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Two nights in Zuccotti Park

October 27, 2011
By Jon Hochschartner

There was a confrontation between protestors and police the first night my friend Stephen Clark and I slept in Zuccotti Park, home of the Occupy Wall Street encampment.

It was around 11:30 p.m. when members of the New York Police Department tried to dismantle the camp's medical tent, saying that pitching tents violated the park's rules. Activists began calling out for people to physically disrupt this action. Stephen and I joined a quickly growing crowd of protestors, which would eventually number an estimated 150 people, standing before the tent. Minutes passed, and the atmosphere became increasingly tense as the NYPD called in reinforcements. Activists began to shout warnings, employing the "people's microphone" technique, whereby a crowd amplifies a speaker's message, usually in bursts of only a few words, by repeating it loudly in unison so those further away can hear. "Mic check!" a woman shouted. "If you happen to get arrested, make sure you call 212-679-6018."

Another protestor spoke moments later.

Article Photos

Jon Hochschartner, 24, of Lake Placid, holds a homemade sign along with other demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street movement Oct. 18 at Zuccotti Park in New York.
(Photo — Anthony Behar, Sipa Press, via Associated Press)

"Mic check!" a man shouted. "If you have contacts, take them out. If you are pepper sprayed, it can spread it to the back of your eye." Seemingly out of nowhere came the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the civil rights hero, who happened to have been visiting the park at the time. He spoke with the police before locking arms with the activists directly encircling the medical tent. The combination of Jackson's presence and protesters recording the situation with their cell phones are likely what led the NYPD to back down.

Stephen and I stayed in Zuccotti Park for a total of three days and two nights between Oct. 17 and 19. During that time, we got a small taste of life in the camp.

Daniel Todd, 21, of Brooklyn, a volunteer at the medical tent, said the structure was necessary for the sake of sanitation and patients' privacy.

Among those who volunteered in the tent were doctors, nurses and emergency technicians, according to Todd. While they typically deal with cuts and blisters, they have also faced a few cases of hypothermia and seizures. In crisis situations, they only provide first-response care.

"We don't have a clinical set-up," Todd said. "Any serious threat, we do call the police. We do call the hospitals."

Nan Terie, who described herself as "young," of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is a volunteer at the camp kitchen that provides free food donated by supporters. When there are large marches scheduled, the kitchen serves between 5,000 to 20,000 people a day, Terie said. Even on a quiet day, like the one I spoke to her on, the kitchen serves between 1,000 to 4,000 people.

Sympathetic celebrities regularly made appearances at the park, but for the most part, the protestors seemed unimpressed with the visitors' fame. For instance, I spoke briefly with Kevin Smith, director of "Mallrats," essentially in private.

Betsy Fagin, 39, from Brooklyn, who works as a professional librarian, volunteers at the activists' library.

"People bring books in," Fagin said. "It's all donations. When they come in, we tag them with 'Occupy Wall Street Library.' And then we catalogue them. I think, right now, we're at about 2,000 records." The catalogue includes the work of authors ranging from Rosa Luxemburg, the martyred German communist, to Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi, the reality TV star.

During certain hours of the day, there were rollicking performances of live music. Protestors played saxophones, trumpets, guitars and drums of all kinds. Especially during the evenings, pedestrians lined the sidewalk by the hundreds, sometimes jumping police barricades to join what often became spontaneous dance parties. The second night Stephen and I were there, I joined a march of an estimated 200 people to the Manhattan district attorney's office in opposition to police brutality. Outside the building, a series of protestors spoke, many pointing out the harassment activists had experienced was something people of color deal with on a regular basis.

Eventually a protestor announced Gov. Andrew Cuomo was rumored to be having dinner at a nearby restaurant. In fact, Cuomo was scheduled to receive the Huffington Post "Game Changer of the Year" award for his role in legalizing gay marriage in New York state. The protestors asked the crowd what it thought of paying a visit to the governor, who had recently opposed extending or increasing the millionaire's tax. The crowd roared with approval.

Standing outside the gala, the activists chanted, "Where is Cuomo? Protecting the 1 percent!"

Naomi Wolf, author of the feminist classic "The Beauty Myth" who had been invited to the event, joined the protestors. She would be arrested along with her partner for picketing on a part of the sidewalk from which the police had already moved the crowd. The NYPD said the Huffington Post possessed a permit for this area, while Wolf argued activists had the right to protest there so long as they kept moving.

While Wolf was placed in the back of the police van and driven away, the crowd chanted at the NYPD, "Who do you serve? Who do you protect?"

By this point, protestors believed Cuomo had left the restaurant through a back exit. After some deliberation, they decided to march to the precinct where they thought Wolf was taken. A large contingent of NYPD officers had been following the activists' every move for many hours. Blowing off steam, someone suggested the crowd take the police force "for a run."

This was heartily agreed to. The crowd began a slow jog through the streets with the NYPD following hastily in tow. But when the protestors reached the intersection leading to the precinct, a line of police officers blocked the sidewalk. When the protestors asked why they were not allowed past, a member of the NYPD said it was for reasons of "homeland security."

The next morning, Stephen and I awoke to a drizzle that quickly escalated into a downpour. Our clothes, packs and sleeping bags were soaked. We were sore and tired from sleeping on cement beside a vendor booth illuminated through the night. I'd completely lost my voice from shouting. The NYPD had gotten the better of the march I was a part of the evening before. But I can't ever remember being as politically hopeful as I was that morning.


Jon Hochschartner lives in Lake Placid.



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