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Occupying Wall St. From Liberty Plaza: Notes from a nascent protest movement in our nation's financial capital 

The police lining Liberty Street appear bored, over 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge yesterday, Saturday, after thousands of "Occupy Wall Street" protesters marched across the East River. This Sabbath starts slow on Zuccotti Park, time for reflection.

"I wouldn't have gone across the bridge," offers one protester, adding with a smile, "I'm from New Orleans... "

Sitting and smoking a hand-rolled cigarette, not giving her name, but offering that she arrived here 48 hours ago from Louisiana. "I've been waiting for this. Katrina was just the first wave. I predicted three-to-five years; it's been six. But I've been patient... " Offering "direct democracy" as the solution - Americans voting on policies instead of politicians - she then expresses the quandary of any movement: "There's so many concerns that I couldn't list them possibly right now."

At this moment, shared concerns seem only outnumbered by similar events across America. No less than 72 protests are presently underway. "Occupy Wall Street" has officially become a "movement" with rumors of Hartford, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts, swelling the ranks later today. Yet Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan is still rousing.

Faces peek from sleeping bags, tarps crinkle and groan as if haunted. Tourists and journalists scurry about, too obvious not to notice. The real residents of this private half-acre park move slow, sharing stories and any news on the release of their fellow protesters. Ground Zero, one block northwest and Wall Street several more the opposite way, empty and hardly occupied, yet heavily barricaded. Meanwhile this original ad hoc camp is becoming permanent. Concrete comfort, weeks into symbolically occupying Wall Street and now equipped with gas-powered generators for recharging, repetitious chants to relay messages throughout the crowd, "We need a car... We need a car... To deliver more papers... To deliver... "

Computers, signage, food service/donation stations, they serve 1,500 per day. A 20-something handing out sandwiches mentions how Wall Street workers often join them, sharing more than a meal.

Justin Brown, who was quick to point-out that Occupy Wall Street has no spokesman, described the standoff and mass arrests yesterday: "There was more or less an overt or calculated effort to block traffic as the group was entering the walkway over the Brooklyn Bridge. A legal volunteer with the National Lawyers Guide saw an undercover officer in that area leave a squad car, join the protests, and go with the group, probably in the process verbally encouraging protesters to enter the roadway. After a significant number had entered, [NYPD] blocked it from the back, blocked it from the front, then brought in the paddywagons and arrested, I think the number is over 700 so far."

When asked if he thought undercover NYPD were purposely infiltrating and agitating protesters, Brown answered emphatically, "No question, no question. I don't know if they're hunting for terrorists or encouraging any particularly violent behavior, but I think, on a small scale, if you can encourage someone to go onto the streets where you're not supposed to, then that gives you the opportunity to come in with the handcuffs."

Rumors of NYPD using such techniques, as well as pepper spray and other harsh tactics, in dealing with the protesters abound. Yet the many individuals involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests repeatedly cite that theirs is a peaceful movement and they aren't here to complain about NYPD. They are concerned American citizens - Adbusters may have initially sparked this movement, but there is no overriding organization - and their complaints are focused solely on corporate greed.

"It's going well. I think it's been very powerful for a lot of people, and yesterday's experience really brought us together, and hopefully allowed people to really show how adamant we are, standing against what's going on," offered one of the 700-plus arrested last night, asking not to be named while busy texting friends and family to say she's safe at Zuccotti Park. Saying that she was treated, "Very well; I have no complaints," only the length of time to get processed and released was frustrating, "It took about eight hours to get processed through... Not bad for an arrest. Brooklyn Bridge is the place to get arrested."

Labeling this movement is impossible, and filmmaker Michael Moore throwing his support behind Occupy Wall Street was met with mixed reactions at Zuccotti Park. Overall, the protesters gathering and sleeping here struggle to express their exact aims, some angry with Wall Street bonuses, others with funding the wars abroad when our country has so many issues at home. Another protester specifically cited the Congressional report on war-waste being sealed until 2031 last week, saying, "Now we'll never know who profited from Bush's invasion... "

Robert Segal of Brooklyn both embodies and expresses the movement's contrasts, "I'm former military, former Wall Street, former a lot of things, and I would never expect that you could take chaos and make it function without imposing order on it. So this kind of freaks me out. I'm more New York than I am San Francisco, so this is a little crunchy granola for me. But it works... "

Beyond the simplistic yet memorable labels the media loves to bestow on such movements, the gathered here are young and old, unemployed and professional, single and married, each and all offering manual, technical and logistical support to spread the word. "Eat the Rich" reads one sign, as a protester nearby cites the notion that corporations have rights equal to American citizens (a concept most blatantly expressed by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney at a campaign rally in August, declaring, "Corporations are people.") as his main gripe and reason for attending.

With unemployment rates still exceeding nine percent and the economy stagnant, despite hundreds of billions in stimulus programs and bailouts to banks, Occupy Wall Street seems an alternate bullhorn, perhaps the antithesis of the Tea Party.

To what end, no one at Zuccotti Park can truly say. It's too early to ask how long these protests will continue, or how many others will spawn across America.

Nor is it easy to measure success.

When asked, the Navy and Wall Street veteran Robert Segal explains, "You don't measure success. I had periods in my life when I had to evaluate what it was that made you successful. You need air to live more than three minutes, you need shelter from cold or rain to live more than three hours, you need water to live more than three days and food to live more than three weeks. Most people don't have other needs.

As you become older and more biologically surplus... we prefer community. But, I just look on the horizon... I'm moving that way slowly, quickly, whatever it is, you just get there."

Brad Lockwood is a former Bend resident and regular contributor to the Source. He is back in his Brooklyn home, blogging on finance and politics for where this piece recently appeared. It is re-published here with the author's permission.


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