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Occupy Wall Street, September 21st


The Your Comfort Committee announced with a smile, "I have some good news tonight. I think we have enough blankets." This was greeted with applause and the raising of hands while wiggling and shaking the fingers – to indicate appreciation; or, as they say at Liberty Plaza, to indicate that you are "into it."

Occupy Wall Street, initially a call to action from Adbusters for a seemingly arbitrary date, has been occupying Ziccotti Park in downtown Manhattan since September 17th. The occupiers, who insist on their website that all decisions are "decided through a consensus process by the group, for the group," have lost at least five today to arrest by the NYPD.

Nevertheless, meetings must be facilitated. Because the NYPD refused the protestors use of a megaphone, each speaker speaks in short cadences of about six-syllables, so that this can be repeated by those who heard it for the benefit of those who did not hear it. When a speaker forgets this rule and speaks in a full sentence, no one bothers to try repeating, and just waits for the short version.

There are many hand signals used in the General Assembly, which are demonstrated for those not in-the-know. There is the aforementioned hands up and fingers wiggling gesture ("into it"). The same with hands down means "not into it." Arms crossed is "Protest" and used as sparingly as a good child's middle finger. A sort of guns-blazing gesture means "I have new information which is very important."

There are many committees, and each committee gives announcements. There are as many as 20 people in a committee, or as few as five or six in each committee, since they depend on anyone who shows up. The Comfort Committee, tonight, is interested in bedding and personal hygiene. There is a Legal Working Group. The Camp Organizational Committee is trying to accommodate the group's "plans to live in [here] for a while."

The Medical Committee insists that people "take a break for 24 to 48 hours" if they are showing signs of physical or mental breakdown. The pall of the violent arrest of an occupier earlier that morning is palpable. There is Media Relations. Direct Action. Labor/Outreach Support Group. Food Committee. One committee leader, Joe, reports that wearing a suit and tie, being in the financial district, had earned him more respect from pedestrians than in previous days. A young woman earnestly asks if anyone knows anything about the weather report.

As the Assembly continues, some demonstrators return in good cheer, having participated in the Middle East Solidarity rally at the UN. One reports that 300 people they met at the rally "are down to come here!"

Dozens, maybe hundreds, of cardboard signs are neatly arranged on the south end of the plaza.

Craig Stephens, a young fashion designer, is seated amidst the cardboard with his own sign: "The Face of Student Loan Debt Slavery." When Stephens was nearing graduation from the Chicago Art & Design School, he was working two jobs and had to drop down to part-time schooling, and watched as the interest rates on his loans swelled the debt from $60,000 to $100,000. The Federal payment to Direct Loans itself currently costs him $1,300 per month.

Despite his degree and a professional job in the industry, Stephens shares an apartment with five roommates in Bushwick, Brooklyn and still finds it difficult to pay each month's bills and also eat. "There's no money to stimulate the economy," he says, "because I have no money."

Looking around the park and its immediate surroundings is transfixing. The Freedom Tower stands behind the NYPD's observational booth. That the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was across the street was somewhat dramatically announced by one Assembly participant, who complained that this had not been brought to light yet.

Many social networking messages have been derogatory of the happening, particularly of what are seen as privileged collegiates who are not in the real world.

Whatever Occupy Wall Street is, it is full of people willing to work hard and suffer at downright insulting odds, to try create something better for people. There is pizza. They have blankets. The medic appears promptly when someone twists an ankle. Looking up from the plaza one sees only vast towers of wealth; looking round about one sees a struggle. Maybe they are having fun. Maybe it's misery. Probably it's both. Whatever it is, it exists where it did not before, which is always a marvel. 

(pictures available here)

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