I didn’t know what to expect as a got off the 4 train at Wall Street. I walked up the subway steps to find myself enveloped in a huge group of people. I would soon learn that these people, much like the portrayal of Occupy Wall Street, were not what my first impressions concluded.
It took me about 10 seconds to realize the hoard of people I encountered were not Occupy Wall Street Protesters, just your typical tourists. They stood, bunched up in the middle of the sidewalk, awestruck by the beauty and architecture that is New York. In a city where billions live, and even more come to visit, it’s difficult to stand out but it wasn’t long before I heard chants and drum beats leading me to the protestors.
Occupy Wall Street Debunked
A few of the things that surprised me about Occupy Wall Street:
- Many of the protesters have regular jobs.
- A lot of the attendees don’t actually spend 24-7 there, instead opting to go home at night and/or come after work.
- The environment was in no way volatile or threatening.
- There is a medical team on site along with a legal team if protesters get arrested.
- Most protesters blame “us” for ignoring the mounting problems of the nation, not the government.
A glaring difference between the actual protest and the way it has been portrayed; the relationship between cops and protesters. The atmosphere is not as tense as some may think, in fact one protester tells me, “A lot of them are nice cops, [when] you go up to them and say, ‘Oh, can I get a photo or can I get a hug? I feel like they want to support us.”
Occupy Wall Street Myth: These People Are Dirty Hippies
Okay, this is an understandable misconception. I’ll admit a lot of people there had questionable hygiene, but you take any park in NYC and there are going to be characters that stand out. The difference here is the media has zeroed in on the protestors that have a certain look.
During the two-hour span I spent interviewing protesters I found not one of them matched up to the other. All had different and compelling stories for why they were there.
Profile of a Protester
Christine Ramirez, 20s, Beauty Specialist
The first person I was able to snag at Occupy Wall Street was Flip. Flip is your quintessential protester as portrayed by the media; he had long unkempt hair and was dressed in a green hippie-esque pancho. BUT, Flip was also eloquent and mild-mannered, he brought me to his friend Christine Ramirez, a 20-something beauty specialist who was willing to talk a little more about why she was there.
Christine had bright pink hair, and a nice smile. She talked about how people were being deprived of their natural rights, bringing up the age-old argument: the rich are getting rich and the poor are getting poorer.
Robert James Carlson, 25, Finance/Education
Robert James Carlson stood out to me, not because of his cleanly pressed white button up or pristine jeans, but because of the dollar bill taped over his mouth.
Carlson risked his job in the financial industry to be at the protests. Occupy Wall Street caught his attention, after stories of young women getting maced exploded on the internet. “We have to point the finger at our selves,” he told me, “for creating the media into what it is now. We’re the ones who want sensationalism, we are the ones who want the stories of girls getting maced.”
Carlson was impassioned about showing a different side to what some think is the “typical protester”.
“It may have started out as “college age students”…[they] were the ones who had the luxury of coming down and taking the risk…and now you are getting support from people who are professionals. There are teachers in this crowd…lawyers, doctors. There are people from Wall Street who come down, they look at my sign and say, ‘me too. I would camp out here if I could, but if I sacrifice my insurance’…take a look, these aren’t college age students.”
Walter Hillegass, 34 Construction Worker/First Responder on 9/11
Seated next to a huge sign (shown below) Walter Hillegass easily had the most heart-wrenching story of the people I met at the protests.
Walter, a first responder on 9-11, has a list of ailments due to the terrorist attack. His gruff build indicates that he was once in construction, a career that was given up after his health deteriorated. Hillegass mentioned how he underestimated the intelligence of those attending Occupy Wall Street. “I used to make fun of kids like this,” he said gesturing to the people around him, “and now I’m sitting on this side.”
The Minor Characters
These next individuals were not minor by any means, unfortunately I wasn’t able to speak with them as long as those featured above. I still believe they have very unique and interesting stories.
Matthew Dates, 25, Quit Job: Matthew originally from Ohio, quit his job to make the trek to New York for Occupy Wall Street. After graduating with a degree in electrical engineering Dates was unable to get a job in the field. Left with over $100,000 worth of debt he was forced to take a job at Walmart.
Dates said his nephews were a main driving force behind his decision to attend Occupy Wall Street
Torkom: Torkom went by one name and came up that day from Iowa. He described the whole of Occupy Wall Street as a “Leaderless organization, with many leaders.” As a student he felt it was important to “Reveal and recognize our paths as humans.”
Nathan Gorecki, 30s, Lost Job: Nathan was one of the first faces I saw when I walked up to the event. He was handing out fliers and speaking with people as they walked by. After losing his job as a freelance writer at the LA Times due to the poor economy Nathan jumped at the chance to bring attention to what he felt was a failing system.