occupy Wall Street opened my eyes frighteningly to the two words we are living in. Masses of people are very comfortable with the state of our human existence, and thousands are distraught by the uncertain prospects of their futures.
Some stood on the sidelines watching with dismay and bewilderment – the march was an inconvenience to their standard Saturday shopping experience. Others looked away with shame in their eyes, while still others cried – perhaps fearing what they imagined may come of all of this.
As thousands descended on Times Square later in the day to occupy New York City’s epicenter of commercialism, Mayor Bloomberg was not going to have it. Police barricades lined the entrance of 42nd Street from 6th Avenue to 8th Avenue and up to 45th Street running East to West. Marchers entered Times Square at 46th Street and 6th Avenue to be faced with police on foot in riot gear and on mounted horses. Protestors chanted “Who’s Streets – Our Streets”, a cry to their pressumed freedom to peacefully assemble and demonstrate their disillusionment. The standoff went on for hours, ending with protestors slowly dispersing and arrests along 46th Street for those who refused to compromise and leave. Often the Occupy Wall Street protestors chanted to the police that they too are part of the 99%. One officer, I overheard speaking with demonstrators, said this should have happened years ago…that it is too late for change.
But as a global day of protests took on our collective conscious, either as acts of solidarity or by citizens with similar disenchantment with the economics they are inheriting, it is hard to imagine this will all quietly disappear. The largely student population, who gathered again in Washington Square Park at 11:00 PM to regroup, talked of “Occupying Everything” as a statement to take back there future. They organize their movement in a completely horizontal process of open discussion, consensus and individual responsibility to decisions of personal action. They speak of freedom, not tied to commerce, but to human and environmental responsiblity and respect for both. This call to action may be late in the coming, but I will not be surprised by the legs that will carry it through this upcoming winter.
At 1:30 AM I sat at Zuccotti Park with Laura and George – a soccer mom and her recently laid off friend who is now facing cancer treatments. George and I had a lot in common to talk about. Laura’s husband, a financial services executive, was home with their children for the weekend. Laura and George, who had driven from Kansas, wanted to see Occupy Wall Street for themselves. They were camping in the park with the youth of our future. Laura wanted to tell her children and grandchildren that she had been here witnessing history in the making. She likened OWS to the civil rights movement – another hopeful time of great sacrifice in redifining in America.
Along the sidelines earlier in Washington Square Park a group of well dressed women and their husbands, who were in NYC for a birthday party celebration, watched in earnest as thousands of students and protestors held their General Assembly. I asked them why they were in the park? They said it was time for change. As children of the 1960s they too wanted to show their support and anger towards an America they no longer felt spoke to their values. Two women from Canada and I contemplated staying in Washington Square Park past the curfew, knowing we would be arrested, as a statement of support. They were also in their 40′s – professional women who had come to the city for a holiday.
Finally arriving home at 4:00 AM, I could feel the change of the season that is upon us. There is a new chill in the air. More than the upcoming holiday season is being ushered in even if many are all too comfortable to admit it. Soon, we will find ourselves in the Spring of 2012 flowing into an Autumn of our elections. Both Democrats and Republicans should start thinking now about responding to, and dialoguing with, a generation who has lost patience with what they see as corrupt ideologies. They should also not be surprised by those who find their way from the sidelines in support of them. The great question for all of us, not just Americans, is…do we have the courage to steer a course to a better and newly defined world?