Overnight at Occupy Wall Street

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BY MONDAY NIGHT, the 10th day of the Occupy Wall Street protest, the miniature colony at Liberty Park Plaza was rather sophisticated. The “media tent,” which on Saturday had consisted of a MacBook and an umbrella, now looked like an amateur version of the CNN newsroom. Protesters crushed around a central table, tweeting, emailing and editing video, surrounded by a barricade of tables holding more computers, with the cracks in between filled in by sleeping bags, blankets and backpacks. One revolutionary with a hard face sat straight-backed, a cigarette poking sideways out of his mouth while he typed away. The computers and lights were powered by a generator, which briefly died when someone misplaced the gas can. The media center, as the always-lit hub of information and electricity, is the cornerstone of the encampment. Entry is restricted.

Next door is the kitchen, two rows of marble benches laden with pizza, fruit, dry noodles, bean salad and hot vegetarian chili with bread. Saturday’s dinner was self-serve; this time, a gentleman in a New York Film Academy T-shirt handed over The Observer’s brownie in a napkin. Next to the kitchen lies a field of protest signs—former pizza boxes—within easy reach. The rest of the park is residential, filled with sleeping bags, tarps, air mattresses and ordinary mattresses; a bench stacked with folded blankets for common use; and a living room complete with carpeting, chairs and a futon frame, which we observed being occupied by a family with three small children, and later by a pair of men bedding down in opposite directions. The east end of the park usually hosts the drum circle. The bathroom is located around the corner at McDonald’s, whose employees have been surprisingly accommodating, allowing protesters to come, go, use the electrical outlets and linger unmolested. The Burger King on the western border of the park, however, has reportedly told protesters they’re banned from making purchases.

The Observer arrived at Occupy Wall Street after chasing Monday evening’s march through the narrow streets of the financial district, following the group on Twitter and scrambling to catch up. The New York Stock Exchange—dead, but lined with cops. Bowling Green—quiet, no police presence. At Bridge Street, we noticed a helicopter above the skyscrapers. Heading up Broadway, we caught up with the motley but spirited crew of protesters bobbing their signs to the beat, and fell in between a pair of middle-aged moms and a boy with green-tipped hair in a ripped white T-shirt. Some people beat pizza boxes with empty water bottles. We spotted a sign: “Unfuck the world!”

As we rolled our eyes, we saw another: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

Comparing the collection of apparent Burning Man refugees who have been demonstrating in Liberty Park Plaza over the past 10 days to the anti-colonial effort led by Mahatma Gandhi would be charitable. Even so, the Occupy Wall Streeters probably fit somewhere between Gandhi’s steps two and three. In the first week, media coverage was negligible. Then over the weekend, The New York Times’s Ginia Bellafante weighed in with a piece that the demonstrators found condescending, in which she called the protest “a diffuse and leaderless convocation of activists against greed, corporate influence, gross social inequality and other nasty by-products of wayward capitalism not easily extinguishable by street theater” and gave the final word to a floor trader who dismissed the movement because some protesters were using MacBooks.

Then on Saturday, a senior officer of the N.Y.P.D. was captured on camera spritzing pepper spray into the faces of two women. The video, along with reports of more than 80 protester arrests, gave the protest some legitimacy in the eyes of the media. While not especially impressed by the protest itself, The Atlantic’s James Fallows posted the video under an unusually sharp headline: “An Important Video to Watch: Pepper Spray by a Cruel and Cowardly NYC Cop.” Mr. Fallows explained his extreme reaction to The Observer in an email: “I am sure one reason is because I’ve spent much of the past five years in China,” he wrote. “I looked at that video and thought, how would I feel if I saw the Chinese cops doing that? Also, I have been on a slow boil about the security-state excesses of the past 10 years.”

Mr. Fallows is in exalted company. “Anyone with eyes open knows that the gangsterism of Wall Street—financial institutions generally—has caused severe damage to the people of the United States (and the world),” Noam Chomsky wrote in a letter to organizers Sunday. “The courageous and honorable protests underway in Wall Street should serve to bring this calamity to public attention, and to lead to dedicated efforts to overcome it and set the society on a more healthy course.” The rapper and 9/11 Truther Lupe Fiasco attended, sent a poem and has been tweeting vigorously for the cause; Brooklyn City Councilman Charles Barron spoke at the protest Tuesday morning. Michael Moore, who paid a surprise visit to the park Monday night, took a harder line: “Tax them! They are thieves! They are gangsters! They are kleptomaniacs!”

It was too bad Mr. Moore was not present for the march earlier; he would have enjoyed the dozens of cameras as well as the spectacle of protesters dancing down cobblestone streets. “Banks! Got! Bailed out! We! Got! Sold out!”

Across the street, about ten tight-shirted men stared from behind the window of a clothing store, frozen, so that at first The Observer thought they were mannequins.

“Hey, do you guys want to help me do a chant?” Green Hair asked the marchers around him. “You just say, ‘Occupy Wall Street,’’ okay?” He cupped his hands around his mouth and hoarsely yelled, “ALL DAY! ALL WEEK!”

The Observer felt ridiculous, but we didn’t want to be a square. “Occ-u-py-Wall-Street!”

Overnight at Occupy Wall Street