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Reporter's Notebook: A Day in the Life of an OWS Protest

Friday, April 27, 2012

Union Square - 4:45 p.m. (Brigid Bergin/WNYC)

After the relative quiet of winter, organizers with the Occupy Wall Street movement say they are planning a reemergence this spring marked by a series of events scheduled to coincide with May Day, the labor movement’s International Workers Day.

It’s unclear how many protesters will participate on May 1, or if the movement will regain the momentum it had before the eviction of Zuccotti Park last fall. Its coffers have dwindled.  It no longer has a home base. And its messaging – and messengers – has been sporadic and disparate.

But smaller bands of organizers continue to gather around the city – on the steps of Federal Hall, in the corners of Union Square, and in office spaces that they rent or squat in.  They’ve held protests on everything from labor to student debt.

On a recent day, in the week leading up to May 1, WNYC tagged along with OWS protesters to see how the movement had evolved. Organizers coordinate many of their activities online, so the route was based on where activities were planned for the day and the walk it took to get between them. It went from south to north – and picked up some unplanned activity along the way.

11:00 a.m. : Wall and Nassau Streets, Steps of Federal Hall, OWS Adapts

Aaron Black, 40, a protester, said that since the encampment was disbanded at Zuccotti Park last fall, many thought “that this thing was dead.”

But throughout the winter, he said he’s been meeting with people in a Lower Manhattan office where planning continues to take place – and, he says, the movement lives on. In fact, he insists the movement is morphing into something bigger.

“It’s about building coalitions with people and showing up and letting people know that you’re angry,” Black said. “You know at any given time these groups can show up and make a little noise, make a lot of noise.”

It’s mid-morning at the corner of Wall and Nassau streets. Two protesters sit in a penned in area on the steps of Federal Hall, one of the new gathering spots used in lieu of Zuccotti Park.  NYPD barricades surround the perimeter.

Black, who lives in Brooklyn and has worked as a photographer, paces as he talks on his cell phone.

“Things should get bigger after May Day,” Black tells his friend as he explains a photo project he’s creating for a permitted march planned for May 1 from Union Square to Wall Street.

On this morning, he’s waiting for OWS protesters who have joined with others – protesters from a group called Act Up - in a march along Broadway to City Hall.

“I’m really excited that they are participating,” said Black referring to the Act Up protesters, some of whom donned Robin Hood costumes and chained themselves together blocking traffic in the Wall Street area, in protest of policies that curtail housing assistance to people with HIV.

 “Occupy Wall Street was an action idea that belongs to everybody, not just a couple hundred people in the park,” he said.

11:48 a.m. Zuccotti Park - The Last Man Standing

Meanwhile, at Zuccotti Park, the only sign of the Occupy movement is a makeshift information stand manned by a 27-year-old artist Christopher Guerra.

Wearing black from head to toe, Guerra has a black scarf wrapped around his face so only his eyes are visible. His black framed glasses are rimmed with a layer of paint splotches.

Guerra is with a group called the OWS Black Knights, which provides added security to the movement.

“We’re like the FBI. We do investigations on cops and infiltrators,” Guerra said. “Our goal is to make sure the movement stays strong.”

They erected the information booth during the winter so out-of-town protesters could find where to go. Guerra said being out there everyday, before 6 a.m. has helped him gain some street credit among fellow protesters.

“They look up to me as sort of a hero or something, which I’m not used to yet,” said Guerra.

On one the edge of the park, security guards in neon vests stand with their backs toward Guerra. Officers from the NYPD Counterterrorism unit glance over and turn back towards the street.

12:11 p.m. John Street South of Broadway – Hardhats Demand Work Stoppage


Walking north on Broadway, sirens begin to wail and two plain clothes police officers run down John Street toward an active construction site.

The street is filled with construction workers who are using their lunch break to protest what they say is a non-union construction site.  

Tensions rise as the workers shout, “Go home rats, Go home rats!” 

This is just a few blocks from Zuccotti Park, but these protesters aren’t occupiers. They just sound like them. And that’s what the occupiers want - more people on the street.

A man who only identifies himself as “union” echoes the sentiments of many OWS protesters.

“Rich elites are building these buildings, taking money away from middle class people and just basically paying slave labor to build their buildings, keeping all the money themselves,” he roars.

Detective Rick Lee, dubbed the “hipster cop” during the OWS protests last fall for his thick framed glasses and preppy dress, attempts to find who’s in charge of the protesters.

“Who’s the leader? Who’s in charge here?” asks Lee.
 
“We’re all in charge,” the men shout and begin another round of union chants.

Levy Messinetti, 51, a carpenter with local union 608, talks with Lee. He says the police tell him they are shutting the site down, for now.

“It’s good for today, but let’s see what happens,” says Messinetti, “We’ll be back to see if it’s shut down. Back everyday.”

4:30 p.m. Union Square – Students Protest Mounting Debt

Jennifer Slattery, 29, stands amidst a crowd of more than 100 student protesters.  She wears a nametag that reads, “Hello My debt is: $47,000.”

The upcoming May Day is an “S.O.S,” according to Slattery, “because we are economically drowning.”

Slattery, an art school graduate, grew up in Rockaway Beach, but now she lives in Buffalo because it’s cheaper.  She works small jobs, saves money and comes to New York for a month here and there to support the movement.

She added, “Being in debt effects you more than what you can buy and what you can’t buy. It’s something that wakes you up in the middle of the night and you can’t breathe.”

4:45 p.m. Students Leave Union Square – March to Cooper Union

The marchers leave Union Square in a procession, complete with a marching band, as they head south on Broadway flanked by police officers helping to direct and divert traffic.

The group winds it’s way to the courtyard in front of Cooper Union, where the students have already been protesting the administration’s decision to begin charging tuition for graduate students for the first time.

Jesse Kreuzer, an alum, calls for a mic check from atop the five-story statue of Peter Cooper, which he climbed without use of a ladder to cheers from the audience of protesters gathering below.

He waves a sign that reads, “No Tuition, It’s our Mission.” Students hang out the windows of the Cooper Union.  

After about an hour, a woman is taken into custody. The courtyard is taped off.  Police are not letting people enter or leave the building at the courtyard entrance. 

A hostage negotiator tries to talk Kreuzer down from the statue. Students call for the President of Cooper Union to come down.  
“The students united will never be defeated!” protesters chant.

Kreuzer eventually comes down from the statue when an officer in a cherry picker reaches the top.  He’s taken in handcuffs away from the scene.

“It’s like a concert,” someone from the crowd says, laughing, “same time tomorrow?”

Photos by Brigid Bergin

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Comments [8]

Linnea M. Palmer Paton from New York, NY

Occupy is NOT planning a re-emergence. We never went anywhere! We've been having actions almost every single week all winter. If it seems like Occupy wasn't around it's the media's fault.

Same thing for our message. We have a message: The 1% have hoarded our nation's wealth. In order to do so, they have had to break laws and crash the economy. Now in the U.S. and globally, they are asking the 99% to pay the price of their greed through cuts to education, healthcare, and services. Wall street steals from working people to fatten their already fat pockets. To get away with it, they buy off politicians and corrupt our political system.

If you think that Occupy doesn't have a message, blame your media for not reporting it. Then, find new media outlets to get your news from. I recommend going to the source. Occupy.com, occupytogether.org, and occupywallst.org all produce their own media about the Occupy movement. They are much more reliable than mainstream and "Left" news sources, which often don't report our message or our actions.

Also, May Day is just one day. There is a full list of action for mid-May as well as June and July. The movements not going anywhere and what happens on May Day isn't going to change that, no matter what your media tells you.

Apr. 28 2012 10:05 AM
Brandt Hardin

The Occupy Movement is NECESSARY for our citizens to expose the corruption which Big Business has infected our Government with. Every single person occupying the streets and protesting Corporations is a hero and a patriot. I was compelled to lend a hand and create some new posters for the movement which you can download for free on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/11/propaganda-for-occupy-movement.html

Apr. 27 2012 08:55 PM
Paul I. Adujie from Utuoke, near Yenagoa, Nigeria-Africa

john from office.... You sounded good as you suggested that OWS engage and participate actively in the political process, sans registering and voting etc

BUT you come off as CYNICAL in too many of your comments.... I went to and participated at OWS activities in New York City last year... it was an it is nothing to sneeze at!

OWS in New York City was very organized and very efficient... OWS had a library or books section and various others...I pedaled a bicycle along with other folks to generate pollution-free energy which charge cell-phones etc

OWS has also become a global phenom ...

We ought to give credit to the originators... folks at the White House and Capitol Hill also noticed and debated issues raised by OWS!

Bravo to OWS.... Occupy Wall Street! Occupy The World.... for common good!

Apr. 27 2012 08:36 AM
john from office

Eric V. How can they do this if they are poor people without cell phones, PCs, laptops, Ipads, web sites and blogs??? Oh thats right, they all have these things!!!, could some of these protesters be trust fund babies, playing at being poor, to later get a haircut and go to Wall Street??, Maybe.

Seriously, OWS would do well to get a spokesperson and organize to vote, not to sleep in sleeping bags. When was the last time anyone cared about the Yippies, OWS is headed to the same dust bin.

Apr. 27 2012 07:59 AM
Eric V. from New York City

Have you guys thought of using an opinion platform like www.qwanz.com that can push your grievances to 20,000 journalists with their Qwanzit feature? It's a pretty cool tool to explore I think. The Daily Beast is using it too.

Apr. 27 2012 07:48 AM
john from office

Sooo, sleeping on the sidewalk, not showering,smoking hand rolled cigarettes, eating vegan food and annoying working people with rude signs and nudity will result in political change. Maybe you should market this idea, it is genius!!

Also, white people, you look terrible in dreads, leave that to the brothers. Please don't steal all cultural icons.

Apr. 27 2012 07:21 AM
Paul I. Adujie from NIGERIA, AFRICA

The Organizers of Occupy Wall Street should be proud of themselves... the brilliant idea which originated in my hometown, New York City, is now a worldwide phenomenon!

I relocated to Nigeria a couple of months ago, and public protests for common good or public good is often now referred to as "OCCUPY" and I am glad that this very effective "Civil-Tool" in a New York City (American) export to all the world, including my beloved nation Nigeria!

Hey Brian Lehrer and Lenard Lopate, I now listen to your show from NIGERIA in Utuoke and Yenagoa, both are suburb and metro areas respectively, in Bayelsa State, one of the 36 federating states of Nigeria! Thanks for keeping the home fire burning in New York City

Apr. 27 2012 03:48 AM
soudan42 from Occupy Wall Street

This Occupation is here to STAY! #OWS #MayDay #M1

Apr. 27 2012 12:52 AM

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