Some have come to listen and others simply to watch, but it is clear that many travelers now see the #OccupyWallStreet protest as a New York Destination, at least while it lasts.
Eager tourists lugging their Metropolitan Museum of Art shopping bags through Zuccotti Park duck under Che Guevara flags and dodge young protesters shouting anti-bailout slogans. The juxtaposition is odd, but no one seems to mind.
The protesters are ready to explain their various causes to those that will listen and the tourists don't seem to find the stale smell of weed and overused sleeping bags off-putting.
When a tour bus stops at the edge of the park, the protesters urge the passengers to disembark.
“Come see America,” shouts a young man waving a cardboard sign.
“Tomorrow,” a woman shouts back. The bus pulls away toward the World Trade Center.
A large number of the tourists in the park are young and Asian. They take pictures and avoid the big television cameras lined up like cannons. When a young girl dances up to a group of them and offers them yellow carnations, they smile and tuck them behind their ears.
A Swedish couple on the sidewalk nearby is engaged in a halting conversation about the trade deficit with a sign-wielding college student when a police officer tells them to move along. The NYPD is keeping foot traffic flowing and -- even as they give way -- tourists take photos of the burly officers, who seem in turns game and annoyed.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," says one policeman as he disperses a crowd amid flashes.
The protesters are excited that they’re attracting a crowd: People are the medium and crowds are the message. Whether they are sympathetic to the politics of the protesters or not, the tourists are swelling their ranks just by entering the park. Numbers mean media attention, which in turn means more numbers: Many tourists say they came by after seeing the protest on CNN.
A man approaches a girl holding a sign saying, “We are the 99%,” and takes out his camera. She poses for a picture with her hand rolled cigarette dangling from her mouth.
The man looks at his camera display, smiles and says “Thank you.”
“No problem,” says the young model. She blows out a long stream of smoke as the man walks away, knowing that eyes are on her.
A few blocks away, another pocket of tourists gather behind the metal barricades outside the Stock Exchange, waving at police horses and bouncing off hurried traders. They are here to see the the pumping heart of global capitalism and the sounds of the protests are nothing more than a soft but steady beat.