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Impressions from Zuccotti Park

blog_dirt_occupyFRESH DIRT > Good Times visits Occupy Wall Street in New York

The mood at Zuccotti Park on Thursday, Nov. 3 was contemplative and somewhat somber. I checked out the Occupy Wall Street protest while on a recent trip to New York, and was struck by how surreal the whole thing was. Organized chaos might be the best way to describe it. Powerful organized chaos.

The park is packed—not a square foot of empty space, it seemed—and looks like an impenetrable sea of tents and tarps. Each tent, pushed up against more tents on all sides, has a piece of paper tacked on that lists whether the tent is being occupied, and by how many people. The tent city is punctuated by service stations—a makeshift cafeteria, medic tent, press booth, library, and so on. Small groups of people are scattered throughout, playing guitars, giving interviews, passing out flyers, requesting donations, and engaging in discussions about everything from the dangers of fracking to the Bradley Manning case. A large group of high school students on a field trip snake their way through the maze, their teacher leading the way. A few dozen people sit in meditative silence around The Tree of Life, a small London Plane tree that has become a spiritual center for the protestors. An altar of candles, prayer flags, offerings, and pictures envelops the tree.

Across the park, a call and response erupts, followed by an announcement that there will later be a rally about safety and preventing sexual violence at the park. The day before, police arrested a 26-year-old man who had raped one protestor and assaulted another. A young man standing near a “Rapists F*ck Off or Get Hurt” sign tells me that there had been another rape the night before, although this information wasn’t corroborated.

I ask a young, clean-cut blonde man why he’s there, and he responds, “Because I’m homeless right now, and I need a place to live, yeah—write that down.” A few others take the opportunity to tell me their theories on why so many homeless and (their words) drug addicts have settled in at the park alongside protestors (they blame the police for sending them there). But the vast majority of the people I chat with share a similar story: young, educated, and unemployed. A young woman named Lisbet who is stationed at the press booth can’t answer any of my questions (such as an estimate of how many people are staying at the park, or where to find a specific person), which she blames on the fact that she just arrived from her hometown of Little Rock that morning. “I was pretty involved down there and I wanted to see the larger structure of the movement,” she says. What do you do in Little Rock?, I ask. “I’m between things right now, a lady of all trades. Bouncing around.”

Several others I meet are middle aged and employed and come down to the park when they can, but aren’t staying there. An older man with a donation jar was exchanging stickers for donations to help feed the Occupiers. “There are so many people to feed, so we appreciate your help,” he said. I ask if he is staying at the protest, to which he responds, “I’m coming back and forth.”

On my way out of the square, a man shows me a photo taken the day before at Occupy Oakland. A small crowd assembles around him as he enthusiastically venerates the size and scope of the California gathering. “It looks like something straight from the ’60s,” he says. The perimeter of the park is plastered with signs carrying a variety of messages and slogans. A steady stream of curious bystanders lurks around the edges. Police and fire trucks line the bordering streets. A protestor shouts at them to “Give our propane tanks back!” but the police remain silent.

Below are some photos taken on Thursday, Nov. 3 that capture a few of the faces, messages and moods of Zuccotti Park.

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