On Thursday, 11/3 I went down to Liberty Square in New York to check out the Occupy Wall Street protest with my own eyes. It was a beautiful day, there had just been a public trial of Goldman Sachs complete with speeches by Cornel West and others, and spirits seemed high in the park.
The first person I met was Peter, a Greek immigrant who has worked in restaurants and as a seaman. He had been coming down most days since the beginning of October to help clean up the park. He says he's there because he thinks the protesters are "100% right" and that a big problem is that the media doesn't properly challenge politicians, bankers, and lobbyists.
Next, I had a great conversation with Amanda Hartke and Laura Kolnick who were volunteering at the "People's Library" set up inside Liberty Square, where anyone could take books that had been donated for the cause.
Laura is Canadian and just graduated from college. Amanda is from Massachusetts and is currently studying at Hunter College in New York.
Amanda has been at the protests for about two weeks. She says she's learning a lot and she's "seen and been a part of more of a community in the past two weeks than in the past five years."
She says her biggest concerns are jobs and student debt. She's worked for some small companies that have all shut down and is concerned that this will hurt her chances of getting a job because her references will be less valuable. Because of all the debt students are taking on and the lack of jobs, she worries that we're going to have "the best educated lower class" in history here in the U.S.
I asked Amanda and Laura how they felt about the police and if they've had any problems. They said the police have been nice and respectful. They make a point to say "hi" to the cops because they're people too and just because they're out here doing their jobs doesn't mean they're against the protests. In fact, Laura reports that some officers have told her they're all for what they're doing.
Next I wandered around the park for a bit and took in the chow line, the activities board, the sanitation station, and other evidence that folks here are making a good-faith effort to keep things clean, safe, and orderly.
While I was wandering around, I struck up a conversation with David, who was wearing a greying beard and a suit. David works uptown in marketing and came down to check out the scene. He was skeptical about the value of more regulation of Wall Street, and expressed concern about the lack of one central message from the protests. But he was clearly having a good experience walking around, seemed to enjoy our chat (I was trying to politely convince him that we could use a bit more regulation of the big banks) and admitted that he was learning about new issues like the burden of student debt.
He noted that if part of the point of the protests was to foster conversations like the one we were having then it was certainly successful on that front. David preferred that I didn't take his picture, but was eager to serve as my photographer during my next conversation.
As I was getting ready to leave, I saw Paul holding the sign you see in these photos (some taken by David).
Paul is an ironworker from the San Fernando Valley in California. He's been a member of Ironworkers Local 433 since 1996. He came out to NY for a job that was postponed so he's been out at the protests since the third day.
Paul says that we should be actually "occupying near Wall Street against the government" because the folks on Wall Street didn't do anything illegal--the real problem is the deregulation over the past decade that's allowed the banks to run wild.
Paul says that the root of the problem is that our elected officials are "bought and paid for." He suggests getting all corporate and private money out of politics and instituting term limits as the best solutions. And, he wishes that everyone had the same type of integrity as Elizabeth Warren, who launched the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Here I am with Paul. You can tell he's serious because of his "Elizabeth Warren Marry Me" button.
Finally, on my way out I chatted briefly with Carol Brown who lives in New York and has been coming down to the protests nearly every day. If she could pass one law to solve our country's problems, she'd choose Medicare for all.
Overall, I was impressed with the order, the obvious commitment to community, and the openness to conversation and learning that I witnessed in Liberty Square.
Sure, there were drums (but only at regulated hours), dreadlocks, and piercings. Those things are easy for the media to highlight and convince "ordinary" Americans that "these people aren't like you."
But, there were also hardworking immigrants and union members, college students concerned about debt and finding a job, and a broad swath of citizens making peaceful use of their First Amendment rights to stand up against a system tilted toward the wealthiest 1%.
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more