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Zuccotti Park: The Revolution Of An Idea

A local persepective on the Occupy Wall Street movement

This article offers a general overview of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Zuccotti Park, just before the protestors were sent home Monday night, and a look at the participation of activists in Bergen County. It is the first in a series examining activism in our area.

Although New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg chose to ignore a court order and end the occupation in Zuccotti Park Tuesday, the idea of it is far from over. In the minds of many, that idea has just shifted. This holds true for the occupations in Portland, Oregon, shut down Sunday, and the one in Oakland, California, which was also forced to come to an end.

During my first visit to Zuccotti Park, the site of the Occupy Wall Street occupation, in mid-October, I was given a shirt on which was stenciled a powerful message: “You can’t arrest an idea.”

That is true. But you can occupy it, which is what hundreds of people with disparate backgrounds and political beliefs chose to do when they took over Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011: occupy the notion that people, that is the 99 percent who have been suffering injustices at the hands of greedy corporations and government, have a right to demand change, call for justice, and shape a better world.

The Occupy Wall Street Movement in Zuccotti Park was modeled on the occupations that rocked Europe and the Arab world this summer and repeated in cities around the country. The movement, decentralized and leaderless, is far from rudderless. Its aim, to raise consciousness, harks back to the feminist and gay movements of the 1960s. In those movements too, the personal was political.

“We are all in this together,” its participants seem to say. In truth, every area, even the most affluent, even Fort Lee, has suffered in the economic downturn. Stores have closed; unemployment lines are growing. During the last three years, my household alone offered temporary shelter to three homeless women, two of whom are acquaintances. Last week, a homeless person was discovered sleeping on a bench in front of the Fort Lee Historical Society. As long as one person is affected by poverty and economic deprivation, we are all affected. And, as we all know this, the phenomenon of protest in Zuccotti Park was something that attracted many – those wanting to participate in the change and those wanting to witness it.

In October, a friend, Linda from Fort Lee, and I met up with two more Bergen County friends – Peggy from Fort Lee, who actually works on Wall Street and is supportive of the movement, and Patrick, an artist and activist from Hackensack, who rode his bike to and from Zuccotti Park to join the protests every day. We were struck by the attention to what is important – a library with books that helped to explain why the OWS even exists; an altar with tokens from every religion.

The messages on signs held up by Zuccotti Park protestors and by activists around the country—Tax the rich; End corruption; Greed is not a family value—are deeply felt, personal and political. They don’t represent abstract ideas. Protestors are a diverse lot, and they are sharing their stories of loss, deprivation and injustice; they are individuals fighting foreclosures, looking for jobs, struggling to pay back loans, and just wanting to make a difference or help out a neighbor.

Christine, a young woman who volunteered to help provide blankets to occupiers in Zuccotti Park, said her life felt empty as an artist, working alone. She wants to make a difference. She is one of many students I encountered at Zuccotti Park who can’t repay their college loans. Intelligent, hungry for a change, she, like so many there, appears as intent on protest as on offering herself up to benefit the cause of peace and social justice. Kristle, one of several kitchen volunteers, said she helped to feed vegan meals to approximately 800 people at the park every day. Artists, musicians, chefs, techies, medical students, union workers, the unemployed and just plain sick and tired helped to create a small, peaceful community in Zuccotti Park, modeling for the rest of the country, perhaps what could be.

It was a hopeful sign that support for the protestors was also unprecedented. More than $300,000 dollars was donated, and about 400 boxes of supplies arrived every day. Friends came from near and far, including the Bergen County contingent, to stand with activists and offer support. A network of truth, support and justice will go on and the Occupy Wall Street Movement will manifest itself in new ways.

For many activists, the Occupy Movement became a success the moment government officials and the media took notice. One thing is certain, the 99 percent in this country who” have not,” who have lost homes and jobs, who can’t repay loans, who are tired of corruption in government and oppression by a system that has failed to live up to its promises, will no longer remain invisible and silent.

William Mays November 15, 2011 at 09:01 PM
So they can't repay their college loans and it is the bank's fault? No one forced them to take a loan, so they should stop complaining. The definition of a loan is that you borrow money and then you pay it back after a while. Is it Wall Street's fault that they spent 50k a year on a substandard college and then discovered that their dream job wasn't waiting for them? I used to support them, I went out there one day, I work on Wall Street, for a big bank, so what I saw was a bunch of tattooed punks who looked like they wouldn't even get a job in a good economy. These people haven't been hurt by Wall Street, they have been hurt by themselves. The only people who actually had a good reason to protest were the ones who were laid off or the union members, but thats 10% of the protesters.
Peggy Crisalli November 16, 2011 at 12:06 AM
Billy, We don't know why each of the protestors are there. But what we do know is that unemployment is higher than ever, young people out of college cannot get jobs (not just dream jobs, just a job) and people who worked their entire life cannot afford to retire (yet their jobs won't keep them over a certain age since they can get younger help cheaper). In so many cases, pensions, life-savings, 401Ks, etc. were destroyed by the greed displayed by the top-earners of financial institutions who intentionally took extreme risks to make more money and ultimately destoryed so many lives, and our country. I also worked for many years at a large bank. Peggy
William Mays November 16, 2011 at 12:29 AM
Oh please, my brother just graduated this year from NYU with a Computer Science degree, he landed a job in less than a month. The problem is that people get BS degrees like psychology and then get pissed that no one wants to hire them. I agree with most of the stuff you have said, but all I saw at the protests was a bunch of losers who had nothing else to do. I'm in the 1%, but I earned every penny. If you read some of my other posts, you'd know that I'm pretty liberal and that I support higher taxes on people like me, but the losers down at Zucotti Park are nothing more than bunch of bored teenagers.
Tracy November 16, 2011 at 12:41 PM
I was never clear as to why they were there or what they thought would change, it seems so disorganized. And for the few that had a plight to change the world got lost in the midst of their comrades antics. I think the days of mass-sleep in the park or cause elongated public demonstration are over, organized groups and agendas work now, of course that might actually mean that there is work involved in changing the world.
Avi Bloom November 16, 2011 at 12:55 PM
The protesters message was.... what do we want ?? we don't know. When do we want it ?? Now. This was the face of Obamas re election campaign as a poll done during OWS showed that 60% of these people would vote for Obama again. about 99 % of them are unemployable and would not get past a first interview for the 3rd shift at Mc Donalds
Anna November 16, 2011 at 04:51 PM
I'm glad these people, tatooed or not, went out to raise these issues, which are important ones for most Americans. I don't see them as the face of Obama at all. In fact, Obama and company have distanced themselves from OWT. 99% unemployable? Many of them are college students or highly educationed people who feel disallusioned with the crap we've had to deal with over the last few years. I give them a lot of credit. So if there are some homeless people or "punks" in the bunch, so what. They're part of society too. Thanks for the article Arya.
Tracy November 16, 2011 at 07:08 PM
Anna- I am forever grateful for the right to protest, and freedom of speech, and I use it on this site. Although there was a message in the beginning of this protest, it did get lost and results were minimal, if at all, and none lasting. Cooperative effort, to achieve a clearly defined goal were masked by the antics and 'stories'. Don't take bloggers too personally, you are too nice of a lady to let them get ya down.
Avi Bloom November 17, 2011 at 12:44 AM
Anna : Obama and Nancy Polozi , george Soros and the rest of the SEIU thugs embraced this event and now that these people have caused so much embarrassment they asked the mayors to stop it. This Republic is $ 15 trillion in Debt thanks to Freddy and Fanny. Thanks to Big education in the US these people have not the smarts to protest the people who drafted the community investment act that started all this mess in the first place.
William Mays November 17, 2011 at 01:40 AM
They didn't embrace it, they said they agreed with the general message. I agree with the general message too, I just don't like the messengers. The country is in debt because of two wars that your friend Bush got us into.
carol simon November 17, 2011 at 12:10 PM
I have been mortified to be a NYC teacher and have our union, UFT support the Occupied Wall Street Movement. We barely have enough paper or books for the students, yet the occupiers were given access to the Union building nearby.I give a chunk of money out of my pay check, like it or not, to the union. Teachers were not consulted about supporting this movement. Teachers need support with insurmountable paper work, a contract, reduced class size, and the declining morale. The teacher's union ignored our cries and used the Occupy Wall Street for political gain. Unemployment is real and the condition of our economy is unrecognizable. The White House and Wall Street are united. There is enough culpability to go around and "share the wealth". The "occupiers" demonstrate hate against greed and unbalanced distribution of the haves and have nots, yet our president's hand is in the pockets of Wall Street while he strokes the opposition with his other hand. The occupation of Wall Street had no clear message, clarity, or understanding of the depth and a great deal of displaced anger. How long could the "campers" have hung out at the White House lawn?
Tracy November 17, 2011 at 12:21 PM
The downslide began with the de-regulation of Fanny and Freddy, make no mistakes about that---and that was a Clinton thing, results of that seen in the Bush era and still now................
Tracy November 17, 2011 at 12:25 PM
I was just in DC last week, the 'campers' were there, on the cement 'lawn' in the backyard. Lots and lots of them!
carol simon November 17, 2011 at 01:20 PM
Were they defecating,using needles and having sex publicly as what I witnessed? Did they stay indefinitely? For many, it was party time, The message muted, the purpose lost. I believe we, as a nation can get on a more productive band-wagon.
Anna November 17, 2011 at 02:00 PM
Carol you have bought into everything the new York post and Fox News says about the protestors. All defecating and fornicating? Please. The majority of people were there for good reason. This is how people get their voices heard. Big money and their lobbyists are doing it too, just by different means.
carol simon November 17, 2011 at 03:05 PM
Eye witness, Anna. I believe all voices should be heard...that is why education should be at the forefront and the Teacher's Union needs to focus on the education of students rather than giving voice to this protest that lacks focus and dignity. My point is that I do not want my union to buy into such" crap "when the teachers and students rely an their leadership for support. We all have "good reason" to protest and be heard. That is why I'm writing and that is why I went to see first hand what I am paying into with my checks. The Occupy Wall Street protests lacked a coherent idea and produced more distasteful behavior than good.
carol simon November 17, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Many of the children I work with are disabled and living in poverty. I care deeply about their needs and future. Today the United Federation Teacher's Union will be at a rally for the Occupied Wall Street protest. I do not think the energy of leaders that should support teachers and students have any real reason to be at this rally. Our own house is not in order and our needs are incomprehensible. The Union does not appear to be working for us or the students. The Rally is at 4:00 today, at Wall Street. Join the cause....then get a tour of our schools. Look and see where the truly vulnerable among us dwell.
Donna Brennan November 17, 2011 at 06:01 PM
Tracy, allow me to have some diplomacy with you. When you state "not to take bloggers too personally," I am sure you are trying to be kind. However, the other side of your compassionate thoughts are all the news agencies count on bloggers as another source of accurate and real time reporting. In terms of how we gather news, is exciting. Like it or not, a whole new frontier has opened up in terms of reporting news stories. One, must go to the sources they trust to get honest and accurate news such as this site. Lastly, we have the right to expressing opinion. Don't you want readers to take your blog personally and have opinion? Do you as a blogger not state what is accurate? This is really my benign way of expressing my thoughts to you.
William Mays November 17, 2011 at 08:41 PM
Anna, I work near there. I've been there a couple of times. I only see at most 20 people who look like they geniunely are mad at Wall Street, the rest are losers and punks who think that Wall Street is responsible for their foreclosures and their loan defaults. No one forced them to take those mortgages and loans. If they fell for an offer from the bank , they are as dumb as people who believe car dealers that no one will sell the car to them under MSRP.
William Mays November 17, 2011 at 08:44 PM
I saw them as well when I went to DC for a conference with political affairs people. I got heckled today at the Stock Exchange, when I went by to drop some papers off. I was also on a conference call with traders who were at the NYSE. I could hear the morons that were outside through the phone.
Tracy November 17, 2011 at 09:11 PM
Hi Donna! This is a great conversation to have, it brings up many issues, so thank you for doing that. The full quote is " Don't take bloggers too personally, you are too nice of a lady to let them get ya down"--- it was a personal 'pat on the back' to a person I know and respect. I think this is a genre of communication that need not be defensive. Please be careful about using partial sentences and deriving meaning out of context. Its equivalent to not listening or partially hearing what was said. It my general belief is that nobody should take another's opinion offensively (as if it were directed to them or meant to beat them up). Everyone is entitled to their opinion,and has value. I appreciate the colorful bloggers and get a new way of looking at things because of it, my own thoughts are expanded and widened to new views and interpretations. No matter how embellished or outlandish, or descriptive it may be, I don't like to see it taken as an personal insult or assault. Its their opinion. As you know I have a blog on this site and stand by my right to voice my opinion no matter how controversial. I hope I can encourage new perception about things and in sharing my opinions and views. Thus, I absolutely love this new frontier.... it can is a wonderful wealth of information.
Avi Bloom November 17, 2011 at 09:17 PM
The burn down Macy's crowd demonstrate the failure to todays public education system. While they are shouting burn down Wall Street there are over a million chinese soldiers sharpening their bayonets ready to attack the United States. God help us all.
William Mays November 17, 2011 at 09:20 PM
Oh yeah, now the Chinese are after us, nutjobs these days.
Anna November 17, 2011 at 09:21 PM
As a person who writes for a media/information company, I'd like to make a distinction between a "blog" and a "blogger" and those who post a comment on a board like this one in response to an article or a blog. Bloggers are generally commentators who are invited to write a column, or blog (as in Traci's case) by a medium like The Patch because they are considered to be well-spoken and good writers, and who have valuable opinions or good information to contribute. (Although many people start up their own blogs.) Clearly they plan their columns, have a theme, and are careful to be respective and useful in what they say. Those who post comments in response to these pieces or columns usually respond with whatever comes into their minds at the time. They are not subject to any particular etiquette or editorial rules. It would be nice if they were all respectful, but it's not always the case. Absent total vulgarity or threats (which I haven't seen here, thankfully), it's all just free speech. I agree that we shouldn't feel directly offended by any of it.
William Mays November 17, 2011 at 09:28 PM
I've been invited to blog here, I just don't have the time. I'm not a very respectful person as you can see.
Anna November 17, 2011 at 10:04 PM
Billy, I think you would be if you had a space of your own!
William Mays November 17, 2011 at 10:52 PM
Not really, I don't see the need for superficialness. Most people deep down under are disrespectful. I don't believe in sugarcoating things, I like being straightforward.
Avi Bloom November 18, 2011 at 01:59 AM
The real Billy Mays was a gentleman
Donna Brennan November 18, 2011 at 06:11 AM
Tracy, no disrespect to you, but, you totally missed my point.
Tracy November 18, 2011 at 12:48 PM
Thank you for defining it, I always regard the people with blogs as more of an author of their articles/column, I will refer to them as the blogger now. And use the term 'commentator' as the comments that follow the article ......
Tracy November 18, 2011 at 12:51 PM
Donna, then you need to write what you mean and make your point. Let me take a stab at it, because it did cross my mind, but also diluted in reference-- my comments were not referring to the article itself. Again, reading thoroughly is important to understanding the story, equivalent to listening. Anna's comment was in response to comments or bloggers, and they are referred to through quotes/language used, as was my response to her and the use of the reply box. I consider Ayra an author of the piece, it was not an opinion blog but an informative piece, using multiple references and venues. It is good enough to spur on conversation and evoke stance from its commentators/bloggers. That is a great means of defining a articles impact. It is a success!

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