BEING REASONABLE: Occupy Wall Street protests amount to controlled chaos


NEW YORK — As the sun slowly rose on the 29th day of the Occupy Wall Street protests, all was quiet in Zuccotti Park — save for a few unstable or otherwise inebriated souls bemoaning, among other things, the existence of the Federal Reserve, perceived economic injustice and the continued prohibition of marijuana.

Rain drops dotted the landscape here early Monday. Most people sought refuge inside their sleeping bags, or beneath makeshift forts made from tarps and a healthy amount of duct tape.

A few benevolent souls cleaned up trash, following through on a recent commitment to keep the park as clean as possible.

And still others sat silently, taking in the totality of a movement now more than a month old.

At first glance, the scene inside Zuccotti Park — an oval-shaped area devoid of grass, no bigger than a hockey rink — seems chaotic.

A closer look, however, reveals a community run by the occupiers, for the occupiers.

Volunteers staff several areas of the park including a sanitation department responsible for collecting trash and debris; a first aid tent; and “The People’s Kitchen.”

Other areas include a comfort tent, in which occupiers may gather warm clothing, or socks or whatever their needs may be.

Those taking up residence in Zuccotti Park may also engage each other intellectually through “The People’s Library,” a makeshift collection of donated books ranging in genre from religion to full-length plays.

By mid-afternoon, the park had assumed almost a festival-type atmosphere.

Attendance swelled easily into the thousands as the occupiers engaged one another in dialogue, as if participating in one great big brainstorming session.

Most of the occupiers carry signs, alerting passersby of their particular grievance. Although the content of any one sign may vary widely from the last, a common denominator seems to be the bitterness aimed at Wall Street and the banking industry. Those protesting in Zuccotti Park generally don’t feel the people who helped perpetuate the 2008 financial meltdown were adequately punished, if at all, for their transgressions.

“Cancel my debt and we’ll call it even,” read one sign. “We are the 99 percent,” a shot at the fact that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans control no less than 40 percent of the wealth in the United States.

“And that kind of income disparity is simply unacceptable,” said one woman, identifying herself only as Alexis during a “teach-in” (lecture) Monday afternoon before a supportive crowd of about 40 people.

Alexis said she spent seven years in the early 2000s writing software for a major Wall Street Bank, saying only that it wasn’t Goldman Sachs.

“The financial collapse occurred because a bunch of hedge fund managers gambled with the stock market,” she said, “but in my opinion this problem started in 1999 with the passage of the Financial Services Modernization Act that allowed for the repeal of what’s called the Glass-Steagall Act that had been passed after the Great Depression.

“Glass-Steagall was designed to limit how much power a bank could possess by not allowing it to offer both commercial and investment products,” Alexis continued. “Repeal of the act is what led to the so-called too big to fail. And we all know that too big to fail is too big to allow.”

Frustration over the country’s current economic structure is rampant, but 67-year-old Pura Barakos, a Greek immigrant who lives in Queens, N.Y., believes America’s problems run much deeper.

“Our citizens need healthcare, our young people need an education and it’s about time we bring our troops home. That’s where all our money goes, funding these wars,” she said, carrying a sign that read, “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty.”

Approaching Zuccotti Park from the north, among the first visible signs is one that reads, “Don’t confuse the chaos with the complexity of the movement.”

Indeed, Occupy Wall Street’s message depends on which protester is posed the question, but it seems the occupiers wouldn’t have it any other way.

Nate Smith is an Examiner Staff Writer. He can be contacted at nsmith@examiner.org.

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