October 4, 2011

Alan Chin at Occupy Wall Street: The Human Microphone

Over seven hundred protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday in a police action most observers characterized as entrapment, since the marchers thought that they were being escorted across the roadway in a peaceful manner. Last night, simmering tension continued as this young woman who chained herself to her bicycle at the Zucotti Park / Liberty Plaza encampment was arrested; standing behind her is one of the white-shirted NYPD commanders in charge. It was however, a small incident on a Sunday night on which the dominant feeling was cooperation rather than conflict.

Some demonstrators wore festive costumes, mingling with the police. What is remarkable, or perhaps not remarkable, but very telling and emblematic of the loose Occupy Wall Street movement, is how the protesters remain upbeat and positive. The daily General Assembly meeting was held with several hundred people acting as human microphones, repeating each speaker’s words so that the entire crowd could hear. Amplified equipment isn’t permitted, so this method proves very effective even though it takes more time. The announcements and discussions are kept simple and to the point.

The gathering is no longer so white and young as a more diverse array of New Yorkers join the protest. Labor unions have announced their support; uniformed airline pilots marched on Friday. If the movement is to truly grow, such broadening of the base is clearly essential. The NYPD’s heavy handed use of pepper spray and mass arrest has galvanized the narrative in a way that seems as unnecessary as it does unjust. But more than anything else, it has forced the mainstream media to catch up covering the story and spread the news far and wide. Social networking and the viral Internet, including BagNews here, have been outraged at the lack of initial balanced reporting — but as establishment figures and institutions finally respond — that remains the only way for most Americans to connect and understand.

Into the third week as the weather gets colder, the park is well organized to sustain the protesters. A central media and communications table is filled with laptops powered by a generator. A food area serves donated food to any and all, by electric lantern light at night. Another area distributes medical supplies and warm clothing. A clean-up crew constantly removes garbage.

On Saturday, members of the sit-in responded to accusations of incoherence with a Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. Included on its list of what the protesters are protesting is the following: “Corporations…have taken our houses through an illegal foreclosure process, despite not having the original mortgage. They have taken bailouts from taxpayers with impunity, and continue to give executives exorbitant bonuses…” and closes with “We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power. Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.”

Revolution may not quite be in the air. But romance certainly is, as this young woman with flowers purposely confronted stereotypes of “hippies” by embracing idealism without irony.

–Alan Chin

PHOTOGRAPHS by ALAN CHIN / facingchange.org

These images and notes were made at Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan, New York, October 2, 2011.

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Alan Chin
See other posts by Alan here.

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