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Occupy 2.0: One Month After Raid, Protesters Look Beyond Zuccotti

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Morning at Zuccotti Park on Nov. 6, just over a week before New York police raided Occupy Wall Street's two-month-old-encampment and evicted the protesters.
Morning at Zuccotti Park on Nov. 6, just over a week before New York police raided Occupy Wall Street's two-month-old-encampment and evicted the protesters.

Shortly before the New York Police Department forcefully evicted Occupy Wall Street protesters from Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15, The Huffington Post spent 24 hours surveying life in their tent city. One month later, with the tents long since slashed open and thrown away and almost every sign of what happened there erased from the park, HuffPost surveyed those same protesters to see whose occupation continues and who has moved on.

But as protesters gear up for Saturday's "Occupy 2.0" and the three-month anniversary of OWS, they're also looking beyond Zuccotti. And most still say the movement is more than a moment.

'IT'S NOT GOING ANYWHERE'

On a bright, brisk Saturday morning in November, Katy Ryan, 35, marched with hundreds of Occupy protesters from Zuccotti up Broadway, beyond City Hall to Foley Square. Ryan's 8-year-old daughter, Mary Jane Thorne, held her hand and marched alongside.

They'd traveled from Jersey City to take part in the march, organized in conjunction with a campaign to encourage people to transfer their savings from large financial institutions to community banks and credit unions.

"I want her to see what it is to be an active citizen of her country," Ryan said during a quick break. When asked what she thought about the march, Mary Jane looked bashfully at her mother, then at the ground. She did voice her opinions on another matter, however, when they resumed walking. "My sock is so annoying," she said, yanking at the offending footwear. "It won't stay up."

The marchers spilled over the sidewalks of lower Manhattan, stalling traffic. The driver of a paralyzed SUV honked his horn, while passengers stuck their hands out from beyond tinted windows and made peace signs.

It was the first protest for Mary Jane, whom her mother calls MJ. "I put everything to her in the simplest of terms," Ryan said of her daughter. "I did tell her about the bailouts, and how the average person is suffering more due to irresponsibility by the banks and our government." Later in the day, MJ appeared on the OWS video livestream, sticking her tongue out at each bank as she marched by.

Little over a week before the NYPD raid on Zuccotti Park, Ryan speculated about the future of Occupy Wall Street. "Of course, I hope something more tangible comes of it," she said. "I think we've only seen the beginning. It's not going anywhere, even if they did come in and dismantle the park."

In the month since police did just that, slashing tents, trashing books and arresting bus-loads of protesters, Ryan has become more involved in OWS. She says she visited the park the morning after the raid to see what was left and found herself galvanized.

Ryan has since joined Occupy Wall Street's "direct action" working group, which currently meets in community spaces and office buildings within a few blocks' radius of Zuccotti -- which she and other protesters call "Liberty Square."

The NYPD raid may have provided the jolt that Occupy Wall Street needed, Ryan said. A month ago, she had grown frustrated with what she saw as stagnation: a packed, stifling encampment beset by people more interested in photo ops than protest. "They made what we were all passionate about look ridiculous from the outside," she said.

With those hangers-on mostly gone, Ryan said, it's been easier to focus on "day of action" events. Most recently, she and her daughter visited Brooklyn's East New York neighborhood as part of a protest that occupied a foreclosed home.

But for Ryan, those events have been fewer and farther between as the holiday season has approached. A freelance makeup artist and hair colorist, she still manages to make meetings two or three times a week during "mom-allotted hours." Mary Jane spends half the week with her father -- Ryan used to spend those nights in the park.

"This time last year I was working at a salon for the 1 percent 10-12hrs a day," Ryan said in an email Friday. "My old schedule wouldn't have allowed for this, and who knows how my old employer would have responded considering the clientele."

Still, she plans to make time for Occupy 2.0, the next major OWS event, scheduled for Saturday.

"We are re-occupying," Ryan said in an email. "I'm glad I didn't put my sleeping bag and tent back in storage yet too!"

Ryan said Friday that MJ will be attending the new occupation, carrying a yellow balloon identifying children of Occupiers and wearing a beloved T-shirt she made at an art station in Zuccotti. It features two scenes, as Ryan describes them: "In the first scene it was the banks stealing our money. The second scene was her strongest Pokemon taking it back and giving it to people."

(Story continues below the slideshow)

24 Hours At Occupy Wall Street
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SCHOOL OF HARD KNOCKS

Some Occupiers are part of the movement more in mind than body, and have been less focused on protest in the month since the raid on Zuccotti, a key access point for both originators and onlookers.

Desiree Frias, 18, a student at Bard College at Simon's Rock, was a casual Occupier in November. She and her fiance, Hector Acevedo, 22, who studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, attended rallies on weekends when they weren't busy studying.

Frias was arrested after the OWS Move Your Money protest arrived at Foley Square. Hundreds of protesters flooded the square, which is usually a deserted public space surrounded by mammoth government buildings, and began an hours-long standoff with police who tried to disperse them.

Uniformed NYPD officers lined up across the street on the steps of the New York State Supreme Court building. After a couple of failed attempts to shoo the protesters away via megaphone -- "We don't want nobody to get hurt!" was the last such warning -- police unfurled orange netting and began pushing the crowd, including a HuffPost reporter, back off the sidewalk. Others shoved protesters who resisted.

In the chaos, the police made an example of Frias, dragging her, sobbing, up the courthouse steps and cuffing her beneath the words of George Washington etched into its edifice: "The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government."

"I just want to go back to college," Frias cried as officers walked her back down the steps and beyond the barricade. She asked for help finding her fiance.

At the Manhattan Criminal Court Building, where Frias was expected to be arraigned, a security officer barred HuffPost from entering. Occupy Wall Street protesters had arrived to decry the arrests of Frias and at least 21 others, according to figures later provided by Moira Meltzer of the National Lawyers Guild. Authorities had the court building on lockdown until the crowd dispersed back to Zuccotti.

According to the court clerk, Frias was charged with assaulting an officer, a felony, as well as with obstructing government administration and resisting arrest, both misdemeanors.

"She's freaking out, keeps saying over and over, 'I want to get out of here,'" her fiance Acevedo told HuffPost that night, back at the OWS kitchen in Zuccotti. "She doesn't even know what happened ... I'm just staying here for the night, because that's what we were going to do. If she doesn't get out tomorrow, I don't know what I'll do."

That was the only night Acevedo spent in Zuccotti. Frias spent it in jail. Since then, they've had to worry more about finals, work -- Acevedo holds a full-time job -- and Frias' legal issues.

"Her trial isn't over," Acevedo said in an email. "We're both still not completely over all that has happened." He said he and Frias could not comment any further, given the pending court decision.

The crash course in political protest has not thwarted their interest in Occupy Wall Street. "If anything, it just made us want to do more than we already were," Acevedo said.

In the last few weeks, he has switched majors, from criminal justice to political science.

BIG ISSUES, BIG MONEY

Upon returning from the protest of Frias' arraignment, tempers ran high. A man who entered the camp's "information tent" angrily questioned HuffPost about available bathroom facilities before two Occupy Wall Street organizers stepped in.

After shooing him off, one of the organizers, Darrell Prince, dismissed the incident and similar confrontations as "plant issues," or attempts by opponents to undermine Occupy Wall Street. More serious cases of violence and drug use had arisen at Zuccotti, but Prince and other organizers likewise attributed such problems to malefactors from outside the Occupy movement.

Prince himself spent years in what he calls a "thankless job in finance." Burrowed into his coat on a cold stone bench, he said he had been looking to claim a cause for his own at the same time that OWS started to receive donations on a scale that organizers had difficulty processing. Prince, who describes himself as a "rights person," said he came to Zuccotti every day in the first week of the occupation and then most days after that.

When he first arrived, he said, a member of the finance committee was keeping $10,000 in cash in the park. "I made her go to the bank," he said, shaking his head. They switched the money to the Amalgamated Bank owned by the Workers United labor union.

Like Katy Ryan, Prince, 35, said he's been frustrated by the trouble OWS has had in managing its growth, though he cited the formation of a "spokes council" as the sign of an evolution toward centralized authority.

"Look, we wouldn't be in Iraq right now if George Bush had to come in front of the [GA]," he said. "But it's idealistic to think that everybody talking about everything at the same time will get you anywhere."

On the night of the NYPD raid, Prince was at a media team meeting when he heard screaming, then saw the thousand-plus police when the NYPD trucks hit the park with their lights.

To prevent such surprises in the future, Prince said he's now developing the OWS Transparency Act, an internal road map for Occupy communications. "Trying to keep abreast of what is going on is a full-time job," he said. "There should have been ongoing negotiations with the city."

A secondary goal is to increase transparency around the movement's working budget, currently allocated by a new incarnation of the financial working group that Prince joined early on. It's now called the accounting working group, and another member said the NYPD's destruction of the Zuccotti encampment spiked donations to Occupy Wall Street, which have risen above $600,000 in total since September.

Prince also helped organize last week's anti-foreclosure day of action, Occupy Our Homes, which some protesters saw as a new focus. He's helping Occupy Wall Street itself look for a new, more permanent home.

During the day, however, he answers to a different boss. Back in early November, Prince said that he was back in sales and marketing. When asked where, he pointed toward the darkened skyscrapers of the financial district but declined to elaborate. His LinkedIn page lists his current occupation as marketing and operations consulting for Maria's Cup, Inc., a private coffee company, but it does not appear to have been recently updated.

"Of course I see the irony, but I'm kind of looking to do something else," he said of his time in business, which has included a stint at pharmaceutical giant Merck. "I've basically avoided it during the time I've been in New York. I don't have a good feeling about the stuff they've done."

Asked in November whether the Occupy movement can survive, Prince said, "Well, I hope so," with some reservation. "We need an alternative voice."

In an interview last week, he didn't hesitate. "There are big issues, big problems," he said, "and most people seem incapable of speaking about it."

A CALLING

John Friesen has no trouble speaking, but he takes a different view. "By its own actions, the existing power structure has exposed itself as illegitimate," he said last week. "These institutions and structures must be dismantled, and a more humane society must be built from the ground up."

As night settled in after the arrest of Frias and others, Friesen began his "community watch" around the Zuccotti encampment with a stroll past a cluster of police officers. In pairs, community watch volunteers would spend several hours per night surveying the park for security concerns, both internal and external. Circling the park, however, gave them no forewarning of the thousand-plus riot cops headed their way a week later.

Many of the watch volunteers had not been trained for reconnaissance or security work, although some said at the time that they were taking mediation classes. Friesen, 27, described himself primarily as an activist from Berkeley, Calif., who had been involved in protests for years. He hasn't held a "traditional job" since 2007, Friesen said, but "I have become extremely resourceful. I live more or less without money."

He said he had been visiting New York to observe the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks when Occupy Wall Street began in earnest, and once he visited Zuccotti, he couldn't imagine leaving.

Rumors of an impending NYPD raid had circulated through the OWS encampment in the weeks leading up to the police action. While the tents still stood, Friesen said he thought an "inevitable" police crackdown would only strengthen the Occupy movement.

When it finally began, Friesen was wrapping up a planning meeting in a small park nearby for a later Occupy day of action. He and other OWS organizers made it back through the police cordon and clustered around the kitchen at the heart of the park.

"They could not stand the direct critique, the nascent counterpoint of a free society, the explosive expressions of authentic freedom and humanity," Friesen said of the police. "Though the raid physically scattered us, it also allows us the opportunity -- compels us, really -- to collect ourselves, re-evaluate and refocus, using the experience of these miraculous months."

Friesen and many other OWS protesters still spend some days at Zuccotti, while at night they stay with hosts throughout the city. But he says he and other organizers have become more interested in actions that they believe will have a more direct impact, such Occupy Our Homes and a march to Goldman Sachs' New York offices in solidarity with sister protests out west.

Friesen believes that many OWS protesters have been freed up to participate in more actions, now that they are no longer obliged to worry about maintaining the Zuccotti camp. "We're attempting to reach out to marginalized communities that we haven't yet passed the mike to," he says, "and crank up the volume."

THE EVERYMAN

One part of maintaining the camp consisted of maintaining order and good behavior. A sign headed "Good Neighbor Policy," posted on the marble wall surrounding Zuccotti, listed the OWS rules:

"Following respectful and good faith dialogue / zero tolerance for drugs or alcohol anywhere in Liberty Square / zero tolerance for verbal abuse / abuse of personal or public property."

Around midnight following the Move Your Money march, a protester standing atop the wall joined in a game of "Marco Polo." Roy Sharkey, 51, read under a streetlamp nearby.

Sharkey has been many things, including a musician -- "it's schizophrenic, partly Jimmy Hendrix and part James Brown" -- and a writer. A native New Yorker, he got involved in OWS after he saw the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, the first OWS event that really got his attention. Before that, he says, "I thought it had been 'Occupy for a Day.'"

After that, he spent most nights at Zuccotti, finding it harder and harder to return home to Long Island to sleep or shower. In the park, "even the young kids are knowledgeable," he said, "and you really learn from people when you sleep shoulder to shoulder."

Priort to the raid, Sharkey said, "I think I'll be living here the rest of my life."

Even the police stationed along the edge of the park offered lessons. Up the sidewalk from where Sharkey was reading, NYPD Officer Sun talked casually with a member of OWS. Both said such chats were common during the mostly-quiet night hours.

Sun said he and other police recognized the frustrations of Occupiers. "It's like they have $100 bill in his pocket and are shoplifting a shirt," he said as he gazed around the financial district. "We get it."

At the time of the raid, however, Sharkey had made one of his infrequent trips home. Since then, he's been in Florida visiting his two young daughters and largely "out of touch" with the movement. But Sharkey has never thought of OWS in terms of weeks or months. "I think it's long-term, not a 'this year' or a '2012 election' thing," he said in November.

A month later, he restated his conviction, suggesting that Occupy protesters ought to lobby members of Congress and perhaps form a third party. "The response since the raid has been to re-evaluate the movement and try to decide the best way to increase support from the American people."

In an email, Sharkey said he was still determined to fight for the rights of all Americans, including those he derides as "pathetic scared rabbits whose heads are stuck in the sand waiting for everything to be calm and blissful."


KEEPING THE MOVEMENT ALIVE

Zuccotti is almost as quiet in the early hours as it was on that chilly morning in early November when the medical tents that marked an early victory for Occupy Wall Street were still standing.

Then, Pauly Kostora, 27, a trained nurse with a bullring in his nose and a stethoscope around his neck, described his role in the Occupy Wall Street medical group as "AIC -- Asshole in Charge."

His mission, he said, was simple: "make sure people stay alive."

"It's not our responsibility to give you everything you want," he added. "It's our responsibility to make sure this movement goes on."

Kostora, who is also a photojournalist, was on a five-month cross-continental road trip with his dog, Zephyr, getting by on dwindling savings and whatever his guitar could earn him when friends at home in New Mexico told him he should check out what was happening in New York.

In Montreal at the time, he headed south, intending to stay a few nights in Zuccotti and take photos, but the weeks passed quickly. "Time gets clumped here," he said.

While on watch, he swapped war stories with the other medical volunteers, some who arrived after full-time jobs where they had daily rotations of eight to 12 hours. They wore red crosses made from electrical tape, which matched the larger crosses on the tents.

In a case that is still fresh in Kostora's mind, a patient came in with osteomyelitis, an infection of the bone marrow. "That foot was like a well-done barbecue," said Alex Homolind, 20, another medical volunteer.

"We've had a few heart attacks, saved a few lives," said Maxine Dade, 17, a self-styled "street medic." Despite the fact that Dade was more than a few years away from a medical degree, patients didn't hold that against her. "There are a lot of people who come to see us who haven't seen a doctor in years," she said, "who wouldn't be cared for otherwise."

At the other end of the spectrum, retired New York doctor David Stead, 69, graduated from medical school decades before Dade was born. Stead came down to Zuccotti after seeing it on the news, and upon arriving, he volunteered for the medical team.

"I just believe in the cause," he said. "I think there should be more equity and distribution of money, and more health care for anyone. It should be something people should be able to expect, because the U.S. really has the money."

The night of the raid, Kostora was visiting a bathroom away from the park when riot police began to advance. He barely made it back to the medical tents, where one patient was being treated and another protester with heart problems was seeking protection.

According to Kostora, police dragged him and the woman with heart problems across the street and threw them to the ground. Dr. Stead stayed behind to attend the other patient, even as cops slashed open the medical tents, he said.

"I went up to every high-ranking officer I could find and told them we have patients in there, we have medical records in there, and they can't -- it's illegal for them to enter without a court order, and they just ignored me," Kostora recounted a month later.

Since the raid, Kostora has focused on "rebuilding." His team has been making the rounds to sites throughout the city where Occupy protesters have gathered. This Saturday, they'll debut four "mobile clinics," which Kostora described as suitcases of medical equipment that the team can use during demonstrations. Other plans are in development for a more permanent, registered clinic "that will offer free health care to everybody, 100 percent," and a medical observation team, currently seeking volunteers, that will attend protests to respond to -- and document -- protesters' injuries.

On the whole, "I think that the leadership within the Occupy movement is starting to come out," Kostora said. "We don't have a park to manage anymore, so now we can actually focus on where we take the movement."

But Kostora said Friday that he's more or less run through his savings, now relying on OWS food and the generosity of friends. "I don't really require too much," he said, "besides dog food."

He's been looking for jobs but says his work with the OWS medical team is a full-time position.

"Don't think I'm going back to New Mexico soon," Kostora added, "or anywhere for that matter. I'm too deep."

'PEOPLE AREN'T GOING TO STOP'

Across from the medical tents, at the heart of the park, was the people's kitchen, run almost entirely on an impressive stockpile of donated supplies and some cash from the finance working group.

The kitchen feed thousands daily, said volunteer Patrick O'Black, 24, back in November, seated on an overturned bucket in the kitchen while a large man -- "Just Ice, from Jamaica, Queens, baby" -- washed dishes in plastic tubs.

A truck driver from Morristown, N.J., O'Black quickly became enmeshed in Occupy Wall Street after seeing the same reports of the Brooklyn Bridge arrests that mobilized Roy Sharkey. His job has him on call around the clock to make deliveries across the tri-state area -- "Basically, I just listen to NPR all day," he said -- but had been able to spend most subsequent nights in the park.

"I went from, 'I'm gonna stay the night' to 'I'm gonna live here,'" he said.

Before the raid, O'Black said he believed the Zuccotti encampment was there to stay. When it was destroyed, he and his fellow marchers had just arrived at Occupy Philadelphia, en route to Washington, D.C, and they spent the rest of the night watching streaming video of the melee in New York.

"We knew the raids would happen eventually," O'Black said. "The state responds to any threat with violence. We can see this repeating throughout modern history."

Once the marchers completed their 240-mile trek to the nation's capital, some extended their route another roughly 700 miles to Atlanta.

In the wake of continued crackdowns at other Occupy sites, some of those protesters took the raid as a challenge, pledging to "occupy the road" in lieu of an encampment.

O'Black, however, returned to Zuccotti, and has taken part in Occupy Our Homes and other "day of action" events.

"My role in the park now is very similar," he said last week. "I still work, delivering clothing and food to those in need. We just don't have a home base right now."

Wherever it eventually goes, O'Black expressed confidence that the Occupy movement will endure. "People aren't going to stop being upset about the current state of affairs in this country," he said, echoing his call to action from a month earlier: "Why would you possibly sit there and let things get worse? How could you live with yourself?"

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