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Occupy Wall Street: An Exercise in Street Journalism

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Sade is a teen participant in Girls Write Now, a mentorship program for young female writers.

Just because something is physically not there, doesn't mean that it's over. Take Occupy Wall Street -- it's still occupying our minds, even though it's not occupying our streets.

Occupy Wall Street began as an act of civil disobedience in October 2011. Protesters, initially organized by Adbusters, began occupying Zuccotti Park in the financial district of New York City. It began with a small core of demonstrators, who were gathering to publicly express their intolerance for the corruption on Wall Street, the injustice of our education system and the growing number of unemployed people in this country.

Occupy Wall Street quickly gained momentum, and grew in numbers and in popularity. It went from being a local demonstration to a national and even global phenomenon. Soon, you couldn't turn on the news without hearing some story about the Occupy movement, so my Girls Write Now mentor and I went down to Zuccotti Park one October afternoon to see what was really going on there, and to interview some of the protestors. We imagined we were going to walk into complete chaos -- an unorganized, dirty, smelly environment -- when in reality, we encountered something totally different.

What we found in the crowds were people who were genuine and fighting for a specific cause. The people we spoke with had a clear understanding of what they were fighting for. They weren't there to benefit from the perks like free food, shelter, and entertainment.

"I'll stay until it's over," said Ella, a privileged high school graduate from Long Beach, CA, who hitchhiked across America, seeking to occupy the street of New York. She was protesting for those students that wanted to attend college but didn't have the adequate resources to do so, unlike her. She chose not to go to college right after high school in order to prove the point it was unfair that, while she could attend college, so many who deserve it just as much as she did couldn't.

"There's a stereotype that our generation is apathetic, not involved in politics," she said. "I want to show that a lot of us do care!"

We also spoke with Taha, who fits the criteria of the richest one percent of the country, but he's fighting for the 99 percent who can't live as comfortably as he does. "I have no reason not to stand out here, when this woman has been here all day in the cold." He pointed to a fragile-looking woman, who was being supported by someone else, who truly looked like she was a part of the 99 percent instead of the one percent. Taha was dressed in a suit and tie, and was holding a sign that read "99% + 1% = 100% we are all one." He described how his family came to America to escape the undemocratic society of Egypt. He was protesting because he was deeply concerned about America; he did not want American society to adopt any of the negative aspects of Egyptian society, such as the disturbing gap between the rich and the poor.

Instead of finding the chaotic environment that we expected, my mentor and I were surprised at how organized and safe Zuccotti Park felt. We found the people there respectful, generous and willing to share their experiences.

Although Occupy Wall Street is no longer physically occupying our streets downtown, the Occupy movement lives on in the minds of people all over the country, who have been forced to step back and really reconsider the problems America should address. Check out the latest at www.occupywallst.org.