I was in a quest to find enlightenment on the 1%, thinking it could be just like the film I saw in sociology last semester on movements of the 1960’s. As I arrived, I began to analyze the overwhelming cardboard sign saying, “Sure you can trust the U.S. government, Just Ask an Indian. Every Treaty Made Was Broken.”
Occupy Wall Street, a new protest against almost anything and everything has popped up in Zuccotti Park along Cedar Street in lower Manhattan. The protests have drawn attention both negative and positive and it was my mission to find out the truth. And what I found was much more than New York City’s newest ultimate tourist attraction. As a young college student, what I encountered was a new wave of pro-active people in the business of spreading “knowledge”.
On the afternoon of October 20th I visited the Occupy Wall Street protests. Looking around, the park looks more like a center of a little over 500 people engaging in all types of activities. Three individuals were in the process of making “Eat The Rich” Occupy Wall Street T-Shirts with spray cans and paint and selling them to eager tourists and curious New Yorkers for donations.
One man was lying in the middle of the park staring at the sky on a mattress with his shoes off while cameras flashed in his direction. For me it became socially appropriate to take pictures of the “hippies” while they were in their natural habitat.
It was almost like this Occupy Wall Street protest was more like a community center complete with a kitchen corner displaying individuals organizing pots and pans, a mini-business for selling OWS T-Shirts, and information stands filled with memos on social reform meetings within all parts of the dissatisfied public sector.
As I walked over to the information section of the park, I saw a table featuring five African-American men as innocent prisoners. I approached the table and began speaking with Semi, an African man about 25 years old. He traveled all the way from North Carolina to support “people of color.” He said,
Since the average white man’s home is going through hardship, now they’re paying attention. For people of color it’s been a problem of equality since we got here.” After about fifteen minutes of him elaborating on his mission to educate he said in a chuckle, “You need to be de-programmed.
I decided I needed to scope out the scene before I made any judgments. As I was about to leave, a man calling all reformers drew in a sea of people like clockwork as he declared stopping the “Stop and Frisk” NYPD policy to protect Hispanics and African-Americans from discrimination. A black reverend spoke in a fire and brimstone voice stating, “We need to be like the reformers of the 1960s.” I watched as thecrowd repeated his words in unison and raised their right hands in affinity.
When many people think of Occupy Wall Street they wonder, “Why is the message so disorganized? What do they want?” What I received from going to the protests that day was that negative sentiments have been building up since the onset of the War in Iraq. If you look at key points in history, when the American public is dissatisfied, protests are often used to exercise the right to a freedom of assembly.
If Occupy Wall Street had a clear message, the request for action within Wall Street would have been taken already. However, the message of Occupy Wall Street has stretched much further than just cleaning up the acts of corrupt financial leaders. The movement has become one requesting a swift change in regime, much like a revolution first in thought and then action. And like so many recent revolutions, the college-educated American public has become an active part of the protests.
As I left Occupy Wall Street, I contemplated what education means, both yesterday and today. For some it’s about passing levels and being able to get a job that can make you rich, regardless of how many toes you must step on to get there. But it seems like the reformers of the 1960s and 2011s understand something quite similar. That education isn’t just about creating a wealthy city. It’s about protecting the people in it.