By Matthew Vernon Whalan
October 11, 2011
Zuccotti Park smells like B.O. and fresh bagels and the drum circle in the middle launches up into the city and ricochets off of the surrounding buildings. And they sing and they chant, and their noise has nowhere to hide. Police circle the area by the hundreds. At one point, my brother and I were out on the edge of the park and when the tourist buses pulled up to take pictures, protesters near us turned and began to yell, “You are an American! Get off the bus! Come protest! Get off the bus!”
Occupy Wall Street started with about a 1,000 people walking up and down Wall Street on September 17th. Now, less than a month later, a rapidly growing number of citizens have taken over Zuccotti Park in the heart of New York’s financial district in a surprisingly organized protest that is gaining momentum.
I went down to New York to the Wall Street protests to write about freedom, and it was a goldmine.
It is true that not everybody protesting on Wall Street is there for the same reason, but that is all the better. I met real American citizens: we the people, the middle class, the 99 percent, who want change in more areas than one.
I went to Wall Street today where together we burned in the unnecessary heat of global warming, and we shivered in unison with the cold heartbeat of capitalism. We wept for Middle Eastern children who have taken bullets to the head, and we tried to stand behind Obama, but he was taken hostage by a sea of confused Congressmen. We worked our asses off but are now jobless. We occupy Wall Street to be free.
When I first arrived, I was walking around admiring the scene and looking for somebody to interview. I was looking for a face that looked impartial but composed and righteous, and my scanning eyes stopped on a young man who looked to be in his early twenties. He was sitting on the steps in the back looking tired, with the haze of his rolled cigarette fogging his path of vision. His name was Tyler Vankurk.
When I asked him what he thinks about the protest and why he is there, he said, laid back and with the trace of morning in his voice, “Because these are my people. If people are going to be here getting pepper sprayed and clubbed, I should be here too. There are certain human values that we all share to survive,” he continued. “As far as America goes, I love this place, and I love these people, but not the way we are forced to live our lives.”
I moved a little closer to the middle of the crowd, where I saw a quiet, but dignified young person, smiling at passersby and fascinated by his surroundings. His name was Chris H. and he came from Tucson, AZ to protest. He told me that he had never protested anything in his life, and that he respects the way that this protest does not have a unified purpose and “this is people saying ‘we want change.’ If we are to take these issues seriously, we need to look beyond bumper sticker slogans.”
When we got right into the middle of the park I saw how real this protest was. Sleeping bags and clothes and shoes and smiles were draped all over the place. There was a First Aid table set up in the center, with free apples, free cigarettes, free pamphlets and copies of the “Occupied Wall Street Journal.” I was choked up as I walked around to see all of these people who care so much about their world. I interviewed medical assistant, Steven Smith, who told me that people came back to continue protesting after they had been pepper-sprayed, and their faces were burning red and swelling up to the point where they could not see.
There were three people sitting close together laughing, smiling, passing around gold bond foot powder, and speaking of their country. I knelt down in front of them and Raz Drastic, a sound engineer for a major recording studio, was upset because he said that many of the reporters have given the impression that this is just a bunch of homeless people protesting. He informed me that he was a middle-class American, part of the 99 percent, there to protest corporate greed. “People need to understand that this is real,” he told me.
Next to Raz was a young, pretty girl named Ka-La Kiltraven, who came all the way from Halifax, Canada to protest and raise awareness about corporate greed. I turned to the third girl to ask her a question, but while I was in the middle of the question, she put her finger to her mouth to shush me, and flashed me a huge smile. Then she held her sign up in front of me, which informed me that she does not speak, she protests only in the form of smiling, so I smiled back. I turned back to Raz, but before I could ask him another question, a gentle looking man with overalls leaned down and threw his arms around me yelling “Free hugs! I just want a hug!” Raz informed me that he, Ka-La, and Smiling Girl had been living in the park for the past nine days.
On the other side of the park, there was a man standing on a platform with his face red and signs wrapped all around his body, and people stopping off to listen in anger or in love, and he screamed, “America tells you that if you want freedom you have to get rich!”
Walking back through the center of the park, I was struck by the image of a pretty young girl, sleeping gently amidst the cries of freedom, with her head resting on the forearm of a young man whose face was held inches from her face, and he had tears in his eyes, and he looked as though he had not slept in days. She awoke, and they kissed gently for their genuine love which is contained in America.