I had made plans to go to New York to see the “Occupy” encampment at Zuccotti Park before the NYPD broke it up on November 15th. This didn’t stop me from stopping by on Saturday November 19th; I was curious to see how the movement would adapt to not being allowed to have tents in the park.
The early verdict: the park may no longer be packed but some diehards still want to hold meetings in the cold.
Zuccotti Park is now surrounded by fences and has a both a police and janitor presence. The fences mean there are only two entrances to the parks. Anyone who enters the park is greeted by a panhandler who calls himself Ben.
Ben greeted me with the refrain of “They can take the park but they can’t take our freedom!” before asking me for some money so he can buy a new sleeping bag.
Ben is a 28 year old homeless man who has been out of a job for 3 months. He was a waiter, but he says that he was unable to keep his work because of his bipolar disorder. He currently sleeps in an “abandonedminium” and says that the police separated him from his sleeping bags during Tuesday’s raid on the park.
When the Occupiers are not in their drum circle, they are in a semi-circle listening to announcements. A lot of these announcements take place with the famed ‘people’s mic’, as one person shouts and the crowd repeats.
-Occupiers gather at the North end of the park to make announcements.
Sometimes the people’s mic is used to announce missing items. While I was there I heard an announcement that a flip-cam had been found as well as a social security card.
Other times people will announce their plans or agendas for other ‘Occupy’ events. One person announced a plan to march on Mayor Bloomberg’s house on Sunday since it was his birthday. Another announced the formation of a new working group: the GSD group, or “Get Shit Done” group, since presumably nothing was getting done so a new group was needed.
In the General Assembly, meetings are long yet people stick through it despite the cold. There is an arduous process of having each person who is going to be moderating the discussion to first announce their name, and get the permission from everyone present that they consent to their moderation.
So a lot of time is spent on dialogue like this:
Andy: My name is Andy!
Crowd: My name is Andy!
Andy: I am the facilitator.
Crowd: I am the facilitator.
Andy: Is everyone ok with that?
Crowd: Is everyone ok with that?
Followed by waiting to see if anyone objects. (Yes, this has echoes of Monty Python and the Life of Brian.)
There is still a healthy side-show attached to the affair. 9/11 truthers picket on the outskirts, as does the occasional banjo player.
One particularly amusing sideshow was a person standing outside the park with a giant Chinese flag, arguing about the virtues of Communism with a group of Chinese immigrant Americans, who pointed out that if they thought Communism was great, they would not have left. (Even Ben, our panhandling greeter, though the Communist was nuts.)
I estimate that at most there were 500 people in the park while I was there. Maybe more came by later but this is surely less than when the park was a giant encampment with tents. These meetings don’t even take up the whole space, if anyone else wanted to enjoy the park, they would have been able to find spots to have some solitude.
The leaders of the movement are still around and there are still followers, but its probably going to be harder to keep people interested in this movement as long as it defines itself as a bunch of people gathering in the park and saying “Mic check! Mic Check!” over and over again.
(All photo credits in this piece courtesy of Mara Kristula-Green.)
-Some occupiers were busy rolling their own cigarettes.
-One of the signs from the meeting.