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Welcome to the Revolution: Life @ OccupyWallStreet’s Liberty Park
Posted By On October 5, 2011 @ 7:03 am In Activism,Feature,Hot List | 22 Comments
By David DeGraw
Note: I decided to take some quick notes of what it’s like to spend a few hours at Liberty Park for people who haven’t experienced it yet. Please forgive any spelling or grammar errors. This was written quickly with a hundred other things going on.
Welcome to the Revolution: Life @ OccupyWallStreet’s Liberty Park
Where’s Hunter S. Thompson when you need him? The beautiful, brilliant madness that is OccupyWallStreet’s Liberty Park is a Hunter-esque paradise. Perhaps he could best make sense of what’s happening. The scene on the ground here also echoes Bob Dylan’s classic, “Ballad Of A Thin Man.”
I’ve spent countless hours at Liberty Park talking with people of all political persuasions, from all walks of life, from all over this country, no, check that, from all over the world. The second you walk into the occupation, you can’t help but get knocked around like a volleyball. At every turn, there is an amazingly in depth debate on deep political, philosophical, economic and cultural issues. Media cameras are everywhere. Hang out in the park for a few hours and you’ll end up on TVs across the globe. The only way I can sum up the scene is to simply say, “This is what revolution looks like.”
Everyone at the occupation is working triple-time. We are all completely overwhelmed, exhausted, yet still battling and developing decentralized plans as we exponentially grow. With everyone so busy, much of what is happening on the ground is, despite much press coverage and courageous efforts by the media team, not covered online. To be blatantly honest, there are some who feel that if you are not here in person, you should either come down or just start an occupation of your own. As one person said into an online streaming video, with her hands in the air as if she was flagging down a helicopter, “Hello, hello, hello, all you passive sheep hiding behind your computer screen. Come out, come out, break on through and join real life.” As she ended, she spun in a circle, kissed the camera and said, “We love you, we love you all, we are you. Become one with us.”
Before I get sidetracked again, my point in writing this is to give you a “glimpse into the life” style report on “what’s happening here.” When possible, I took notes over a 6-hour period.
Here we go:
I get off the subway at Fulton Street and walk up the steps. As I emerge, boom, I’m smack in the front of a march, people are screaming, “We are the 99%, Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.” I hear a person walking in the opposite direction ask a cop, “How many people are on this march?” The cop responds, “About 100.” I think to myself, oh ok; I guess I should just step to the side and wait to jump on the back of the march. I wait awhile and people are still marching by. I’m waiting and waiting and waiting to join the end of the march. I realize that the cop was either definitely not telling the truth or completely unaware of the size of the march. I’m not good w/ head counts, but it looks like a couple of thousand people just walked by me. The line of people just kept coming. At this point, the chant is stuck in my head like a highly effective commercial jingle, except we’re not selling fast-food or toothpaste; we’re trying to wake up the beaten masses. The chant has now fully occupied my mind, all I’m thinking is, “We are the 99%, Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.” Say what? “We are the 99%, Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out.”
As I get to the northeast corner of the Park entrance, a solider in uniform comes directly up to me and extends his fist, I’m nervous for a second, but it quickly becomes clear that he wants to fist bump instead of shake hands – fist bumps are popular at Liberty Park, actually my knuckles are killing me. Anyhow, he says he knows who I am, he tells me he is an Afghanistan veteran and fully supports this movement. I ask him to tell me exactly what it is that brought him here. He says, without hesitation, “I swore an oath to uphold and protect the Constitution against all enemies, foreign AND domestic. I’ve been on the battlefield, 3 tours. It took me a while, but now I know our enemy very well. The global banks are occupying this country, they are attacking us and we must fight back. This is the start of a war for the soul and future of America.” The intensity in his voice and eyes ripped right through me. This is what’s known around here as a Liberty Moment. It’s when a lightening bolt of truth hits you out of nowhere and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, you don’t know if you’re going to start crying or jump over the Empire State building. When it happens, you usually just give the person a firm handshake and a big bear hug.
Another soldier tells me he is bringing at least 20 soldiers down to the Park and offers to lead our upcoming marches to make sure the cops don’t try to “trick protesters into a trap again.” He is referring to last Saturday’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge. People were marching on the sidewalk across the bridge. When the march got to the middle of the bridge, cops waved for people to come off the sidewalk and escorted the march into one lane on the bridge street. After people followed the cops orders, they broke out those damn orange nets again and kettled people in. Fortunately there was no mace in the face this time, but they did arrest over 700 people for simply following THEIR ORDERS. Another day, another backfiring failed attempt by the police and the corporate media to try to make us look bad.
After talking to the solider for a while, I realized that I had not checked my phone in over an hour. 17 unread text messages. I see the most recent one is from comedian Lee Camp, he is coming down to perform and I need to make sure that we have a video camera to film him. I don’t even read the other 16 messages yet and I head for the media center to reserve a camera. On my way, there is a guy with an Anonymous mask on the back of his head talking to a crowd of about 50 people and they are in my path. He is making his case for ending the Federal Reserve and the people in the circle around him are debating how we can have a more decentralized banking system that works for the good of local populations. I’m stuck their and can’t move forward, but it’s a very interesting conversation, as I’m about to give my thoughts, someone asks me if I would like a piece of cake, they say, “Someone donated a large cake to us. It’s so funny. The cake reads, ‘Wall Street Says, ‘Let Them Eat Cake!’” I laugh and say thanks, but no thanks, I need to get to the media center before I can eat.
I get about four steps further and about eight people are talking about how medical bills bankrupted their families. “Poverty via Sickcare Profiteering” is written across one woman’s shirt. I have to stop once again and talk to these people. We discuss how over 60% of personal bankruptcies are due to medical bills, and how 75% of those bankruptcies are filed from people who have health insurance. People pushed into poverty due to medical bills are all over this park. I’ve heard many heartbreaking personal stories. Trying to get through life in a down economy is hard enough, doing it while you have a serious medical problem with thousands of dollars in medical bills is impossible. As we are talking, a man comes up and taps me on the shoulder. He is helping to organize people throughout the country who have been foreclosed on or are about to be. He gives me his card, asks me for my phone number and says that he wants to work together. I sincerely hope that we can, but I have so many cards and people coming at me from so many very worthy and important causes, I don’t even know where to begin.
Ok, I have to get to the media center to schedule a camera. I fight my way through and finally get to the media center. I’m politely trying to get someone’s attention, but everyone there intently has their head in their computer or they are moving around and positioning equipment like it’s an intense IQ test. So I patiently wait for assistance.
As I’m waiting, someone in face-paint dressed up like a zombie walks by. A person next to me asks, “Now what does that guy symbolize? Is it zombie Americans who need to wake up, or zombie banks that should have been out of business and broken up three years ago after they sucked the lifeblood out of our economy?” I answer, “I’m not sure, I think it’s about the banks, maybe. Who knows?” As the zombie staggers his way through the crowd, I see an older man getting ready to speak, he looks familiar. Ah, yes, I know who that is. It’s Joe Stiglitz, Noble Prize winner and former chief economist of the World Bank. I drop my shoulder and duck through the crowd. I get to my old friend Joe, who I never met by the way, and say, “What’s up Mr. Stiglitz?” As I shake his hand, I ask, “What brings you to the revolution?” He laughs, shakes his head yes and says, “It’s about time.” Right as he says that, drums start pounding. It appears a band set has just broken out. The drums here are sometimes referred to as “thunder drums.” I originally thought they were called that because they sounded like thunder, but now I beginning to think it may have something to do with signaling to every one that a storm is coming. A guy runs up and says heavy rains are coming and hands out Ponchos. A few people who are with Joe say that they need to get started now, a big crowd quickly forms and a cameraman swoops into position. Joe goes on to give a long speech about democracy and the economy. As he begins speaking, I realize that I still haven’t scheduled the camera. Shit, I race back to the media center. Once again, the center is beyond crowded and everyone is incredibly busy. I wait to make eye contact with someone, another 10 minutes passes and I lose my patience. I walk into the middle of the media center and say that we need to reserve a camera for 6pm. A guy stops and says, “For what time? 6? Oh, ok, I’ll put it into the computer.” I reply, “You’re sure we can get a camera for 6?” He says, “Yes, definitely.” I give thanks and shuffle my way back out of the media center.
Once I step back into the crowd, a girl screams, “If anyone wants free homegrown organic vegetables, please form a line by the food area now.” An older hippie looking guy with a long beard joking says, “Does that include herb? Every revolution needs good weed, you know what I’m saying?” People start laughing at him, a few people yell in support. The girl responds by saying, “No, we don’t have any weed, are you a Narc or something?” He replies, “No, no, no, I didn’t mean to cause trouble, I was being serious though.” She shoots back, “No weed, but we do have free tobacco. Someone donated a large amount of tobacco and you can roll your own cigarettes.” Hippie dude says, “No, I don’t smoke cigarettes, that shit will kill you.” Another person in the crowd is excited and steps up and says, “You have free tobacco here. Awesome! Where do we get some of that?”
Now, I’m trying to get back to catch the end of Stiglitz’s conversation, but the crowd around him is much too big now for me to hear what’s being said.
I decide to sit on a near by stone bench to catch up on text messages and emails. My email inbox has over 700 unread messages now. It’s impossible to even skim most of it. I also have six new voicemails. Just as I start feeling a sense of panic over how much catching up I have to do, a guy in a blue shirt tells me he’s giving out free hugs and that I look like I need one. Before I could respond he is reaching around me for a hug. Ok, fine, thanks for the hug brother.
A friend of mine then appears out of nowhere and wants to introduce me to 5 unemployed people who recently graduated with master’s degrees and now each have over $100,000 in student debt. Jessica tells me she got a job at a retail-clothing store but just got laid off. Her Dad hurt his back working as a construction worker and can’t work anymore. I shake my head and say, “Wow, that’s a difficult situation.” She says in a very heartfelt voice, “Do you have any advice as to what I should do? I’ve sent out over 200 resumes, literally!” Her face tenses up and she is suddenly fighting back tears. My friend who introduced her said, “Well, if misery loves company, you have a family here.” She holds back tears, chuckles and says, “I know, I know, I’ve been here for the past four days. I feel bad that I’m not home helping my Dad, but he thinks that as long as I feel safe that it’s for the best if I’m here.” We all make eye contact and shake our head. It’s another Liberty Moment.
Another member of the master’s degree unemployed $100k debt club, steps forward and says, “Up until two days ago I was working 70 hours a week for the past year without any time off and still living at home with my parents. I’m 29, working 70 hours a week, and living in a two bedroom home with my parents and two brothers. I just quit my jobs to help out around here. You guys have free food and I can shower at my friends place. You know how I feel about work, what’s the point? I just work my ass off bouncing from one temp job to the next. I have no money saved, what’s the point to any of this? Might as well join the revolution.” Wow, another Liberty Moment.
As I’m listening, an old man who looks a lot like my grandfather, in what I think is an American Legion or VFW type uniform and hat, hands me a piece of paper. I thank him and glance down at it. The headline in bold letters reads, “The War On Terror Is A On America.” It’s all about how out of control military spending is destroying the economy and the loss of civil liberties. He tells me he’s a WWII veteran. He says that he is so happy that this is finally happening before he dies. He says, “All you people here are the next greatest generation, I can see it in the eyes of all of you. Do you know what makes a generation great? Facing down tyranny. Coming together as one united people in the face of fascism. You know that’s what this is all about. I don’t know if I’ll still be here when you win, but keep at, don’t give up no matter what, and you will win. Take it from an old, old, old-timer who’s been there. Ok, you got it? I have to move on now, not sure how much longer my bones are going to hold up.” As he slowly waddles forward, he stops, shakes his hand, slightly looks back and says, “Don’t ever get arthritis. Oh boy.” Yep, you guessed it, another Liberty Moment.
My friend asks me if I want to join a group that’s about to discuss the role of financial derivatives in the economic crisis. Hell yes, one of my favorite topics; the derivative Ponzi economy, weapons of mass financial destruction. This turns into a 45-minute discussion that covers the Commodities Modernization Act, Hank Paulson leading the Gang of Four that got the SEC to wave the net capital rule, to the collapse of the housing market, the role of AIG, ratings agencies and Tim Geithner’s key role as chairman of the NY Federal Reserve during the initial phases of the crisis. By the way, in picking Liberty Park as the occupation point, we were purposely positioning ourselves around the block from not only the stock exchange, but from the NY Fed building. The NY Fed building is actually closer to us than the stock exchange. Anyhow, anyone who wants to say that we don’t know what we are talking about down here has obviously not been around for any of these discussions, they happen frequently and I welcome any one to a public debate on these topics. You know where to find me. But I digress…
It’s almost 6 pm and Lee Camp just showed up with his wife and a few fellow NYC comedians are in the crowd. He’s amped up and ready to roll. I fight my way back to the media center and again wait patiently for about 10 minutes, before running into the mix again and saying that we are ready for a camera now. They say to give them 5 minutes and they’ll have it. I thank them and maneuver my way out of the center.
As I step out through the crowd with my head down, a guy in a leather coat grabs my shoulder and says, “David, what’s up my brother?” I look up, it’s the only person on TV “news” that I trust, MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan. I respond, “Hey Dylan, you’re back for more.” He says, “Yeah man, I told you. I’m with you guys all the way, every night now.” I must admit, I absolutely love Dylan. He is one of the very rare, all too few people who has an in depth understanding of the crisis we are in and has the courage to tell the American people the truth on a major television network. I talk with Dylan for a while, he’s been working the crowd, encouraging people. He knows what most people down here know. If we have any chance of solving our problems, the solution starts here.
Oh no, it’s 630 and I forgot about Lee Camp. I hope I didn’t miss his performance. I race over to where he was standing and see that I didn’t miss him. He’s still waiting patiently, standing there in the rain with his wife, friends and fans waiting for the camera guy. I go up to them and apologize for the long wait. He says, “No problem at all man, happy just to be here. I have to leave by 7:15 the latest. If we can’t do it today, I’ll be back tomorrow, and the next day and the next day.” But now I’m starting to get upset, we requested this camera several times and still nothing. I go into the media center and ask what’s up as politely as I can at this point, which in all honestly is not very polite. They tell me that they wanted to livestream the performance on the Global Revolution video feed but the feed is down right now. They are also still waiting on the cameraman who is supposed to shoot it to get here. After originally promising Lee that we would get it done, I now feel like I just let him down big time. Just as I’m about to admit defeat and tell him we’ll have to do it some other day, the cameraman comes running up to us. He says, “So sorry I’m running late. I can shoot it now.” A few people in the media center, myself included, angrily ask what took him so freaking long to get here. He once again apologetically responds, “I’m so sorry I’m so late. When they let me out of jail I had to wait for them to give me my camera back.” We all look at each other and collectively let out a sigh, “Ohhhh, wow, don’t we feel stupid, sorry man.” We all give him a hug and much respect for his commitment to the cause. It is yet another Liberty Moment. The cameraman was arrested while covering a protest and was let out of jail all of 15 minutes ago, before seeing his messages that he needed to get down here to shoot Lee’s performance.
Right as we are about to finally start filming, we all get bummed rushed by a huge crowd of people. We are told the General Assembly (GA) meeting is starting now and we will have to do this at another time. We ask if Lee can just start the GA meeting. Some person who I have never met is leading the meeting. The GA meetings are often facilitated by new people who are just getting involved in the movement. People are asked to stick to a schedule when doing them so they can happen in an organized fashion. So this new person does not want to go off schedule by letting Lee start the assembly. This is the icing on the Liberty “Let Them Eat Cake” cake and now I lose it. I plead with the person and tell him that we had this scheduled and that the cameraman just got out of jail and rushed down here to get this done. Some of the people, who have been participating in GA meetings from day one, jump up and say that it’s ok. They say it would be an honor to have Lee start the meeting. Finally, Lee Camp climbs up on the stone wall on the northeast side of the park and launches into his routine. The crowd goes wild, the GA meeting is off and running.
I look down at my phone. 12 unread texts, 3 more voicemails and I now have over 1000 unread emails. I haven’t even updated the AmpedStatus.com website. I see that my wife has left me a voicemail. I try to hear the message by covering up my ears. Sounds like she said that my one-year old son’s doctors appointment went well and she’s about to put him to bed. She’s pregnant with our second child and is very tired herself, so she’s going to bed too. I haven’t seen them much over the past three weeks and once again I just missed my chance to say goodnight to them. I feel a wave of depression rush over me. I’ve spent the last three years of my life completely dedicated and working around the clock just to build up to this point. My wife has sacrificed a lot along the way. We’ve had to move three times in the past three years to downsize and cut living expenses so I could keep full focus on this fight. I used to have a nice place three blocks from Liberty Park, now I’m living in a small apartment 90-minutes away.
It’s around 8:30 now, I check the train schedule and realize that have to start heading back home to at least somewhat catch up on all this work. I see that a train is leaving in about 20 minutes from Penn Station. I don’t know if I’ll make it in time and I really don’t want to leave the frontline here, but I quickly grab my bags and head out.
As I’m rushing out of the northeast section of the park, a friend yells, “Hey, you’re leaving already?” I feel bad as I say, “Yeah, sorry, I’ll be back tomorrow. I have to get home and try to catch up on a bunch of things.” He replies, “But what about our demands? We need to get some concrete demands in place. We were supposed to have that done a few days ago.” I say, “I hear ya, but there’s not much I can do about. Figure out what your demands are. Go talk to people about them, see if they agree. If you get enough support, the demands will already be made.” He looks at me and says, “What? I don’t understand. I think you better go get some sleep, you’re not making any sense.”
I turn, shrug and say, “Got to run. Have a goodnight Mister Jones.”
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