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Wall Street, Occupied

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I never imagined when I wrote about Zuccotti Park three months ago on my blog about the New York City parks that it would become ground zero for a protest the likes of Occupy Wall Street. What’s really going on down there? What does it feel like to enter the “permanent” protest environment in the park?

First, here’s what Zuccotti Park looks like on a normal sunny summer day: crowded, peaceful.


And here it was yesterday:



I was very positively impressed by the Occupy Wall Street crowd blanketing the park yesterday. There was no special action, no march, no celebrity visit, no arrests happening on this early Monday afternoon. While government offices had shut for the holiday, Wall Street itself was in full swing (in fact, the Dow rose over 300 points), so the streets and lunchtime hangouts on this unseasonably warm day were dotted with men in ties, some no doubt members of the “one percent.”

Broadway, which forms the eastern boundary of Zuccotti Park, was itself lined with a street fair whose vendors  were easily able to completely ignore the protesters’ presence. A young Italian-American singer belted out “Beautiful” on a street stage just south, in celebration of Columbus Day; the organ player in neighboring Trinity Church blasted impressive chords as a lightly attended service wrapped up (there were more tourists observing from the rear of the sanctuary than parishioners in the pews…but then, that’s New York for you.)

At the east end of Zuccotti Park under the big red sculpture known as Joie de Vivre a couple of protesters had assumed the mantle of leaders-of-the-moment and were leading the crowd in improvisational chanting. On the west end, a group banged out disorganized but energetic protest rhythms on drums and percussion as a little girl attempted to ping along on a triangle. In the middle of the park hundreds and hundreds of people engaged busily in various forms of protest business as trickles of tourists threaded through. There’s a first aid station, a press “office,” and countless desks and stands and “floor” spaces full of flyers and brochures. A messy but friendly-looking kitchen area offers food to long-term protesters camped out under blankets and tarps nearby. A sign politely requests that people refrain from taking photos of the camped-out residents (some sleeping) without permission.

I’ve heard the scene referred to as resembling “the parking lot at a Phish concert.” Such a description accurately evokes the feeling that a temporary town has been spontaneously set up, but it doesn’t suggest the different meaning, here, of “temporary.” Nor does it take into account the hundreds of hand-written signs hung and waving everywhere. (My favorite: “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.”)

Here’s something non-locals might not know: the reason people can camp overnight in Zuccotti is that it’s not a city park, but a privately managed one created by a real estate developer in return for a zoning variance. (Developers in Manhattan are often asked to create public spaces in return for being allowed to exceed, for example, a building height limit.) When I look up “Zuccotti Park” on Google Maps I see, along with the park’s name and location, a link to Brookfield Office Properties, whose chairman is John E. Zuccotti—probably a perfectly nice fellow, but surely not one of the 99%.

A couple of blocks south, the Wall Street bull—carefully watched (like the protesters) by police—reared its rear towards New York Harbor, as always. Unlike the protesters, he doesn’t get hungry or risk injury. Or get arrested.


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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is a Publisher and Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting at http://www.orenhope.com/ you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. Jon also writes the blog Park Odyssey at http://parkodyssey.blogspot.com/ where he visits every park in New York City. And by night he's a part-time working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • Jordan Richardson

    He’s sitting on his sources.

  • zingzing

    where did you come up with your figures?

  • Arch Conservative

    5% maybe 10% (and that’s being generous) are serious individuals with legitimate gripes…..the rest, well i prefer leftist riff raff to “hippie scum” but either way it is what they are

  • Arch simply doesn’t like the fact they remind him of “hippies.”

    Well yes, Arch, most of the OWS protesters haven’t gone to a theological seminary or college. But might I remind you that even some of the “red-neck,” secular colleges, like Kent State, aren’t the virtual preserve of rednecks but are attended by all kinds of people.

    Of course you’re probably too young for this thought to ever register. And no, they didn’t use rubber bullets.

  • Jordan Richardson

    What makes “these people” idiots, Arch?

    Again, I think it’s a kneejerk reaction on your part.

    You seem to be subscribing to the “hippie scum” mythology without actually recognizing the OWS protesters, who are now active in numerous cities in Canada and the United States, as individuals with viewpoints and perspectives as unique as yours.

  • zingzing

    when someone’s protesting because of our economic situation and you say they have no cause, it kinda seems like you think they are.

    maybe you ought to explain your rationale, if you have one.

  • Arch Conservative

    So now calling these people idiots and believing our economic situation is not fine are mutually exclusive concepts?

  • Jordan Richardson

    So you figure the economic situation in your country is just fine, Arch?

    Or is it that you can’t distance yourself enough from your preconceived notions and inherent biases to determine what these protesters stand for?

  • Arch Conservative

    Ah yes …occupy wall street….Americas most notable “idiots without a cause.”

  • I’ll email the HTML code.

  • I have actually linkified Anarcissie’s links but it would be better if I didn’t have to, lest I use inappropriate anchor text…

  • Here’s the second-mentioned link.

    The first one doesn’t seem to work.

  • Anarcissie,

    They usually use an HTML code here to post hyperlinks.

  • You may be interested in a couple of observations of OWS here:

    Liberty Street

    Occupy Wall Street

  • Panic Attacks

    It’s funny. I was in New York yesterday as a tourist and it was an incredible sight to see everyone gathered together like this. I hope they will be heard by the people who can actually change the economic problems we face.

  • Great coverage, Jon. Did you see the “golden calf” that was paraded around the other day? Such a fantastic incorporation of the iconic bull image (you photographed) and the Biblical story (labeled a “False Idol”).

    I just wonder how long this can play out with cold weather approaching. Even the Summer of Love had all too short a date.

  • Thanks Tommy, and thanks John. There’s nothing like showing up in person to see what’s really happening in the news.

  • John Lake

    Great photos!

  • It is the ass end of the bull picture that tells the story, Jon. And the “. . . when Texas executes one” crack is just, well, New York. Nice job.