Headed down in the cold October rain this afternoon to check out the action at Liberty Plaza again.
The most immediate and striking difference from my last visit: tents.
Figuring that the freedom of assembly trumped local regulations, the occupiers started erecting tents and other shelters last week in anticipation of worsening weather. The owners of Zuccotti Park (Liberty Plaza) have thus far decided not to enforce the prohibitions (perhaps a little wary of public backlash, given the reaction to the cleaning that was to have taken place a couple weeks ago?).
The tents take up a lot more space than the old, bare, sleeping-bag-and-tarp arrangements, but I’m sure it’s much more comfortable for the occupiers themselves. Most of whom were holed up in their shelters to (understandably) avoid the abysmal rain.
As you might expect, this made things much lower-key than my last couple of visits. A fraction of the usual tourists, no circles on the ground for teach-ins and think-tanks, etc. Many of the actual activities were still happening, but had been moved to public atriums, or friendly spaces in nearby buildings (Trinity Church, etc). The white board that had the daily schedule was unfortunately illegible, despite efforts to protect it with plastic sheeting, so my friend and I weren’t sure where to find any of the action. The guys at the info booth had information on some of the times and locations (like the Education Empowerment group having their nightly 6pm forum in what I believe was the teacher’s union building on Broadway), but not all of them.
Still, my friend and I had some really interesting conversations with the brave few who were socializing or manning outdoor posts.
We met Ashlyn, from rural Maryland, who just arrived three days ago to volunteer with the Medical tent. She said she had quit her job as a medical assistant to come join the occupation, and that it was the first time she felt right about where she was and what she was doing. She also said she was surprised and impressed by how legit the medical operation was down there. They have both a homeopathic/eastern methods tent for things like accupuncture, homeopathic and herbal remedies, etc., and a regular Western-style first aid tent staffed by volunteers like herself who hail from the more standard medical professions. There wasn’t a whole lot of activity going on right at the moment (thankfully), although a few people stopped by to get vitamin C supplements.
We spoke to a guy who works in the Food Group, specifically in the pantry. Although I can’t say exactly how new the presence of a pantry really is, it was definitely a new development since my first visit to the park, when the “kitchen” was two plastic folding tables and some boxes of donated canned goods behind. The pantry is next to the kitchen area and receives donations, keeps inventory, and supplies the actual kitchen area, where things are prepared and served.
The whole Food Group had posted notices that they were going to be temporarily scaling back operations for three days in order to have time to meet as a group to better organize and prepare for the coming cold weather. As the movement and occupation have grown, they find that they are feeding over 1,000 people a day, and they need to address kinks in the system if they hope to continue an uninterrupted supply of food over the long-haul. The pantry volunteer spoke candidly about how they would also be discussing how to deal with certain people who he said had been “very aggressive” about food over the past few weeks.
Our favorite conversation was with Sebastian, who was hanging out under the “free empathy” tarp. He said that he’s not actually one of the “free empathy” team members, who engage people in non-violent communication, he just lives in that corner of the park. He had a wonderful beard and a wonderful British accent, and explained that he and his wife had moved to the park from Portland, OR. She is a singer/songwriter and writer, and he is a music producer, and through donations from well-connected acquaintances and from their church, Imago Dei, they were able to quit their jobs, fly to New York, and still keep their rent paid back home.
That story was remarkable to me, not only for their commitment and sacrifice, and the sacrifices of their friends and church, but also for the number of people they were representing, people who wished to be there but who weren’t in a position to quit working for a while in order to be temporary-professional activists. It reminded me of the woman I met at the think tank two weeks ago who had come from Gettysburg, who said that she was there to check things out and then report back to her community about what was going on. It made me wonder how many other people who visit or occupy the park are actually representing numerous others. It made it more momentous for me.
Sebastian also had many thoughts on how the Occupy crowd is truly a mini-society, and reflects within itself some of the ingrained social strata that exist in our society. He said that even within the occupation, there are many who are encountering truly impoverished people (the homeless, the addicted) really for the first time, and distancing themselves. He and a few others had just started a Social Justice working group to try and address some of the hierarchies forming within the occupation itself, to make sure that the most impoverished, marginalized, and vulnerable occupiers are not forgotten and discarded as the movement gains momentum and negotiates the terrain ahead.
It’s people like Sebastian who make me immensely proud to be part of this movement.
If you’re interested, he and some others are leading a march tomorrow (10/28) at 11am, meeting under the big red sculpture, to advocate for truly free public transit, especially for the unemployed.
In other news, there is now a bona fide General Assembly website (still in beta form) at:
Here you can check for updates, meetings, join working groups, find ways to help, etc. I did find navigating the site to be kinda glitchy – I had to reload nearly every page because it kept getting stuck. There was a LOT of great information there, especially announcements for teach-ins, marches, forums, think tanks, etc. I’m sure, like everything else at the occupation, they will be working out the kinks as they go.
A few other random notes:
There is a new “Good Neighbor Policy” that emerged out of this meeting. Here’s the policy:
And, last but not least, #OWS has developed a grey water system to recycle their dish water:
Love sustainable occupations 🙂