'Occupy My Life': Deb Szczepkowski And Brian Douglas, The Viral Couple Of Occupy Wall Street
On Valentine's Day this year, Bushwick's Deb Szczepkowski and Brian Douglas will be in a car with their son, Dominic, on a mission upstate to find their perfect place to have a wedding.
A video of the proposal went viral, and now the first result of the google search "Occupy My Life" is the couple's special moment.
Brian, a web developer and designer, had dreamed up the idea a week in advance but was concerned the makeshift movement in Zuccotti could get evicted before he'd have his chance.
"I'll say this about mic checks: if you're writing a mic check that's a good one that can be done well, it's like writing poetry, like writing a poem on a page that I was going to use everyone else to recite," he recently told HuffPost in a Skype interview. "I was totally terrified that this moment was going to pass."
Brian's fears were well-founded. Leading up to their weekend visit to Zuccotti, when he was going to pop the question, Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield properties told the protesters they'd have to leave the park so it could be cleaned -- with the catch that demonstrators wouldn't be able to return with tents or other equipment.
"He had all these plans and then the cleanup thing... It was so close to being shut down, and I didn't know he had these plans," said Deb, who does freelance video editing. "So he was worried for two reasons: the whole Occupy movement and his own, selfish, romantic reasons."
Brian bought an up-cycled diamond ring from a flea market and he and Deb went down to Zuccotti that Sunday.
"Mic check!" Brian screamed, as friends and strangers alike gathered around. "Deb, I brought you down here in front of all these people to give you something you've deserved for a long time."
Deb and Brian, both musicians, knew each other from the Brooklyn open mic scene, and on the night of Cinqo de Mayo in 2010, Brian asked Deb if it was "ok to like her." The two started seeing each other and shortly thereafter, Deb got pregnant. She gave birth to a son, Dominic, on Feb. 27, 2011.
When deciding how to propose to Deb, Brian wanted to do something he could tell Dominic about when he's older. "I wasn't worried about her saying no at the proposal," he explained. "The idea was to do something that had a good story."
And Deb had no idea.
"No idea at all," she said. "When we went down there, I should've expected something because a lot of our friends were there, but we have a lot of friends that would go down to Zuccotti anyway."
As Brian launched into his speech, a crowd gathered and cameras flashed. "I don't know what's going to happen in this movement," he said, the crowd repeating every word, "but I hope it's half as successful as our marriage is going to be."
The couple had previously spent a night in Zuccotti with Parents for Occupy Wall Street, an experience they say helped them connect to the movement and, since Occupy's eviction from the park on Nov. 15, inspired them to create Occupy Bushwick.
"We can commit to local, we can do weekly meetings -- it's not like we have to go down to Wall Street once a week, which is tough to plan logistically with a kid," said Brian.
"Starting the meeting in Bushwick... We were there yesterday talking about doing things in the community and about meeting people in the community, and problems there, and problems in politics and everyone shares the same concerns," Deb said. "We wouldn't have started a group, regardless of how upset we are with politics -- I don't think we would've walked out and started a group..." Brian jumped in and added, "without Occupy." "And even if we did," Deb continued, "I don't know if anybody would've come."
Since the two got engaged, they've been contacted by numerous reporters, and Brian -- who still goes down to Zuccotti on occasion to hold up a sign, and employs the human microphone on the subway to give speeches -- has landed a gig as an amateur journalist covering the Occupy beat for the Bushwick Daily blog.
And when asked how Occupy has affected their relationship, Deb said, "I think we would've been the same, but what we can do about what we care about has changed. It's given us a platform to do more. I see Occupy as a platform. It gave people a stage to say 'I have a problem with this.' If it wasn't for Occupy, we would be those same people, but we would just be among ourselves having those problems, and we'd be having those convesations but you wouldn't care, and we wouldn't be talking to anybody at the Atlantic."
"We've gotten a little opportunity with our Internet celebrity," Brian added. "We're trying to use it as much as possible to advance the causes we believe in and connect people and keep the occupation rolling."