Learning the real story of Occupy
A man with a kitten. A free box of ice cream. An elderly woman with no place to sit.
This is not what I expected.
A few weeks ago, I traveled to New York City and visited Zucotti Park, home of the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement. The movement is a continuous effort of demonstrations nationwide regarding the “99 percent,” a reference to the increasing difference in wealth in America. Protesting against social and economical inefficiencies and inequalities in today’s economy, “occupiers” have camped out in Zucotti park for two months, as well as many other cities nationally.
Karin Hofmann, a 69-year-old woman living in New York, is not allowed to sit. Instead, she is forced to continue moving around the perimeter of Zucotti park, walking and knitting as she has been doing for the past thirty days. I met and joined Hofmann to experience the reality of the OWS movement myself.
The police refuse to let Hofmann bring her own chair into the park. “It’s a different reason every time,” Hofmann said. “Today it was that it was a potential weapon. It varies.” Neither is she allowed to sit outside the gates. Hofmann is forced to continuously walk around the park, knitting as she goes.
Hofmann and around seven other occupiers involved themselves in the movement by gathering donations of yarn and knitting products that the people sleeping inside the park could use … until the riot police cleared the park of the tenants and their temporary homes, projects and voices.
Retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis is not one of the police participating in the brutal arrests and prevention of OWS. Instead, he stands behind the gates dressed in a former uniform and holding a large yellow sign, supporting the movement. It reads “NYPD; Watch, then join us,” advertising a documentary about OWS.
On Nov. 15, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) operated a massive clearing of Zucotti Park, the home of the OWS movement. To minimize confrontation from outside parties and coverage by the media, they waited until around one am, when occupiers would be most unguarded.
A park that days before had been packed by at least one thousand protesters was now only scattered with a few dozen, still carrying conversation and support for the movement. The blue tarps, tents and tipis made of sticks had disappeared completely, along with many of the supporters who had camped out since the first day of the movement. The kitchens supplying free food are now nonexistent, the only hint of outside support a man from Ben and Jerry’s giving out ice cream on small cardboard plates.
This is what the 99 percent looked like that day in Zucotti park. Although the population of protesters has decreased while the police increase, the movement is still alive in spirit. At the birthplace of the OWS movement, the message is growing clearer and only the awareness and investigation of America can help support and raise it. Now gated in with riot police lined up side-by-side, Occupy needs as much spirit and trust to keep going.
Lewis completely alters the look inside the gated metal atmosphere. Two identical people on either side, yet one is inside the gates and one is not. One is being paid sixty dollars an hour to stop the movement, and one is calmly and effectively supporting it.
Recognized as a popular figure at OWS because of his uncommon background as a protester, Lewis is a strong supporter. He has been arrested multiple times, but is “here to show solidarity — that I support these people and the message that these people are trying to send,” he said.
Before visiting, I knew very little of the movement and it’s purpose or definition.
Many argue that OWS declares no message. However, almost every occupier has their own reason for inhabiting the park and their own interpretation of the movement and the message that is being pushed forward. “Corporate America is controlling this country to the detriment of the people and of the earth,” Lewis said. “They only care about their profits, and nothing else.”
Now, I understand why I was blinded. Corporate America doesn’t want us to know of the difference in their wealth and ours. We are the consumers, and we will continue to be the consumers. If they can hide the real message behind the movement, we will consume and invest just as we have before. “The most promising change I’ve seen is that we are getting more of mainstream America coming in,” Lewis said. “Originally, Corporate America tried to make this movement look like a bunch of dirty hippies, cooks and crazies.”
Yes, hippies exist at OWS, but they exist everywhere. Because the 99 percent is such a big portion of people, they are going to be involved, and they are going to be picked upon. It is easy for Corporate America to choose them to advertise about OWS because its what they want people to see. But the fact is, the OWS movement has become global. It has spread into cities such as Portland, San Diego, Philadelphia and many others. These people aren’t simply gathering as a bunch of lazy hippies. They come from everywhere, of all ethnicities and stories, and they’ve all got voices.
“I don’t think America is gonna change enough in my lifetime,” Hofmann said. “I can deal, but I want to start changing the image.” This is why it is important that we, as a younger generation, address the movement and investigate OWS. If we want the same opportunities and rights, we have to stop fiddling and start becoming aware. We are all living in this country, and we need to recognize that this is the time to stand up.
Dennis* from Brooklyn has been participating in the OWS movement in Zucotti Park since Sep. 23. “I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years,” he said. “Unlike all other movements in America, this truly is the first of the melting pot. It’s not women marching for the right to vote, its not the Civil Rights movement of the 60s. It truly is a melting pot of all religions, all colors. These people are really what America is becoming.”
It only takes a moment to feel the immediate strength of what these people are doing. These men and women are staying in the cold, recently gated-in area to keep alive the hopes and dreams of those who started. The message is changing. The conversation is changing. These are real people in Zucotti Park, California, Washington D.C. and Atlanta. Anywhere OWS exists, people are raising their voice and proving that the 99 percent is everywhere.These are the people, and we have voices.
We are the 99, too.