GIVE ME LIBERTY
Zuccotti Park, sandwiched between Liberty and Cedar streets, Broadway and Trinity Place, is a 33,000-square-foot park accessible to the public and named after its owner Brookfield Properties’ chairman John Zuccotti. It’s adjacent to the World Trade Center site and under-construction Freedom Tower.
Longtime visitors may have a hard time recognizing it since OWS moved in, however. Singing, chanting and the sound of drums, guitars and saxophones coming together in impromtu song can be heard blocks away. People are dancing.
Dozens of homemade signs declare such messages as: “Monsanto” with a big red X through it; “Eat Local;” “Demand An End To The Fed;” “Class War Ahead!”and “Ronald Reagan Sucked Balls.” Blue tarps blanket large swaths of space throughout the grounds. People nap in sleeping bags amongst various flags, bins, knapsacks and camping gear as hundreds more sit on the ground or along Zuccotti’s walls, at tables, behind laptops or atop planters.
Since the Occupation, the place has become a must-see tourist attraction. Besides the OWS protestors and supporters, there is a constant flow of onlookers, media crews and celebrity drop-ins. Well-known musicians also perform cameo sets here and there; punk band Anti-Flag did so Day 22. There’s also the random smell and sightings of lit marijuana or the odd couple having sex, though the Occupiers have a posted list of protocol aimed at curtailing such activities.
For all its chaos, though, Liberty Square is a highly functional, astoundingly organized operation. OWS members man various stations, ranging from a buffet-style food line stocked with everything from bread, sandwiches and pizza to salads, tofu and fruits—all donated or purchased with donated funds—to a computer bank, with security and run by a generator, where OWS supporters are continuously updating and upgrading its websites, organizing other events and communicating with other Occupations. They also live-stream and post the minutes of their General Assembly online (a recent session includes calls for a three-day Occupation of Central Park beginning Nov. 11). There’s an outreach table, an arts and crafts section—where supporters continuously create more signs—a water station and a “People’s Library.” There’s a recruitment center—with logbooks teeming with names and contacts of new volunteers—a medic area and even a massage table, where protestors can get a back rub.
The only things they don’t have, explains a long-haired protestor from Berkeley, Calif. who gave the name “Common Terry,” are bathrooms and showers. They use the nearby McDonald’s, he tells the Press.
“It’s really, truly nonviolent,” he stresses. “I haven’t been arrested for politics since Miami, ’03.”
OWS professes to model its movement after and utilize the tactics and techniques of the Arab Spring—the myriad and ongoing revolutionary protests and demonstrations of civil disobedience taking place throughout the Middle East and Africa, which began in Tunisia December last year after Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor, set himself on fire to protest abuse and harassment by a government official, the final straw after years of abuse by police. The rebellions sparked the end of rule for Tunisia’s former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak, Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi and has incited calls for regime changes throughout the Arab World. The Arab Spring then inspired the May 15 Spanish protests, or 15-M Movement, also influential to OWS. All use social media and social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, to organize and spread the word.
OWS’ inception began as an idea spread via the Internet, too. A July 13 blog post by Adbusters, a Vancouver-based anti-consumerism nonprofit magazine, reads: “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET Are you ready for a Tahrir moment? On Sept. 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street.”
Some media outlets have subsequently nicknamed OWS’ protests the American Autumn. Yet the well-organized machine propagating its message and followers from Zuccotti didn’t just happen overnight—it has help.
“This movement was definitely inspired from what happened—starting back in Tunisia, to Egypt, to Spain—it’s going on all over the world now,” 29-year-old “Julien,” of Oregon, one of the first Wall Street Occupiers, who was handing out copies of The Occupied Wall Street Journal in front of Bank of America in Times Square Oct. 15. “This is just the latest iteration. People all over the world have had enough. The last 30 years, all over the world, the program known as neo-liberalism hasn’t worked for us. We’ve seen our government become appropriated by the rich. So, we’re in solidarity with people all over the world who want freedom, who want democracy.
“There’s people from Israel, there’s people from Egypt here, there’s people from Spain, talking, sharing ideas,” he adds. “We’re in solidarity together.”