I came to Zuccotti Park on a crisp October day, 714 days ago. My camera was an eyewitness to history, while I... fell in love.
There were a handful of tattooed and body-pierced young people and a few old hippies, like me. Everybody seemed to have always been there, although it was 17 days into the global, leaderless movement known as Occupy Wall Street. There were hand written signs which said "Kitchen", "First Aid" and "Library" and people scrawling on cardboard boxes, "We Are the 99%" and "Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out." It reminded me a bit of The Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park.
A remarkable feeling of peace and belonging washed over me. "This is my second revolution" I would say. As I returned, day after day, and it grew, I would see familiar faces, the Sax Man and Loren with the blue hair, they were rag tag soldiers in this revolution. Kids singing protest songs from my generation reading the lyrics to "This Land Is Your Land" off their iPhones. "How did you communicate with each other?" they asked me.
Good question. We had public radio and underground newspapers, we showed up and we marched and we were beaten and jailed. But what was so amazing about OWS, was this idea of the 99%. We could all identify with that.
We were all Howard Beale, we were "Mad as hell and not going to take it anymore." And as our numbers grew, we were everyman. We were old Granny's For Peace and Vietnam Veterans's For Peace, and ILGWU, iron workers, doctors with signs "Medicare For All" and students with $100k in debt and former Wall Streeters who were mad too. We grew and grew. Rock stars and folk singers, Ben AND Jerry came and scooped ice cream. There was Joan Baez, Crosby and Nash, my old pal Jackson Browne, hell, I even wound up in Rolling Stone, a picture of me filming Tom Morello!
"What do they want?" people would ask me. I'd say. "As far as I'm concerned, we already won, we changed the language." In those early days, nobody every heard of Occupy Wall Street and the 99 percent and a few short weeks later...everybody was talking about us.
It was noble and grand, we were changing the world... and we had so much fun, we tweeted and hashtagged and I wound up pepper sprayed and in the emergency room twice falling over barricades. My camera is banged up like a combat photographer's in a war zone. Eventually it got to be like a B&H convention, every single kind of camera and microphone, iPhone steadicam rigs.
The best Thanksgiving of my life was in the park, replete with "Occu Pies" and a stronger sense of family than I've felt at many family gatherings. It was November after the raid, when the NYPD swooped in like storm troupers and demolished everything in site. They threw 5,000 cataloged books in the dumpster and smashed them. Thank you Norman Siegel who just won the case against the city for the books. Patti Smith had just anonymously donated a tent, a beautiful blue tent with colorful letters, "People's Library."
There was a picture I saw on YouTube, I will never forget, of Ray Kelly, hands clasped behind his back pacing back and forth. November 15. That night, mayors of several cities had simultaneous raids on Occupy encampments. I watched the livestream of Occupy LA and it was the most terrifying thing I'd ever seen in my life, they just swooped like the monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, wearing black, came out of nowhere.
And the ubiquitous Live Streamers, Tim Poole and Matt. Always there, the only true form of journalism there is, live and unedited. The term "Citizen Journalist" came out of OWS. It's where I learned, it was empowering, all you needed was a camera, and iPhone and a Twitter account.
I captured some really historic stuff, memories for life. One night I was on Facebook and saw that Pete Seeger was marching down Broadway at midnight about to 'occupy' Columbus Circle. I tore up there and by the time I got there he, Arlo Guthrie, Tom Chapin, David Amram and hundreds more were perched on the statue of Columbus. It was so dark you couldn't see anything. All of a sudden, someone shown a big light on them as they sang, "This Little Light of Mine." It was magic and there wasn't a dry eye in the place.
After the raid, it was getting really dangerous down there. Every time there would be an action the cops would show up in draconian force, hundreds of them, with those scary little white hand cuff bracelets dangling. And when you saw the cavalry show up, the equestrian unit on horseback, you knew it was going to get ugly. I was trampled a couple of times and hey, I'm a senior citizen.
The NYPD unit,TARU would show up with little video cameras. The Technical Assistance Response Unit. It was their job to shoot actions when there would be arrests, to get their side of the story. But what they didn't count on, was every police action, they'd yell, "Cameras" and it was a shoot out. Them shooting us shooting them. Everybody trying to keep everybody honest.
The real unsung heros were the National Lawyers Guild, the NLG, with fluorescent green hats. When there was an arrest, they would rush in and yell, "What's your name?" everybody had the NLG phone number written on their arms with magic markers. They would come to where you were taken and follow you through the arraignment...for FREE! We all took care of each other in a magnificent way. We were all there for the same reason and we were bonded by this vision..."We are unstoppable, another world is possible."
There have been a thousand unforgettable memories, a lifetime's worth. Demonstrating at David Koch's Southampton home where he was holding a $50K/plate fund raiser for Mitt Romney, they had a huge sign, "Mitt Romney Has A Koch Problem", the day Crosby and Nash showed up in Zuccotti Park, I waited an hour getting my camera just the right angle and when they came out, they faced the other direction! Being on the stage with Joan Baez was a keeper for this old folkie. #N17 where we marched over the Brooklyn Bridge and the bat signal was projected on the Verizon building and the court houses. It was delicious.
But I gotta say one of the best was, I got a tip off at midnight, it was December after the raid on Zuccotti Park, that Law & Order SVU had built a fake Zuccotti Park in Foley Square, when I got there, just a production assistant was guarding the set. It had a kitchen and a People's Library and signs and it was really elaborate. But the occupiers were NOT amused. They started arriving and, although I'm sure the producers would have thought differently, a good natured 'occupation' occurred. "We are a movement not a tv plot' was written on the signs.
So we were rascals and obstreperous at times, I'm sure some intended to get arrested and some by accident. I am proud to know them all, all my "OccuPals"... I was proud of every minute I spent at Occupy Wall Street. What I learned is that you can change the world by empowering the people. "Power to the People" John Lennon said, and wouldn't he be right on the front lines?
"Mic check! Mic check!" We changed the language, we changed the world... one hashtag at a time. On Martin Luther King's birthday two years ago, Patti Smith quoted her great song, which has become my anthem...
"And the people have the power, to redeem the work of fools." It's up to us.