Stories & Opinions From New Yorkers.
Stories & Opinions From New Yorkers.
The air in Zuccotti Park was alive with enthusiasm. The vibrant and bustling atmosphere was filled with the rhythmic beats of drums, sounds of chants, the loud, passionate voices of speakers on megaphones, and the chaotic noise of activity. The smell of cigarette smoke and food from the various food carts lining the streets surrounded me. I caught sight of multiple tents of various hues set up on the park's grass and peanut butter sandwiches were being made for protesters by protesters.
As I walked deeper into the park, my eyes were immediately drawn to the colorful and bold banners and signs held by the protesters. Many of the signs bore the words "We Are the 99%", a rallying cry that encapsulated the movement's commitment to economic justice and equality for all.
As a young journalist, I was fascinated by the Occupy Wall Street movement and decided to visit Zuccotti Park to see what the movement was all about. The protesters were of all ages and backgrounds, but they shared a common frustration with the state of the economy and the role of big business in American politics.
The protesters were frustrated with the growing income inequality in the United States, where the wealthiest 1% of the population held more wealth than the 99%. They were angry about the influence of big corporations on government policies, which they believed put the needs of the wealthy elite above those of ordinary people. They were concerned about the lack of access to healthcare and education for many Americans, and the growing number of people living in poverty.
The movement quickly spread to other cities across the United States and around the world, and it inspired me to become more involved in activism. The message of economic democracy resonated with me and many others who felt that they had been left behind by the country's economic policies.
I wanted to do more than just be the eyes and ears of the Occupy Wall Street movement. So I decided to participate in the protest. I created a sign on a cardboard box written in black marker. It read "Im So Angry That I Made A Sign. I Hate Making Signs!!!" I taped a dollar bill to my mouth which represented big companies that were trying to silence the 99 percent, and I headed back to Zuccotti Park.
The chants continued and the protesters were still voicing their displeasure. I held my sign above my head for a few hours until my arms got tired. It received a few laughs and photographs from people passing by, which was partially my goal. It freaks me out slightly that somewhere there is a photo of me floating around. A few protesters played the guitar and people started to dance.
It was a sensation that reminded me of Burning Man, Woodstock or the 60s Summer of Love. A woman wearing a floral headband smiles at me and throws up the peace sign further giving the protest a hippie-vibe. It was a happy protest even though the theme was of frustration.
However, the movement faced criticism from those who believed that it lacked a clear agenda or achievable goals. Some accused the protesters of being anti-capitalist, while others accused them of inciting violence.
These criticisms, however, were not the only challenges facing the movement. Some protesters and outside observers alleged that the government's Counterintelligence Program (COINTELPRO) had targeted the group, using tactics such as infiltration and disinformation to disrupt their efforts. In addition, there were concerns about individuals falsely claiming to be part of the movement, who were actually working to undermine its goals. These criticisms made some question the movement's effectiveness and legitimacy, but I still believed in the importance of its message.
In November 2011, the NYPD moved in to evict the protesters from Zuccotti Park, citing concerns about public safety and sanitation. The eviction was controversial, with many protesters claiming that the police had used excessive force and violated their civil rights. I was there to witness it. It was a difficult and emotional experience for me and many others. Protesters were being pepper-sprayed by police officers in riot gear, their screams and coughs ringing out amidst the sound of shattering glass and clanging metal.
I watched as protesters had their hands tightly bound behind their backs with stark white zip ties, as if they were criminals being carted off to jail. The scene was one of complete and utter chaos, as police officers ushered protesters towards waiting police cruisers, shoving them inside and slamming the doors shut.
Despite the controversy and opposition, the Occupy Wall Street movement succeeded in bringing the issue of economic inequality to the forefront of public discourse. It challenged the notion that the interests of the wealthy elite should always come first. The movement also showed me the power of collective action and grassroots organizing.