The rise and fall of Zuccotti Park — and the future of the movement it birthed

Christopher Ketcham writes: In the month before the destruction of the encampment in Zuccotti Park, I got in the habit of biking across the Brooklyn Bridge each night to talk with the Wall Street Occupiers and wander among the tents. There was always work to behold—bigger tents going up, new volunteers welcomed, the kitchen doling out free food, the media groups live-streaming, dishes being done, cops being teased—and always conversation to be had and heard.

The protesters liked to work, but they loved to talk, and mostly what they talked about was how to organize to destroy the power of money in America. They were pissed off about it—pissed off at the corporations, the banks, the financiers, the corrupt legislators, the corrupt presidents, the corrupt everything. “It doesn’t matter which party is in power,” Jeff Smith, a 41-year-old former media consultant, told me. “The banks and the corporations own them both.” And President Barack Obama? “He is worse than a corporate whore like Bill Clinton,” Smith said. “He’s like a Trojan Horse for the right-wing agenda. Obama mesmerizes his base of true believers with the skill of a televangelist and then turns around and sells them out in backroom deals with the plutocrats he seems to worship. It’s hard not to realize that his incompetence and/or duplicity is a driving factor behind Occupy Wall Street.”

Such was the talk. When they spoke honestly, the Occupiers admitted that they had no idea what to do about the total corruption of everything—except what they were doing in Zuccotti Park.

So they would occupy the space, hold the ground, and fill it with unwashed humanity, which is the kind of thing that’s not supposed to happen in Manhattan’s Financial District. They came in all races, all ages. There were schoolteachers, professors, ex-servicemen, sculptors, painters, dancers, musicians, writers, at least one retired male stripper, at least one Native American, many college students, some high-schoolers, and the homeless. They carved a community out of the park, a society in miniature, with its own rules and government and infrastructure—a library, kitchen, clinic, a newspaper called The Occupied Wall Street Journal, and even a tobacconist. They marched on Wall Street each day,  made trouble, made noise, got arrested, met in a daily “general assembly” and in “working groups,” planned for the winter, and organized, not least, to make more trouble.

“This is not a protest,” one of their signs said. “This is an affirmation of the vitality and idealism erupting from underneath the AMERICAN NIGHTMARE.” The library grew ever larger—it soon had 5,000 titles, the only all-night library in the city—and the signs proliferated. “Jobs, Justice, Education,” they said. And: “End Student Debt.” And: “Reinstate Glass-Steagall; Make Corporate Lobbying Illegal.” The signs said that Wall Street was “the enemy of humanity.” They said, “We need only overthrow the investors—not the government.” More tents sprung up through October and November, the campers packing in by the hundreds, until little space was left. The expanding movement was forced to find nearby offices, at 50 Broadway, where it could now claim to have a bureaucracy. [Continue reading…]

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