Verride Gffrard stood on the edge of Zuccotti Park on Tuesday, quietly holding a sign and surveying the crowd around him. At 56, dressed subtly in a sweatshirt and stocking cap, he looked like he could've been an outsider. In many ways he is, due to an economic system that he said has left him on the fringes of society.
"I haven't had a job for two years. Once you've lost your job, you lose your self-esteem," said Gffrard, who last worked as a driver in 2009. "I had a mortgage and I lost my home."
Though he may not fit in with many of the protesters -- in less than a few hours at the park it's easy to see that they're largely younger than him, feature more radical hairstyles and are overwhelmingly white -- he said he stands with them in their fight against a system that's left him indefinitely on the outside.
A brief scan of the crowd at Zuccotti Park on any given day will yield a grid of contrasting pictures. Middle-aged protesters hold signs next to recent college graduates camped out in colored tents; education students host reading sessions; and former blue-collar workers display cardboard messages on corporate greed. Still, one thing seems to underlie their grievances: a feeling that their hopes have been put on hold due to a loss of jobs, homes or incomes.
Ian Manning, a 21-year-old protester who was sharing his red tent with new and old friends from across the country, explained that the housing crash cost him his job as a construction worker in Queens.
Though he managed to find some work in a deli after losing his job, he said he's not working anymore and was drawn to the protests in part because of his experience seeing how the housing market crash affected the owner of the construction company.
Gffard, who lives in Newark, N.J., said he lost his job as a driver during the depths of the recession, and that as an older American looking for work his road will likely be tougher than Manning and many of the others camped out in the park. According to a report using census data from July 2010 to July 2011, workers over 45 are twice as likely as workers younger than 35 to be out of work for more than 99 weeks -- the cutoff point for unemployment insurance in states with high unemployment rates.
Gffard has gotten so fed up with his two-year job search that he said he started commuting from Newark to Zuccotti Park last week and plans to come back "every day until they find a solution."
For Gffard, "they" includes both the government and the private sector who he said need to find a way to create jobs so that the more than 2 million long-term jobless like him can re-enter society.
"I'm here for a change in the direction of this country," he said. Though Gffard said that the economic system that cost him his job and his house is his main concern -- as his sign, which reads "Mr. President, Bring The Troops Home. Occupy Them In America," indicates -- he has also come to the park to show support for the causes important to other demonstrators.
"Most of the people down here, some of them are homeless, some of them are jobless, some of them are students with debt," he said. "It is good that all these people are standing together for a common cause. I feel better being here than if I was staying home thinking about what to do."
Another protester in Zuccotti Park, though younger than Gffard, said her fruitless job search is also what brought her to the demonstration.
"About one in four of the people that I know are jobless," said Maryanne Baker, a 19-year-old Queens native who said she's applied for a series of jobs, but just can't seem to find work that's more steady than freelancing in a tattoo parlor. "There are hundreds of people on Craigslist going for the same job."
Baker may resemble the protesters more than Gffard does -- she's young, has a bevy of piercings and came to the park armed with her kitten with a sparkly leopard collar -- but like Gffard, she has experienced long-term joblessness.
Baker's mom lost her job five years ago and has had trouble finding a new one. Ever since, the two have been largely relying on the $200 per month they get from public assistance.
"Dealing with poverty all my life has left me fed up," she said.
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