I’m Down With OWS (Yeah, You Know Me)

Ken AshfordOccupy Wall StreetLeave a Comment

I was in NYC this past weekend, and decided to visit the folks at Occupy Wall Street to see for myself what it was all about.

First of all, although I used to work in that area of Manhatten, it's been almost ten years since I've been in that part of the city.  The last time I went was in late October 2001, when the towers were still smoldering.

Now, of course, the area is being rebuilt, and the Freedom Tower towers over the other skyscrapers in the area.

The 9-11 memorial is accessible with a pass, which are sold out months in advance.  You can't even see it from elsewhere in the area (unless you are in a tall building).

I walked around the Winter Garden which had been restored to its former glory.  That's where this video (0:46) was taken — the 9/11 Memorial itself was in the distance:


At the Winter Garden, a retired fireman from Staten Island regaled a crowd of tourists with his very moving account of September 11, 2001.

And tourists were there in huge throngs.  Tourists, construction workers, and police, in equal parts.

But that was not my ultimate destination.  I was going to Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

First thing one should know: Zuccotti Park isn't really on, or that near to, Wall Street.  It is actually in the shadow of the Freedom Tower, a good 10-15 walk from the actual New York Stock Exchange.

The park itself is one square city block.  And it was jammed full.

The time of my visit was around 10:00 a.m. on Saturday (October 22).  I couldn't tell you how many protesters were there, as most of them were resting and/or asleep under tarps.

The video below is my walk through the park (1:51).  As you can see, it was mostly tarps (as actual tents were not allowed).


The entire park was on under the watchful eye of the NYPD, who had observation posts that look like something out of Star Wars.  The next video (0:28) shows this at the end.


Nearby, a band (I didn't get their name) was playing as well as recording a video for their song "Payroll" (0:45):


So what was the Occupy Wall Street occupation like?

Well, yes, for the most part the protesters were young.  And not your clean-cut boy-and-girl-next-door.  That's not surprising.  People with jobs and families simply can't take on what is demanded of the true "occupiers" — i.e., sleeping outdoors under tarps in the middle of the city.  

But to paint them all that way (which is what Fox and the right blogosphere tries to do) is silly, and unquestionably not in line with actual reality.  There were people there of all stripes.  


Socialists?  Some were. I had a pleasant conversation in disagreement with a member of the National Workers Party. (Basically, I didn't think socialism would work in the United States, and I didn't think a global movement toward sociailsm was a realistic goal, and I told him so.)  Was it a leaderless movement?  Indeed it appeared to be.

Was there anti-semitism?  Nope.  (Note: WaPo's Richard Cohen apparently went down there too, searching for anti-semitism.  He found "not a sign, not a book and not even the guy who some weeks ago held up a placard with the instruction to Google the phrase 'Zionists control Wall St.'") A few people spoke against Israel's occupation of Gaza, although they were — literally and symbolically — on the fringes of the park (after all, Middle East politics doesn't really jibe with the overall message of economic inequality).  And in any event, being against Israel's policies in Gaza isn't anti-semitic any more than being against Obama's policies (or Bush's or whoever's) is anti-American.

Was the protest organized?  Well, if you have been reading about the OWS protest, as well as similar Occupy protests in other cities, you will already know that the "occupation" has turned into a little village.

Below are two pictures: one shows the library (children's section) and one shows the first aid tent.  There was also a food area, where free donated food (from local restaurants) was provided to the protesters.



Another area had a giant chalkboard, where upcoming events were posted.


Surrounding the park were various news vans, and this, which caught my eye:


And of course, while most of the diehard protesters were still sleeping….


…there were plenty of others with signs, always willing to engage in a friendly discussion


The atmosphere was not angry.  It was inviting.  A lot of "middle America" tourists tentatively approached the park, and were greeted with friendly smiling people telling them what the whole thing was about.  

All in all, a successful venture of well-meaning, well-informed rabble-rousers.  What happens next… is anyone's guess.

I saw a lot of numbers on signs, including something like this graph, which shows how, since the days of Reagan, the growth in this country now benefits the top 1% disproportinately (and it wasn't always that way)