north america · travel

Crossing Paths with Occupy Wall Street

My sister kidded that maybe I should consider being a journalist instead, since I keep running into the Occupy movements as I move around. We chanced upon Occupy Toronto on a drive downtown, and we literally walked into an Occupy protest march while in Montreal.

The one campsite that I did deliberately flock to was the mother of the movement — the Occupy Wall Street base in Zuccoti Park. I had to see it for myself. Perhaps more than anything, there was this intense desire to witness why these men and women, who had the sheer luck to be born in an affluent nation, have grown so discontent that they had to take to the streets. Shameful it might be to admit, but having grown up in a third world country that has more or less given up in expecting any sort of productivity from its own government, I guess I sort of felt smug. I was genuinely puzzled, and I had this need to understand how protestors on this side of the world felt and what they had to say.

Coming into the camp, the first thing that catches your eye are the demonstrators forming a human wall around the block, holding up smart-aleck, but nonetheless thought-provoking protest signs. Mostly their shouts fall on deaf ears, their audience mainly made up of tourists drawn to see the circus rather than to hear the message, but still the protestors push on. Some New Yorkers walking by stop to respond and affirm, some to debate, but it’s all in the spirit of free speech.

A worthy read.

I wander into the heart of Zuccoti Park, and by the minute it feels less and less like a circus. For a community supposedly formed by ‘ragtag’ groups, I see they’ve done a good job in organizing the camp. On one side there’s a library (for a moment, I’m tempted to pick out a book and settle). On another, there’s the food and clothing stations, catering to protestors and homeless neighbors alike.

In the center, I see a huddle of serious faces, and I realize that there’s a lecture going on. There’s a vibe that reminds me of demonstrations back in my alma mater. A whiteboard leans against a post nearby, sporting a calendar with the day’s activities: lectures, assemblies, workshops. Call them want you want, but you know they haven’t been slacking off.

I wanted to stay so badly, to strike up more conversations with those who have made this park their home for the past few weeks. I had to give them credit — you would have thought that putting together disgruntled, highly opinionated people with wildly different causes (some were there to call for economic change, some wanted a stop to the war, some pleaded help to free Tibet) was a sure recipe for disaster, but oddly, despite all the potential for conflict, there we find a thriving, functional community. Which is more than I can say about other ‘mainstream’ bodies.

A makeshift shrine has been set up against an appointed 'meditation tree'.

And just like that, my eyes were opened. I should have known better that pain is universal, and just because I think that some people are ‘privileged’, that does not mean they have no right to be dissatisfied, to speak out whenever they believe that they have been wronged. I won’t go as far as saying that the ‘99%’ is 100% right, but I do support their principle of free speech as a catalyst of change, of using peaceful means to inspire a long-overdue social catharsis, of resisting the urge to conveniently settle and instead, choose to make a dent in the world.

Eveyone tries to chip in, in their own way. I brought a shirt to the OWS base, which was stencilled for free by volunteers.

More pics: 2011-11 Occupy Wall Street Picasa album

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