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Impressions From My 11/9/11 Visit to OWS

One of the early donation sites at Zucotti (Photo: shankbone, flickr)

One of the early donation sites at Zucotti (Photo: shankbone, flickr)

In my attic, I had 3 sub-zero rated sleeping bags, one of which I’d used about 2 weeks/year for maybe a decade, 30 years ago. The other two were less used. When I returned from backpacking, the equipment was washed and properly stored. All 3 are in like-new condition. Also a stuff sack of winter clothing. The replacement value is probably around $500. (My earlier higher guess turned out to be wrong after I found some prices online; it’s been a long time since I bought camping equipment.) I won’t use them again, so off to OWS we went.

mzchief found out in advance that the drop-off for supplies is in the United Federation of Teachers building at 52 Broadway. Online subway directions were not only clear, but even told you which end of the 600 foot train to aim for (front in my case).

It was a fabulous weather day. Sunny in high 60s.

The drop went smoothly and the guy receiving equipment was friendly and appreciative, especially when I told him that the sleeping bags are winter rated. While I was there, another volunteer brought in a whole bin on wheels full of medical supplies. Many items were piled up in the large room, but I’m sure they’ll go through them quickly once the weather turns nasty.

I asked the volunteers where Zuccotti Park is. I had looked at google map which was extraordinarily unhelpful owing to a lot of little streets in the area with no names on them, and for the big street, Broadway, the name was off the resolution I was looking at. Zuccotti Park is 3-4 blocks north of 52 Broadway.

When I got there, I realized that my first job in the Wall Street area (ca 1974) was in the building, 115 Broadway, on the south side of ZP. My former office, on the 5th floor, has a window that looks out on the ‘park,’ which in those days was a rectangle of uninviting concrete, the purpose of which was to make your trek shorter if you needed to diagonalize it. If I’d googled ZP instead of looking at the map, I’d have recognized it immediately, from the picture of the building.

Yesterday, the park was crowded with mostly small tents and tarps, with narrow paths between.

Occupy is much more complicated to run than the anti-Vietnam war protests of the late-1960s, early 1970s, mostly one-day marches and demonstrations. Getting large crowds to show up, permits, speakers, took a lot of work, but was straightforward.

Supplies are the most obvious problem for Occupy, but those seem to have come together through financial and in-kind donations.

spocko’s various posts on keeping-the-peace techniques, including not just how to handle unruly occupiers but also authority figures, alerted me to other serious problems and how to handle them. Here’s one example.

The problems I’ve recognized in just the past few days are the added potential for assaults out of sight in the tents. And theft from the insecure tents. It is very difficult to handle such situations. There can be true and false accusations and all the other complications, that organized societies have established elaborate systems to handle, that OWS must confront on the fly.

The sidewalk around the four sides of the park is open for pedestrians. I sat on a low marble wall and watched passers-by. They came in a variety of ages and dress, but were generally whiter and better dressed than the Occupiers. Lots of picture taking and curiosity going on. A double decker tour bus stopped but I was too far away to hear the guide’s spiel. One upper-middle-age man in a pin-striped suit was giving a “first hand” report on his cell phone. I heard him say, “They have a library,” and read off a book title, something about capitalism.

I moved slowly through the park. Wide range of pigmentation, other kinds of diversity. No suits and ties on the men, and no high heels for the women, though. Wide range of communication, topics and styles. Some seemed exceedingly earnest and intense, others more conversational. There was a speaker with a microphone and small crowd but I did not get close enough to listen. Chess game. Food table (peanut butter, bread, rolls).

I don’t like crowded situations, so I didn’t stay in the park for long.

At least one person was using the opportunity for his 15 minutes of fame: cowboy hat, boots, tattoos, standing upright on a corner, perfectly placed to be camera bait. I did not read his sign because OWS is not about him.

Everything was peaceful and humming with activity, ideas.

There were 2-3 uniformed police on each side of the park. They looked relaxed. One police lookout tower, perhaps 30’ above street level.

I talked with two women, one stationed at a table in front of a large National Guard style tent, the other a visitor. The topic when I came up to the conversation was safety of women, and I gather a larger tent or so will be reserved for women who feel vulnerable. The woman in front, in her 30s, had been homeless for a couple of years, and knew how to spot potential trouble makers and had techniques for handling it.

Some have suggested that Tea Party and OWS movements should combine in their shared concerns. I attended one TP rally a couple of years ago, and nothing could be more impossible than the two groups coordinating on anything.

Forget for the moment that the TP is a captive of the Kochs, exactly one of the ways that OWS points out that the system is perverted. Another insurmountable gap is the way that the two groups live, behave, and think about the world. TPers are overwhelmingly white, neatly dressed, orderly, with an organized list of speakers on a platform above the people. They come; they listen; they clap; they leave. They have a narrow list of grievances. OWS is almost the opposite on every front. They are messy (though there are crews, a bin of brooms, garbage is sorted into recycles, compost, and trash and they are maintaining what cleanliness and order is possible under the circumstances). OWS grievances range all over the lot because the 1%ers’ system is broken at every point.

After lunch (best street vendor sign: 99% vegetarian), I went to see Margin Call (a dark film about flawed Wall Street risk models  and how the firm, never named, that figured it out first and stuffed it wherever they could, survived). Then I called it a day.

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