I took the following twenty-eight photographs on Tuesday, October 11 in Zuccotti Park in preparation for my third blog post on the Occupy Wall Street movement [OWS] although this was my first visit to the protesters’ actual encampment. Zuccotti Park sits a few blocks north of Wall Street and one block north of New York’s National Historic Landmark Trinity Church, a Gothic Revival building designed by architect Richard Upjohn and completed in 1846.
Zucotti Park is a block long rectangle bordered on its east by Broadway, west by Trinity Place, north by Liberty Street, and south by Cedar Street. Being located just a few blocks east of the World Trade Center Towers, the park–then named Liberty Plaza Park–was in need of repairs after 9/11. The fact that at this moment it serves as the camp site for the OWS protesters is fitting, in that it also served as the staging area for the emergency operations following the 9/11 disaster.
The park had been a private park ever since 1968, when it was built by the US Steel Corp., whose building flanks its north edge. When it was redesigned and reopened in June, 2006, it was named after John Zuccotti, the chairman of Brookfield Properties, as they were the new owners of what had been the US Steel building.
We all can thank Mr. Zuccotti for generously allowing the OWS protesters to use this private park. He has been an important public servant for decades and has been quoted as saying “my heart is in this city.” Appropriately, given the Park’s present function as a place of refuge for people, many who are here from other parts of the country and the world, at its rededication ceremony of 2006 then-Governor Pataki spoke these words: “The park has been re-imagined as an urban oasis, and just like the new Lower Manhattan, it too will be vibrant day and night with 500 twinkling lights making the park a welcoming space for workers, residents, and visitors.” Little did he realize how bright those lights would twinkle and how special they would be!
I present twenty-eight photographs taken in Zuccotti Park, organized roughly in terms of three broad subject areas: one being the Broadway edge of the park, its most public side, and some other interactions with the city beyond its perimeter; another being the individual people who are camping there as protesters; and a third being some examples of the activities and organization within the campsite itself. However, my comments that appear below each photograph won’t expand so much on these three subject areas. Instead, they will interpret a specific aspect found within the photographs–each a specific document of this day, Tuesday, May 11, 2011–as a way to connect them to the broader condition of our country. I encourage you to read these entries piecemeal, image by image; they needn’t be read as a single document, in one sitting.
|Zuccotti Park: Keith, Get used to it|
Keith came to New York six days earlier from North Dakota. He left his job selling cars to join New York protests. His inspiration were social news websites like Reddit.com; after spending the good part of two days on them, he packed up and left home (but he says that he will be allowed to return to his job). For an example of the sort of commentary that he may have been watching on those two days, see this post from reddit politics.
Keith’s sign is priceless, an acknowledgement of a major criticism of OWS, and yet, one of its strengths. What do these protesters want? What are they after? The answer seems at once everything and nothing. They want decent jobs, living wages, safe homes, clean air and water, good schools, affordable public transportation, you name it. Theirs is a call for simple human dignity.
In the words of Van Jones of the American Dream movement, they may lack “message clarity,” but they have an abundance of “moral clarity.” Watch this wonderful ad, less than thirty seconds, which offers an overview of what OWS wants.
But then, maybe now the time has come to present some specific demands, as Matt Taibbi writes in the most recent Rolling Stone, and he proposes five short, powerful ones. I encourage you to read his article.
|Zuccotti Park: Justin at the Info Desk on Broadway|
|Zuccotti Park, Broadway Line-up: Mark, Ryan and Scott|
Pedestrians walking up-and-down Broadway will encounter quite a few protesters standing with signs, fairly quietly but always ready to engage in a discussion. Mark (to the left, looking down) is from Riverside, CA and holds a sign saying “Tax Wall St. Transactions.” He has a PhD in Philosophy and had taught at a charter school until he was let go for lack of any union protections and with no warning. Ryan (in the center) is from Asheville, NC, and his sign reads “End the wars–End the Fed (two simple ways to fix the economy).” He is a student at the University of North Carolina. Scott is a student from Philadelphia and only came up for the day. His sign reads “Capitalism is a religion that makes Satan a God.” Typical of the OWS protesters, these are thoughtful, intelligent and sincere fellows.Ryan’s sign on ending our wars, thus fixing our economy, may sound too simplistic. However, the cost of our wars since 9/11 is at least $3.7 trillion and it could easily reach $4.4 trillion. Under half of that sum would have sufficed to upgrade and modernize all of our infrastructure problems: aviation, bridges, dams, drinking water, national energy power grid, hazardous waste, navigable waterways, railroads, roads, schools, solid waste, transit systems, and wastewater. This, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, which has given America a grade of “D” on its infrastructures.
|Zucotti Park: Henry Ford on our Banking System, Myles|
|Zuccotti Park: Devon, Read the Bible|
|Zuccotti Park: Aly’s Coffee, et. al.|
Moving on to a few examples of what I call “other interactions with the city beyond,” here we see the Cedar Street edge of Zuccotti Park lined with food kiosks from early morning until late afternoon: Aly’s Coffee, Halal, Sam’s Falafel, Smoothie and even two upstate farmers familiar to local farmer’s markets, Migliorelli Farms and Pick of New York have set up tents to provide the demonstrators with fresh fruits and vegetables. Free enterprise is alive and well, even in Zuccotti Park!Rising above the kiosks in the background are two neo-Gothic office buildings built between 1904-07, the Trinity building and the US Realty Building.
|Zuccotti Park: Chris watches as Anthony plays chess with a passer-by|
|Zuccotti Park: Construction Workers on lunch break on Cedar Street|
The most powerful endorsement of all, however, might be the first several minutes of this YouTube video of several thoughtful, and eloquent construction workers–clearly a part of the 99%.
|Zuccotti Park: Kitchen|
|Zuccotti Park: The People’s Library|
|Zuccotti Park: Occupation Status Board|
|Zuccotti Park: Drum Circle|
|Zuccotti Park: Dancers|
In the background can be seen the black structural steel frame of the original US Steel Building, designed by the firm of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and built in 1972. Its site was that of the former Singer Building designed by Ernest Flagg; when completed in 1908, this was briefly the tallest building in the world.
|Zuccotti Park: Sacred Space and Tree of Life|
|Zuccotti Park: Greedozer and Company, detail|
|Zuccotti Park: Greedozer and Company, view from behind|
|Zuccotti Park: Greedozer and Company, front view|
Assuming the form of Greedozer, Zable encourages his audience to “work, consume, be silent.” He relies on our apathy to achieve his goal of making earth a dead planet. On the back of his black robe he informs us that we have chosen extinction.This is a powerful piece of performance art. Too bad our politicians continue to approve drilling, fracking, mountaintop removal, factory farming, greenhouse gas emissions, ever increasing consumption and growth, private modes of transportation and the many other things that jeopardize our earth but increase the wealth of the individuals and industries that lobby Congress and serve Greeedozer hourly.
|Zuccotti Park: Stephen|
|Zuccotti Park: Charlie|
|Zuccotti Park: Chris (in tank top)|
|Zuccotti Park: Media Center, Colin|
|Zuccotti Park: Herbie, OWS to SCOTUS|
|Zuccotti Park: Just waking up, Kaley|
|Zuccotti Park: Rae and friends|
|Zuccotti Park: Library Reference Desk, Sam|
Paul, who was a veteran and served in Iraq, came down from New Hampshire, although he first volunteered for one day in Chicago and then in Boston. He says that he will remain in New York “for the duration.” His sign captures many of the uncommitted of the 99%, and he becomes their surrogate: those who can’t, those who won’t, and those who are too afraid.
|Zuccotti Park: The Undocumented|
The undocumented may well be among those too afraid to protest, so Paul can serve as their surrogate. What are we to do when some of us legislate against others. Alabama is seeing Hispanic students disappearing from school rosters, too scared to attend classes. It is losing Hispanic farm workers for the same reason, threatening to lead to millions of dollars lost in unharvested crops. Michelle Bachmann has pledged to build a double fence the entire length of our border with Mexico; so has Herman Cain, an electrified fence twenty feet high that can kill, topped with barbed wire, and guarded by military troops. Won’t that be beautiful! South Carolina, Arizona, Utah, Indiana and Georgia are all calling for Big Brother Government to check immigration status, as is the Tea Party in Texas.These people are part of us. They are part of the 99%. How pathetically shameful we have become!
|Zuccotti Park: When Texas Executes One|
|Zuccotti Park: Sleeping Inside|