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.