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Occupy Wall Street: What A Difference A Week Makes

“There’s’ something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear” – Crosby, Stills and Nash

Yesterday evening, I strolled down Broadway from Houston to Zuccotti Park, about a half hour walk, anticipating what the Occupy Wall Street protests would look like a week after I last visited.

I passed the inelegant federal buildings on Broadway and Reade, and saw ahead of me, a couple blocks away on the sidewalk in front of City Hall, a group of protesters and picketers marching side by side. I maneuvered around them and noticed there were several police officers and quite a few paddy wagons with more cops sitting inside them. It began to rain.

Continuing down Broadway, the rain picked up from a drizzle to a steady flow and when I came upon Zuccotti Park, the first thought that hit me was that there were more people than last week. The second thought was, these are determined people, as the rain got heavier.

I arrived around 5:30 and was to meet Dan Patterson (you should read his coverage –he’s using social media in brilliant ways to report on Occupy Wall Street) at the orange/red sculpture on the south-west side of the park at around 6. So for the next half hour I wandered the park, spoke to a few people and took down notes. Here’s what I observed.

Yesterday’s crowd was much younger – more late teens to late twenties – and more festive than last week. This may have to do with the rain, but with the Occupy Wall Street movement spreading to other cities, the disaffected youth are getting involved. Chants of “All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street” from 11 people who looked to be in their twenties were synchronized with the beats emanating from the growing drum circle – again, mainly a younger audience.

But don’t mistake the festival atmosphere in Zuccotti Park for lack of organization.

In the seven days since my previous visit, the infrastructure that I reported as lacking has gotten significantly more cohesive. Their media center is impressive, with many computers up and running (one of them had a map of the weather system, showing rain for about an hour before it would stop). Food that was donated is set up buffet-style for those hungry. All organization is done by anyone who wants to help. People with buckets roam the park asking for donations for various items – the ones I saw were for tarps and gluten-free foods. And, just as last week, there are signs at the entrances of the parks showing the daily schedule – breakfast at 7:30 am all the way up to the final General Assembly of the day at 7pm. This is not a well-oiled machine, yet, but it appears to be moving in that direction.

Externally, organization still has a ways to go – especially as cities across the nation co-opt their own versions of Occupy Wall Street. Protests have popped up in several places, including Los Angeles, Albuquerque, Boston and Chicago.

Their online presence has gotten stronger, too. Their website, OccupyWallSt.org posts important information – where to donate, where to protest, where to mail stuff, minutes from meetings and the daily schedule – and the media blackout no longer exists. Last week, there were a lot of print reporters/bloggers, seeking out interviews. Yesterday, local NBC, CBS and CNN affiliates were broadcasting from the park. They also created a popular Tumblr blog, WeAreThe99PerCent, showcasing people’s stories of struggle. It’s a passionate, real-world play focusing on the hard times that many of us have fallen onto.

One person I spoke with, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because he is afraid he’ll get fired if his employer found out he was protesting, told me, when asked about the 99% vs 1%, “it’s something of an exaggeration; it’s a sound-bite. It’s what our stupid corporate media wants, they can’t understand anything if it takes longer than two minutes to explain it because they have to go to a commercial break. But it’s true that people with wealth are more represented in government than the majority of people.”

Messaging still has a ways to go, as I spoke to two men who appeared to be in their thirties (again, anonymously – small sample, I know, but it seems like the older, job-holding protesters are still only in half way, with one foot in the protest and the other in the corporate world; this will be something to follow) who had different ideas of where Occupy Wall Street should go.

While we were standing and chatting, someone from NORML, the pro-marijuana policy people, handed us a pamphlet. 15 minutes prior to this encounter, I was handed a postcard from LivingWageNYC, a group trying to make sure that developers and companies receiving taxpayer subsidies create living wage jobs and from the corner of my eye, saw a table of three members from Code Pink, a group working to end US funded wars and occupations, among other things. I’m sure there are other organizations represented there, all good causes on their own, but somehow, when bunched together, it looks disheveled and as a right-leaning friend told me, “It looks like the PCU campus.”

So I asked these two men – I’ll call them Robert and John – if they thought this confluence of issues diminishes the overall objective of ending corporate and political malfeasance.

Robert: “No, I think it’s essential. Because it’s a big issue and the problems are so big. And corporate influence is so intertwined with the government; it’s a revolving door between Congress and lobbyists, between Congress and board rooms. And it’s entangled in almost every aspect of our society and government. This is an open assembly, if people are uncomfortable or they’re critical of the way things are leading here, there’s nothing stopping them from coming out and participating in the assemblies and having their voices heard. I’m sure everyone here would be more than happy to engage in those discussions. In fact, it would make it more exciting and interesting. “

John: “I respectfully disagree. I actually think the lack of focus is hurting it. I think there are a lot of different things. I would like to see things very focused on financial reform and campaign finance reform is necessary and integral to that.”

Robert: “I don’t think it has to be one thing. As I said before, we have massive problems in our nation.”

At this point, someone came by to listen to our conversation and started filming, which, naturally, ended the discussion since John and Robert wanted to remain anonymous. But these kinds of talks are occurring all day throughout the movement.

I spoke with Alex, age 40, who was sharply dressed, as he walked through the outskirts of the park. Alex is a hedgefund manager, who requested to not use his last name, and talked to me about the symbolism of the area.

“After 9/11, all the banks moved up town – in the 50s on Park and Madison,” he said. “It’s great what these kids are doing, but if they want to move beyond the symbolic nature of protesting down here, and hit the banks where it hurts, they should protest uptown.”

Alex believes this movement will only get bigger as it morphs into what he thinks will be the progressive response to the Tea Party movement.

Finally, the last two developments since last week were the Brooklyn Bridge protests and the support of the Transit Workers Union. If you aren’t aware of what happened at the Bridge, you can read about it here, here, and here.

From the TWU Local 100’s website (click through and watch a video of John Samuelsen, president of the union on Countdown) on why they joined the protest:

The Transport Workers Union Local 100 applauds the courage of the young people on Wall Street who are dramatically demonstrating for what our position has been for some time: the shared sacrifice preached by government officials looks awfully like a one-way street. Workers and ordinary citizens are putting up all the sacrifice, and the financiers who imploded our economy are getting away scot-free, increasing their holdings and bonuses.

Young people face a bleak future with high unemployment, and minimum wage jobs. Public sector workers face Mayors and Governors who demand massive wage and benefits givebacks or face thousands of layoffs. That’s not bargaining. That’s blackmail.

One out of six Americans lives in poverty today, and the richest one percent control more wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age of the 1920’s.

The TWU Local 100 Executive Board is united in our determination that this state of affairs is dangerous for America and destructive to its citizenry. We support the Wall Street protesters and their goal to reduce inequality and support every American’s right to a decent job, health care, and retirement security.

The TWU Local 100 has 38,000 members in NYC and 200,000 members in 22 states. Should this movement progress and other unions who represent people in all walks of life get involved it will create a political football. How can a member of Congress or even a presidential candidate ignore those unions who put their collective weight behind them? This is a different story than what happened in Wisconsin, as TWU is not a union for government workers, but for the private sector. Now imagine unions across the nation who work for major industries decide to join the cause.

We’re in week three of the Occupy Wall Street protests, but it’s only begun.

Video taken by Dan Patterson of Occupy Wall Street (10/3/11):

Audio by Dan Patterson, interviewing me, at Occupy Wall Street (10/3/11):

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is the content strategist for The Washington Post. Prior to that he was the media reporter for Digiday. Additional bylines include: The Atlantic, The Awl, Pacific Standard, Mashable, Huffington Post, Mediaite.


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