The Occupy Wall Street protest here in New York is over five weeks old. By the time I arrived 11 days ago, the composition of the occupation—both in terms of the participants and the physical space itself—was already in place. I’ve written this post in an attempt to give you readers an idea of what being at Occupy Wall Street NYC is like without having to brave the rain, the crowds, and the too-numerous, seemingly-endless meetings.
Even small-potatoes reporters like Trevor Hughes of the Fort Collins Coloradoan are taking shots at their local protests. In his October 12 article about Occupy Fort Collins, Hughes wrote that “the Fort Collins protesters include retirees, college students and the unemployed.” There were plenty of employed people at those protests when I was still in Colorado, Trevor. How come they’re not mentioned?
And so while those participating in Occupy Wall Street aren’t easily pigeonholed, I’ll attempt to do so anyway. Here’s how I’d categorize the three main types of protesters. Again, these are quite obviously oversimplifications, but I think they get the point across.
The average age of this group is about a decade or two older than the others. These folks mostly show up on the weekends here in NYC, but they were the plurality in Fort Collins more often than not. I think it’d be safe to say that they are the most political of the three groups. Many are veteran activists from the late 60′s/early 70′s anti-war movement, a good number are union members, but plenty are your run-of-the-mill blue- and white-collar workers who just want to retire before they turn 75.
These people are 30-somethings who attend to a lot of the logistical work required to sustain the occupation. Much of this group consists of process-obsessed anarchists who’ve found solace in a movement that allows them some level of control over what happens to them (something that’s become increasingly rare because affecting the world around you now requires massive amounts of wealth). They give themselves nicknames like Ketchup and Jackrabbit, and prefer the use of gender nuetral pronouns like zee and zer. They are likely to have a friend’s apartment or one of their own in Manhattan or Brooklyn at which they can crash. They are also likely to be the kids of well-to-do East Coasters, and as a result they see no reason to construct a movement that would speak for the rest of the 99%—those who cannot afford to take part in these protests for monetary or familial reasons. For example, they won’t advocate for a public works program, nor will they demand single-payer health care. In fact, their aversion to the release of any official demands on the part of Occupy Wall Street is so steadfast that they’ve begun to speak in platitudes like “issuing demands would legitimize the very institutions we are protesting against” and “the word ‘demands’ is for terrorist groups.” Instead of formulating demands, they produce documents espousing their visions of a new world order based on open-source software and urban gardening.
The people camping out in Zuccotti Park 24 hours a day are either young hippies or apolitical crust punks. They tend to not take part in the general assemblies or any of the working groups, so other than being warm bodies, they don’t contribute a whole lot to the occupation. But unlike the most-of-the-timers, they usually make for good conversation.
Zuccotti Park: The Site of the Occupation
If nothing else, those most-of-the-time anarchists have kept the occupation up and running so that the crust punks and hippies have a somewhere to stay and food to eat, and so that the weekend warriors have prime real estate on which to stand and hold their signs.
First comes the kitchen. The food served is primarily vegetarian, something with which I have no qualms. Someone did donate a giant sack of McDonald’s hamburgers during my second day in New York, and someone near me said, “I’m not sure how I feel about that”.
Other than the occasional pierogi or curry dish, it’s standard fare. Bagels, coffee, and cold cereal in the morning. Sandwiches, granola bars, and fresh fruit at lunch. Bread, bread, and more bread no matter the meal.
The kitchen volunteers tend to be quite rigid in their adherence to health regulations and cleanliness, so much so that they applauded themselves when someone posted a phony “A” rating that was made out to look like it was from the NYC Health Department on the serving table.
With regard to shelter, I sold my two-person tent before I left for NYC because I had heard that tents were a no-no. But a few days after I showed up, people began construct shelters out of tarps, cardboard, and duct tape. Now those things—as well as proper camping tents—are all over the place.
Some, such as myself, like to take advantage of nature’s alarm clock—the Sun.
I’m a fairly heavy sleeper. Unless someone steps on my inflatable sleeping mat, I’m not waking up until about 7.
All of the necessities are covered. There’s even a sanitation group.
In a socialist society, everyone physically fit for manual labor does their part to complete the least desirable tasks. Occupy Wall Street, however, is far from a socialist utopia, and you’ll see the same faces collecting trash and pushing brooms day after day. I myself appreciate menial, stinky labor— in moderation, of course. And so I’ll often grab some coffee and do some picking up during the early morning while I wait for my brain to catch up with the rest of my body. My dream of someday becoming a garbageman—a dream I shared with my mom at a very young age—has finally come true!
Information and the People’s Library
A corner of Zuccotti Park has been dedicated to the accumulation of knowledge, both occupation-oriented and not.
I haven’t slept in the park every night, and since early last week, my volunteer work with the Democratic Socialists of America has taken up a lot of my time, so I’m away from Zuccotti Park on the regular. As such, I’d most likely be categorized as a most-of-the-timer, but my politics and my stance on demands are more closely aligned with the part-timers.