OWS/Zuccotti Park - Oct 2011
During the fall of 2011, various friends, business colleagues, and family members began asking me what I thought of the "Occupy Wall Street" (OWS) group of protesters who gathered in Zuccotti Park, and then marched in various parts of New York City to demonstrate their grievances. I responded that it was likely to be the same as their reaction, at least in the sense that my impressions were formed by whatever reports I saw in the newspapers or in television reports. Of course, you might have had a more personal, or "informed," opinion if you worked on Wall Street, or if you happened to be stuck on the Brooklyn Bridge when the protesters effectively shut things down for a few hours, or if you knew someone in the NYC Police Department that came into contact with the protesters.

But New York is a city of five different boroughs, sprawling out over several square miles -- and the OWS protesters were camped out in a tiny "private park" in lower Manhattan, roughly a block from the American Stock Exchange, and a couple blocks from the nearly-completed 9-11 Memorial site. You don't see or hear them on the Upper West Side, where I live; you don't see them in Queens, Staten Island, or the Bronx; and I think it's safe to say that the residents of Brooklyn only saw them if they were attempting to cross the Brooklyn Bridge at what turned out to be the wrong time on the wrong day.

But the protests have gone on, day after day, and week after week; and the media coverage has gradually increased. In mid-October of 2011, I was rather startled to read a news story indicating that OWS-related protests had taken place in 942 different cities and locations around the world. It may not have reached the level of the "Arab spring" uprisings that have brought down the governments of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (and probably a few more in the coming weeks and months), but it seems to be more potent and wide-spread than I had realized. So when the opportunity to visit Zuccotti Park arose, during my recent visit to see the 9-11 Memorial (which you can see in this Flickr set), I was happy to pursue it.

Before I offer my opinions about what I saw, I should mention that I come from the generation that marched for civil rights in the early- and mid-60s, and that marched against the Vietnam war in the late-60s and early-70s. I didn't get arrested during any of those marches, and I didn't burn any flags; but I have a distinct memory that almost all of those demonstrations and protests were large, and loud, and very passionate. Maybe it was just that I was relatively young at the time, and felt quite passionately about the issues of the day; but you can judge for yourself by looking at some of these old vintage-1969 photos from a Vietnam protest rally that took place in Bryant Park, behind the New York Public Library -- as shown in this Flickr set.

As for the OWS protesters in Zuccotti Park: well, the whole thing seemed fairly small and subdued. If it is indeed the genesis of subsequent marches and protests in 942 cities, that's pretty significant ... but Zuccotti Park is less than half a square block in size, and the overall mood seemed much more like a mellow, low-key version of Woodstock than a loud, angry, passionate protest against the evils of Wall Street, or the corruption and political paralysis in Washington. It was certainly less loud, noisy, and passionate than the protests and demonstrations I've been reading about, and have watched from a safe distance, in places like Rome and Athens in recent months.

The folks in Zuccotti Park also struck me as the most media-friendly people I've ever seen. Indeed, I've never seen so many cameras, photographers, and videographers concentrated in one place. It seemed like almost everyone there was either posing for a photo, or taking someone's photo, or being interviewed on-camera by someone. I didn't see anyone from the major news channels -- nobody from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, Fox, or even ESPN -- but I had a feeling that a lot of the photographers and videographers were freelance journalists collecting material they could feed to the cable-news channels, or other media-related clients.

I guess there's nothing wrong with that ... but I couldn't help getting the impression that the protests, and the people camped out in Zuccotti Park, were more interested in the publicity and attention than the basic issues they were espousing. That may not be a fair judgment to make, but it was hard to escape that impression.

As for the political issues themselves ... hmmm. Well, I understand and sympathize with the frustration that so many of the people who were directly responsible for the financial and economic catastrophies of the past few years have escaped any significant financial penalties or jail time. And I understand and completely sympathize with the frustration about the political dysfunction and paralysis that has gripped the country for the past several years. But I don't have a good understanding of what the OWS folks really want to do in order to confront the problems they've identified and complained about. I know that, to a large extent, that's a deliberate strategy on their part; but while I respect their right to operate in this fashion, it's hard for me to know what it is I'm supposed to "support" with this group...

Anyway, I spent an hour or two in Zuccotti Park just wandering around, trying to get a feeling for what kind of people were there, what they were saying, what they cared about, and what they didn't care about. I didn't try to put any smart-aleck, humorous captions on each photo, because my own interpretation of a "scene" might have been wildly different than what they themselves were thinking or feeling. So I just took the pictures; you can decide for yourself what they mean...
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