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Occupy Wall Street: Meet Some of the Protesters at Zuccotti Park

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NEW YORK --- On a ledge at the edge of Zuccotti Park on Monday afternoon sat a neatly groomed young man wearing casual pants and a clean, light jacket.

He held two large graphs showing the distribution of wealth over the last several decades. They illustrated how a growing and disproportionate share has gone to the richest 1 percent.

"The graphs help when the Wall Street bankers walk by,'' he said. "Those guys stop and check them out. They look at graphs all day.''

He gave his name as Dustin M. and did not want to offer his full last name. Although part of the Occupy Wall Street protest movement, he seemed hardly a socialist revolutionary.

A college graduate two years ago in marketing, Dustin said he has been unable to find a job. He does not want to destroy the system; he just wants to be a part of it and feels locked out.

He spends his mornings putting in applications and trying for interviews, and his afternoons peacefully protesting from the epicenter of a movement that has expanded both nationally and internationally.

"I want to be in it,'' Dustin said of the American capitalist system, "and I want to change it.''

The protests, which began in September, have endured their first cold snap and snowfall, at least in New York. But the makeshift tent city seemed full and bustling Monday amid the information tables, the musicians, the free food and the lively discussions.

There was much humor, but it had an edge. One wall displayed a line of "wanted'' posters showing the names and faces of well-known Wall Street plutocrats. Across the park was a big replica of a slot machine with giant dollar bills falling out of it. A sign on the prop called it "The Slot Exchange.''

Because it was Halloween, some came in costume. You could see Uncle Sam next to the Grim Reaper. Two voluptuous young women, dressed in tight, low-cut, mock cop uniforms, writhed in front of a young officer who turned his head when a smile fought its way onto his ruddy face.

Because the fire department has removed the fuel-powered generators from the encampment, a few bicycle-powered generators were lined up with car batteries and power strips attached to them.

A middle-aged man, peddling steadily, said it takes four hours to fully charge a battery that powers computers and Internet service. He spoke over the din of a drum circle whose thump-thump-thumps and rat-a-tat-tats echoed off the steel and glass of the skyscrapers surrounding the park.

Beneath the buildings were at least three dozen police vehicles and at least 100 officers on foot. There have been a few clashes in New York between the protestors and the law -- some pepper spray, some 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge. But it has been worse in other places: a skull fracture in Oakland during a tear-gas blitz; billy clubs in San Diego; rubber bullets in Denver.

What will happen when push comes to shove here or elsewhere? A man who said he was a longshoreman gave a speech in Zuccotti Monday and told the protesters they were naïve for telling the cops that they, too, are part of the "99 percent'' and that the protesters and the cops are really on the same side.

Bottom line, he warned, the cops have the weaponry and will obey the 1 percent, not the 99 percent. Perhaps the cops have a video of his speech. Alongside the park, atop a tall crane, was a police observation post that looked like one of those guard towers in a prison camp. From it protruded video cameras.

Imagine the police and political response in a place like Washington, D.C., headquarters of a double-talking cretin like House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He first accused President Obama of encouraging "class warfare'' and called the protesters a "mob.''

Then Herman Cain, the faux and increasingly sketchy presidential candidate, has told the demonstrators they should "get a job'' and go protest in front of the White House.

But what if several thousand marched the other way up Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol, where cynical Republican obstructionists like Cantor have sabotaged the economic recovery in an attempt to discredit President Obama and replace him with one of their own?

What would happen in New York if a well organized group of protesters marched up Sixth Avenue to Fox News Channel, the national propaganda factory of the right wing and the de facto headquarters of the Republican Party?

Perhaps female marchers could dress in Halloween costumes: Blond wigs and tight red dresses with no sleeves. Then Fox would have to cover it; its camera operators are trained to point their lenses at women dressed this way.

Of course, Fox commentators would call the marchers "Marxists'' and "loons'' and "hippies'' and "radicals.'' And while there may be a few of them at Zuccotti and other sites, you don't have to hang around long to sense that many are middle-class people who think they are getting a raw deal and fear for their future.

One of them, Crystal Kingston, 55, walked through the park Monday with a sign that read "Occupy Missoula.'' Kingston said she and her husband ran a restaurant in Montana until it went out of business.

She wore a black beret over graying hair and was dressed in neat, comfortable clothes. "After three years of looking for work, unsuccessfully, I'm back in school,'' she said. She's taking film courses at the University of Montana.

Her husband can't find work, either. She has participated in Occupy events in Missoula but came to New York for ideas and energy.

"We're living on student loans and credit cards,'' Kingston said. "I've started studying politics and I'm getting more and more depressed with every sound bite and talking point.

"This,'' she said, motioning to the bustle in the park, "is the most encouraging thing in a long time.''

This post originally appeared at Current.com.

Around the Web

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