Monday, October 17, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Just Down the Street

Zuccotti Park used to be just the place where I'd occasionally get a chocolate chip muffin at the weekly farmer's market.

Now, according, to one New York Times columnist earlier this month, it's "the city's newest tourist attraction."

And it's all just a little more than a block from where I work.

The Occupy Wall Street gang is just down the street, but I've had surprisingly little contact with it. Occasionally I'll see a few of my coworkers huddled around a window, stretching their necks to see a group of straggling protesters down the street. Once or twice, as I've walked from the subway to the office, I've seen men putting up metal gates along Broadway, a sure sign of a march that sure enough took place when I left work that night.

The protesters had been at the park nearly a month -- in fact, it's one month today -- but mostly I'd just seen them on the "Daily Show." (I amuse myself by figuring out what angle the cameramen are shooting based on the stores and restaurants I clearly see in the background.) It was time to pay a visit for myself, so during one lunch break last week, I did.

It took exactly five minutes to get there, and I think most of that time I spent waiting for the elevator in my building. It was a gray, rainy day, so I wasn't sure how many people would be out. I needn't have worried. Hundreds of people crowded Zuccotti Park, some holding signs, some meditating, but everyone mostly just talking. There was a constant buzz, interrupted only by a steady rhythm of chanting as a mini-march passed by.

Occupy Wall Street seems sort of like a small neighborhood. According to a friend and coworker, they have a library, wifi, a kitchen area and even a small medical center. What they don't have much of is food, although they do accept deliveries and donations.

I'm still not exactly sure what Occupy Wall Street stands for, but maybe that's OK. We're so used to hearing talking points and politicians staying exactly on-message. It's refreshing to see people stand up because they know something has to change, even if they can't all precisely articulate what that something actually is.

I left with a greater respect for Occupy Wall Street. And also, based on the number of cops surrounding the peaceful gathering, with the suspicion that a lot of people are getting some easy overtime.

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