NEW YORK -Let me start off by saying I had no idea what to expect from this visit to New York. An acquaintance of mine that I had met through the college I currently attend told me she was going to Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to see what was going on with the protesting. She was leaving 8am Friday morning (it was already 11pm Thursday night). Being an amateur photographer and long time insubordinate I was immediately attracted to the idea of getting out of our small college town for our 4 day weekend and soaking in some of NYC’s lively atmosphere. It had seemed as an opportunity to catch some great event photos and a call to arms had found me. I thought about it for roughly 5 short minutes, charged the battery for my Nikon D80, grabbed 2 lenses, packed 4 days worth of clothes and the next day, got my ass to Manhattan. This is what I saw.
The drum circle was audible for at least 10 blocks. There were people playing music everywhere. People were shouting about why they were there. They wanted to be heard.
People of all ages. All races, genders, people of all faiths. Some tired of the same old system we’ve been living with. Some there just for the company of a warm welcoming environment, which for many native New Yorkers is a spectacle in itself.
At first I thought it was just a mob of people babbling on about our economy, the war, justice system, politics, anything they could complain about. Yeah, that’s pretty much what it is. A melting pot of every protest you’ve ever seen or heard about. But that’s just it. This isn’t like the rest. The sheer magnitude and media attention this thing was getting is hard to describe. It’s the people’s megaphone. They, or WE were there to be heard and we weren’t going to leave until something gave. That was it for me. I spent my first night in Zuccotti park. I was in and I wasn’t going anywhere.
I was tired and sore. I slept maybe 2 hours on the hard concrete that the city had provided us for our stay. There were no fresh towels here. I spent a few hours getting some free coffee and breakfast (which was all gourmet and delicious by the way!) and reflecting on the first day. To say the least, I was still unsure of my surroundings. I noticed some sketchy characters lurking in the night. I later found we would all eventually become one of those people. Showerless, exhausted and wearing the same dirty pants for days. Walking down a nearby city block, it was easy to separate the occupiers from the observers. People were tagged with all sorts of clever attire and make shift signs.
My second day there I started to pick up on the whole purpose of the occupation and got to see some inner workings which showed me how organized everything really is. There was energy everywhere, as always.
People dancing, playing music.
A lot of parents brought their children. It was really wonderful to see that people trusted the movement. It’s a lot to ask of a parent to bring their child to such a seemingly chaotic environment.That didn’t stop most.
The faces of fallen soldiers were among the living.
As well as those who still speak for us every day. It was inspiring to see the amount of love and support for the cause from even the most unsuspecting celebrities.
I slept well that night in a sleeping bag given to me by the comfort center work group. A vital asset to the occupied community. I’d also like to shout out to the sanitation work group who kept our living space cleanliness to a tolerable level. Without those working groups, there would be no community.
I experienced my first march.
It was loud, courageous, chaotic behavior that left police feeling threatened by unarmed protesters. Why would police be afraid of unarmed civilians? Because there were a freakin’ lot of us and we all wanted a piece of the media. All it took was one stunt to set off a chain reaction of angry protesters willing to go to jail for the cause. These non-violent direct actions are the lock stock and barrel of the movement. It’s an ongoing battle of legalities and loop holes. I attended an entire class describing direct action right in battery park! I learned a whole lot about non-violent demonstrations.
I walked right into the belly of the beast. What had started as a covert surveillance mission to find an appropriate point of entry to the golden streets, had turned into just getting a few good shots of life in a day on wall street. Prestigious golden towers hung way above the heads of those who live without worry. No financial struggles, just the comfort of their fortune. Pigs rolling in mud. It was sickening. I didn’t belong there. I spent the rest of the day trying to figure out a way to bring down wall street.
Things were calming down. Less Marching, less protesting, more coordination and more building of the community.Unfortunately, I had to return to my home in upstate New York to attend classes. It wouldn’t make sense to fight against loans I’m not going to make use of ;P
I returned home, eager to get back to the park. I was obligated to go to my classes and to finish what I started. 3 short days later, I went right back to the park.
The energy was still flourishing. Drums drumming, crowds crowding, protesters protesting. I felt back at home.
I felt stronger, I wanted to do something! I was piss drunk on helping the cause, I started going to meetings, writing down ideas, interviewing people. I didn’t care about the photos anymore. I just wanted in. I helped coordinate a march! (which later turned out to fall through the cracks after discussing the idea with some more experienced protesters.) It taught me something. There was no room for leadership here. All decisions were made based on a general consensus of the community’s population. A true democracy. My work had already been done long before I got there. The start of a new political party owned by the people, not corporate interest.
Zuccotti park was occupied. And no one was leaving until something changed.
My journey ended on day 7. I had been occupying for a week now. I felt a sense of accomplishment, enlightenment, relief, confidence, hope…really just a combination of emotions that equate to a plain good feeling. Most of all I was smelly and tired. I am one of the fortunate souls that has the comfort of a place to call home outside of the park. I felt I had done my due diligence. Something is being done out there, and with occupations spreading, this movement’s goal is starting to seem more and more plausible. I miss my people at Zuccotti park, and I wish you all the best of luck and sincere gratitude. My hopes are to return as soon as I can WITHOUT an expensive camera to worry about losing, so I can focus on occupying wall street!
-Mike Cosentino -