Friday, October 07, 2011

Occupy Wall Street: some photos and impressions

None of the pictures that follow are very good or particularly interesting, but they give some sense of things from a personal perspective. My camera was acting up and eventually stopped working altogether (from rain, I assume; it's better now), and by the time of the march -- which I mention first -- it was no longer functioning.

Had I been quicker on the draw I could have snapped a great photo of a tall, handsome man in a well fitting suit standing motionless with the leash of his small dog in hand while the dog urinated on a pile of garbage. It might not sound that great, but to me it was an image of perfect symbolism. Another missed opportunity involved a man in a suit getting his shoes shined with an expression on his face that would be impossible to describe (my friend and I both laughed when we saw it). To give some indication I'd say he was expressing simultaneous contempt, embarrassment, and horror, but words don't do it justice. Rather I think what we saw was the birth of some as of yet unclassified emotional state.

Anyway, here's a brief recap from when I went up to Zuccotti Park with two friends (Monday, October 3rd).

* * *

Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza
Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza
Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza
Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza

Between 5:30 and 6:00 we marched through the financial district of New York City, forcing some streets to close temporarily and keeping some cars and cabs waiting. Though our numbers were in the hundreds and not the thousands, it was satisfying if for no other reason than we were a nuisance, a small plug in the flow of the city. (Certainly this is why, aside from the more obvious reasons (real and symbolic), it makes perfect sense to march through that particular part of the city -- pressure through inconvenience.)

At one point an expensively dressed woman turned to a police officer as she was trying to get through the crowd (more accurately, as she was waiting for the crowd to pass) and asked, with utter annoyance, "Could you make them go home this week?"

Someone else, a man with a thick New York accent standing outside a restaurant smoking, said to his friend with complete contempt, "The dregs of society," as we passed.

Another man, as the chant "WE! ARE! THE 99%!" made its way along, yelled from a doorway, "I! AM! THE 1%!" But the strange thing about this man -- at least judging from the company around him as well as the way he acted, dressed, and spoke -- was that he was almost certainly not part of the 1%. He struck me more as someone who was simply trying to be antagonistic for the sake of it, or perhaps someone with no real understanding of what being the top 1% really means and therefore deluded himself into thinking he was part of it.

Some of the march was a little bizarre -- bizarre in the sense that we passed some very nice restaurants filled with dressy people drinking wine and chatting to one another, and some of them were looking away on purpose (our presence -- loud chanting and banging drums -- could not be missed). Other people in the area -- waitstaff, residents, various workers -- gathered by their building's front door (or peaked out), taking pictures when we walked by as if the circus had just arrived in town.

When we approached the Post Office a heavyset woman employee inside had a big smile on her face and was pumping her fists in the air, dancing to the rhythm of the drumming. Another worker -- a man with a short beard (or perhaps just a mustache) -- was applauding with a look of respect and thankfulness on his face while standing behind the counter. The other workers were looking up and smiling, though they seemed to be concentrating more on getting things done (or at least pretending to). It was very nice to see this after experiencing the other, more negative reactions. (At least some people get it, I thought.)

A little later I smiled again when I noticed a street vendor giving the peace sign to us and smiling as we passed, though I cynically wondered after the fact if his reaction was sincere or just an attempt to grab some quick business.

* * *

Zuccotti Park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, crass, punks
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, tents, sleeping
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, tents, sleeping, occupy wall st

The camp itself seemed to be well run.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, schedule, events
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, wash, laundry

A couple of people were peeling various kinds of fruit when we arrived, and shortly thereafter a big bowl of tasty looking fruit salad was placed on the table. (People were alerted to its presence by a guy who yelled, well, "FRUIT SALAD!") No restrictions were put on who could eat what; the food was placed on the table when ready and up for grabs to occupiers and tourists alike.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, tents, sleeping, food, table

* * *

Here is a map of the park taken from The Occupied Wall Street Journal (which I will scan shortly if no good copies make their way online) [update: HERE ]:

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, map, occupied wall street journal

* * *

Early on I noticed some commotion and a small crowd, so I made my way towards it. A disheveled man was holding a sign that read "Nazi Bankers Wall Street", and he was going on a long (endless) rant about Jews and Wall Street and all kinds of other ridiculous anti-Semitic nonsense. I'm sure that pretty much everyone -- if not everyone -- was only standing there listening to him because it was such a spectacle. A few people yelled that they didn't want to hear his racism, but the man persisted. Others were laughing. And there was lots of media there, which fueled him more. My immediate reaction was to see this as an illustration of one of the inherent dangers in forming a group that's generally accepting and all inclusive (he could do real damage if not kept in check), but people there had their own way of dealing with it:

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, vendors, capitalism, anti-semitism, anti-semitic

The two people holding disapproving signs followed him around for awhile, and eventually I never saw the man again.

But before he disappeared, another guy came up to him and started yelling in his face:

"The people on Wall Street are not Jews! They people on Wall Street are white Anglo-Saxon Protestants! Got it?!? We don't want your hate here! This is not about race, religion or color!"

The irony was too funny.

* * *


Along the outskirts of the park sit a band of vendors peddling their wares.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, vendors, capitalism

For all I know they might very well park themselves there for most of the year, but of course it's much more likely they were in those spots to take advantage of the occupation and the publicity it was generating.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, vendors, capitalism

It struck me as parasitic behavior at worst, opportunistic at best. But at the same time, I can't really blame them too much. It's smart business (I doubt being a vendor is easy or particularly lucrative).

* * *

A couple of places in Zuccotti Park are covered with various signs the protesters have made. The signs sit on the ground all day on display (as information and decoration), and when the marches take place, everyone grabs their sign (or a sign) and carries it with them. When they return, the signs are placed back in the designated space. (Most of them are made on the back of pizza boxes.)

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, signs, occupy wall st

The occupied area is never totally abandoned. During the march I went on, some people stayed behind to, I imagine, "hold the area" -- i.e., keep watch over it / keep the attention and spectacle aspect of the occupation alive (a group played drums at the camp the entire time we were gone). Many of the people who went on the march were people who came just to join in for the day, which illustrates part of the importance of the occupation itself: holding a public space where people can come and join whenever they have the opportunity. It's something constant and on-going, and a great place for organizing.

zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, signs
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza, signs
zuccotti park, occupy wall street, liberty plaza


Tyler said...

I'm not too fond of the above post but perhaps it'll have some value for people who haven't been able to / can't make it to Z. Park.

Also went to the protest/occupation in D.C. yesterday. I was most excited to hear Chris Hedges speak but ended up being very disappointed -- 70-80% of what he said was taken verbatim from his The Best Among Us article. It was strange hearing it; I felt a little bit like a sap standing there while Hedges was telling us we were among "the best" Americans (I'm not sure how anyone could bring themselves to clap and cheer at such remarks... It seemed wrong, too self-aggrandizing. And for some reason all of it left me feeling depressed). When we arrived at Freedom Plaza there were only a few hundred people there (and no visible marines, as were rumored), but we got there very late (it was already dark). At McPherson Square there were about 50 or so people gathered for a general assembly (planning for the occupation).

I can't speak for the occupation since it's just beginning, but the protest at Freedom Plaza felt like business as usual.

Adam Baldrick said...

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