Down and dirty with the 99%

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By Erica Fugger

All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street!”[/pullquote]

I departed the subway stop without much expectation, not even quite knowing where I was headed. Eventually finding myself in earshot of what sounded like a higher degree of noise than the usual hustle and bustle of city life, I set off in that direction in hopes of finding protest.

What confronted me was not an assault on my senses; my introduction into the world of OWS was more of a relaxed one. I had come at the height of the afternoon, at an hour in which the crowd was assembled around a high brick wall upon which young protest leaders stood to relay ongoing messages about the movement,

“Our next proposal [Our next proposal] is really about arts and culture [is really about arts and culture]. Hi, everyone! We have proposal from arts and culture. Arts is what keeps us human in our oppressive times. Music liberates us; it is the beating heart of the movement. . .”

Depicted on the front cover of the self-produced Occupied Wall Street Journal are megaphones, symbolizing the means through which the protesters communicate their message. While those standing atop the stonewall shout the first lines, the crowd relays the same words multiple times in order for the whole group to hear.

As the day wore on, the climate and atmosphere somewhat shifted. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had ‘threatened’ to clear the protesters out of the former “Liberty Square” in order to clean the park. In answer, the participants set about cleaning the area themselves, weeding the flowerbed and scrubbing the sidewalks, while planning on resisting any efforts that were to ensue the following morning.

My press pass gained the interest of a few different sources, landing me interviews with a variety of individuals. The first person I spoke to was Jason Ahmadi, who had attended Adbuster’s early organizing meetings to become the part of the force behind the movement. Since day one, Ahmadi had been camped out in the park with another 600 protesters and subsequently was given the opportunity to interact with the press. Speaking to the attention OWS was attaining worldwide, he described reports as “mixed press that sometimes misrepresented the efforts, but other times, truly attempted to understand what they were trying to do.”

A local professional trainer, Will Hough, spoke of the corporate greed that so defined the sentiment of the movement.

“If anyone on Wall Street with [a] $200 million bonus considered helping out the soldiers that were coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan without legs and arms, much could get done. But people just don’t think about it,” he said.

He referred me to a benefit dinner in New Jersey for Brendan Marrocco, a soldier that had lost all his limbs in Iraq, citing the potential for true good to be done.

While the crowd began to dissipate for lunch, I was faced with the growing number of people swarming a man in a suit and tie.

It turned out that the individual was Bill de Blasio, the Public Advocate for the City of New York.

“The great concern is over a confrontation,” he said. “The anxiety is that this is a cherished right to protest. It is safe to say that the world is watching this protest.”

After a slight interaction with a member of the Associated Press, I made my way around the perimeter of the park, stopping to see the many faces and stances the protesters were taking. At one table, I happened upon Michael Badger, a member of Coaching Visionaries, a coaching effort seeking to “maximize human potential” of the movement’s leadership.

Badger recounted his experiences with OWS, speaking to the “energy [that had] a unique, palpable feeling” from even the first day he had arrived. Part of the Brooklyn Bridge march that ended in the arrest of hundreds of protesters, he described of the police officers who spoke under their breaths to the protesters during the detainments: “Thank you for what you are doing, we appreciate it.”

My final conversation was struck up with a Californian man whose interaction with Chevron climaxed in an $18 million settlement for environmental damages in Ecuador. He described his involvement with Amnesty International and efforts to invoke corporate accountability.

So, what does this all mean in terms of the larger movement, the sentiment of the times, and echoes from another era? The varied interactions demonstrate the diverse personalities of those in attendance of the protests. They describe the fact that these protests are made of real people and cannot fully be described in terms of a mob mentality.

Interestingly, the Oct. 8 edition of the Occupied Wall Street Journal covers an article (“Meeting for the first time, again”) also comparing the current upheaval to that of the Civil Rights Movement, questioning whether the movement “belonged primarily to privileged white youth.” Interviewees attributed the protests to a socioeconomic class conflict, not to a clash between the races.

In this way, the movement echoes the atmosphere of the Vietnam War Era. Although we are obviously in quite a different time—and without a draft—the protesters themselves somewhat mirror those who had been involved in the movement decades prior.

While certainly there are a great deal of college students, young adults whose education and ambition motivate them to become involved, there is also a larger number of people—of all backgrounds—that are standing up not completely against the United States Government, but instead in defiance of the greed that so recently drove the country into economic insecurity.

While the movement itself is quite multifaceted and diverse, with so many stances and possibilities, the strongest words that can be heard are those dissenting against a dehumanizing attribute of American culture and the apathetic aspects of capitalism itself.

The only question now is whether they will learn from the efforts of the past, forge their own unified identity, and find a means of changing the way corporate America—the people inhabiting Wall Street’s offices—interact with their fellow human beings.

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