40 Portraits From Occupy Wall Street: Tent City

How long have you been at the Occupation? "Since it started."
Do you find it difficult to sleep down at the park? "No, it's great. Everyone's helping out."
The noise doesn't bother you? "No it's great! That's what we're supposed to do!"
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Between three weeks and a month."
Do you spend the nights here? "Oh yeah, every night."
What would you say has been the biggest change in the OWS camp since you arrived? "Since they put up the tents? There is continuous change, there is change every day…change is what we're after. So to label one thing as change would be very difficult. But creating this wonderful dialogue, keeping it open, that's what we're doing here." Do you have a message that you came here to share? "There are so many messages. But my message is to try create a more egalitarian culture."
And is that what Zuccotti Park is? "We're on the right track."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I've been here since the first day."
Do you spend the nights here? "No, I go home every night to Brooklyn."
What was your reason for coming down here? "I've been waiting for this moment my whole life. What I like about this moment is that it's allowed us to dream a little differently…the active Occupation has allowed us to dream in a new way."
What has been the biggest turning points in the movement for you? "Watching the General Assembly process spread to communities across the country."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "About five weeks now. I help out at the People's Library."
Have you been sleeping in the park "I have, yes."
Have you noticed any big changes since the tents went up? "Well, there was always a shortage of space…we've been at full occupancy since I got here. But I'm grateful for the tents."
What brought you down here "I've been waiting to see this kind of popular grassroots protest movement my whole life. I was hoping that the Wisconsin Occupation of the state capital would get the ball rolling with all these types of things, but unfortunately it didn't. I think it was a real tragedy what happened there. What's still happening in Wisconsin with the teachers and public service employees who lost their bargaining rights, the major cuts to educational programs. So that's what's so inspirational about the People's Library to me: it represents the access to education at no cost."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Two weeks."
Have you been sleeping down here? "Yeah, I sleep in my tent."
Is OWS what you expected it to be? "Uh…no. Not really. So this is even better than I expected."
Why aren't you Occupying in Oakland? "When I left, L.A. was just getting started and Oakland hadn't started yet. I wasn't even sure New York would still be going on when I got here, but I knew I wanted to be part of a big one. I didn't want to just Occupy L.A. in solidarity of Occupy Wall Street…I wanted to be right in the heart of the financial center. Also it was a good excuse to hitchhike across country."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "One month."
What made you decide to travel all the way here? "I saw all the nice guys were heading to the same place, and I wanted to be one of the nice guys."
What are some of the changes you've seen living here in the past month? I've seen this go from a small community to people basically squatting on the ground to a giant tent city that is essentially a working village."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Well, I live in Harlem, but I've been out of work for two weeks. I used to write for a paper in Westchester County."
Were you on the OWS beat? "No, that was the problem. I've met so many interesting people here, so many good stories. What every journalist craves. Even if I don't end up turning this into a story…though hopefully I'll start writing again soon. Are you guys looking for any freelancers?"
So it sounds like you are here for the community. Do you have a message? "I mean, any person who sits back and thinks about things is going to realize how many problems this country has…so it's kind of hard to just sum it up in a soundbite. But being down here is kind of like therapy: you realize why you've been angry for so long, being forced to participate in this kind of system. People say we don't have a list of demands, but I know this is a good starting place. It's not like I'm trying to say 'Let's have electoral reform by the next election.' Yeah, I think it's necessary, but I don't know how to achieve that. We're getting people to realize though that this is not inevitable, that things can change."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Off and on for about three months now."
What are the biggest changes you've seen? "People in the corporate world are finally paying attention. We went to Goldman Sachs last week for a protest, and they really stopped and listened. We really, really got these people attention."
What brought you to the Occupation? "It's my first time. I'm just observing. I've met some really interesting people though: one guy was going from Occupation to Occupation; one lady said she was down here because men kept breaking into her house in Long Island; and then I talked to a student from Long Island who is sleeping here and going to school full-time."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Almost a month now."
What brought you down here? "The lack of accountability on Wall Street. Many of my professional colleagues are very frustrated that their research isn't being communicated properly. They feel like their information is being suppressed and not taken into consideration, while in practice they are doing things that are very risky."
What do you do when you're down here? "I'm part of a group that's looking into alternative investing, alternative currency. We're trying to look at how to invest in our lives in a more eco-friendly, Utopian-type way. We have a time bank we're working on.
A time bank? "Yes, it was developed by an attorney named Edgar Cahn, and it's been quite successful, he's used it for a number of systems for alternate currency value."
What's been the biggest change you've noticed since you arrived? "Looking at the responsibility level. Every day all of us that are here have to maintain a level of eco-integrity. Maintaining certain principles like donating food to people who need food, providing clothing and shelter, not ostracizing people and trying not to turn this system into the system out there, which just alienates people."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "This is my first day here."
What are your thoughts? "It's amazing, this little city that they've built in the park! It is, it's really cool."
We meet Mr. Gypsy as he's packing up his tent.
How long have you been at the Occupation? "About three weeks?"
Why are you leaving? "Because nobody wants anything to be accomplished here. Everyone wants to take up time doing dumb shit. We have the worst elements here of the system these people say they hate. We have a lot of special groups. Everyone here wants to be on a special committee and think they're special. We have tents ready to go up that can't be put up because no one is "all in agreement" about what they should be used for. The guy whose only job it was was to put up the second medical tent came down here and insisted that he wasn't going to put up the tent."
That sounds frustrating. "There's a central faction in all of this that insists nothing be organized and nothing work. Every time there's a special working group, they come in, they have their turn, and then it's someone else's turn so everything gets torn down and the whole process starts over again with people who don't know what they're doing."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "A little over a month."
What's the biggest change you've noticed in the community here? "The influx of tourists. I don't mind if you have a natural curiosity about something, but when I first got here…I've never gotten so many hugs from so many random people. So maybe it's with all the people just coming in and carrying their alienation with society into the camp, there's not the same feeling of love as there used to be."
Do you feel that these 'tourists' detract from the message? "It does, it does. I mean, any publicity is good publicity, so maybe it's about getting those people who are curious to help out. And you know, maybe it's us too, the people in the camp who just get tired of answering the same questions over and over."
Would you suggest NVC classes? "Absolutely, absolutely. Everyone should take one of those classes, even if they aren't a required for something. It just makes you a better person."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Today's my first time at this place. I'm very interested though. Last time I tried to come over here, they arrested me for (having an) open beer bottle. I had to spend the whole weekend in jail."
So what are your impressions now that you're down here? "I like it…I feel like the world is missing a lot of the love it used to have. It's getting colder, people aren't taking care of each other like they used to. So seeing something like this, where people just take care of each other, is something I really want to be a part of."
What did you do before you were unemployed? "Oh, I was just released from prison.
What prison? "I was held in an Ossining correctional facility in upstate New York."
So what brought you down here? "Just to see some change, to be a part of something positive. I feel like there needs to be a lot of change in our prison system: not just in the state but across the country, because all it is this big revolving door. It's a business. They're not really doing much, the government is doing much for people like me, for parolees, who work. I got locked up when I was 18 for assault. I get that what I did was wrong, but you shouldn’t hold it against me when I'm trying to get a job, attend a college."
How did you first hear about this movement? "I saw it on the news at Rikers Island."
How meetings do you hold a day? "We hold one training a day, but we try to include a lot of the skills of nonviolent communication in other areas. Like we mediate between conflicting parties; we try to build trainings now to specific things."
How does that work? "Well right now we're trying to build different tiers of training that include consent trainings, orientation trainings, how to survive the rain trainings (laughs). Stuff like that."
What is the most important thing to take away from NVC trainings? It's so essential to get to the needs level, because when you get to needs, you are never in conflict. So here, we are using it to help consensus building. It's so powerful to get to the needs level…not getting petty and finding strategies to meet everyone's needs."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I've been on the periphery of this since before it started. I went to a couple of the planning meetings. I actually thought it was going to get shut down by day three."
So what do you do here? "I want to start a new working group. I feel like our economic system can't be saved…that it should be destroyed and replaced with something better. So my focus would be on creating a sustainable society that was environmentally friendly. I think the environmental movement now is lacking.
What's the biggest change you've noticed in the past two months? "We got the world talking about alternatives, realizing that things don't have to be this way."
We've talked to you before…has your impression changed much on the Occupation? "With the tents now it's a little strange. You can't walk through anything. There's all these dead ends and secret places. The whole middle over there is like a mysterious hobo Hobbit land. At night it's almost creepy. Obviously it's much more comfortable for people, but it's very difficult to walk around."
Do you think the tents are a hindrance to the community? They're more of a help than a hindrance, considering Winter. And if they are a hindrance to people who come in more casually, they're more of an asset to the people using them."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I've been here for about three weeks. I live in Harlem, so sometimes I help out and give people here who have no tents a place to crash.
What's your line called? "Peaces. The purpose of my line—and I think all fashion should do this—is to give a dollar of the proceeds to charity. It's basically the 1% giving back."
"But I'm also here to enlighten the media about my own cause, which is human trafficking. I used to work at the Tunnel, which used to be The Limelight. I worked for Peter Gatien for about 10 months, and when they found out I was Jewish—which I only am spirituality—I found out they were Nazis. I went to file sexual harassment charges, but was totally ignored. Cut to the chase…they sent some guy to rape and murder me. I didn't get murdered but I was raped. When you put the pressure on the truly evil, truly evil things happen. So I'm a little nervous about events coming up."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I haven't been here consecutively, but on and off for the last six weeks."
So we've talked to you before: what are some of the biggest changes you've noticed since we've seen you last? "I'm starting to get the vibe that the banks are getting intimidated. We've entered the national conversation...you have presidential candidates answering questions about it. They can't ignore us. And the media…The New York Post can publish a cover that says "Enough," but it's a tabloid rag. That's all it's ever been, though their movie reviews are pretty good."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I came here about three weeks into the protest, and at that time my effort wasn't organized or anything like that. So the students at Union Theological Seminary of New York heard about other chaplains at other Occupy sites and decided that we should create a chapter."
What are the major changes you've been seeing in the park itself? "Well when I first got here, there were no tents. So now the tents are here, and they definitely change the whole atmosphere. It changes the physical dynamics: without the tents, the sea of humanity was more visible; more touchable. Now with the tents there are barriers. But they (the tents) are totally necessary."
So what does your job as protest chaplain entail? "My job is to be a presence of calm and peace. To be able to listen to people…to help them deal with tensions of such a close-knit community. Staying overnight in the park, even if it's just one night, can be pretty stressful if you haven't done it before. It's offering prayer, it's offering someone to speak to and just talk to."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "55 or 56 days."
What are some of the biggest changes you've seen over the last couple weeks? "The kitchen has evolved and that's beautiful. Now it's more finite and we can start feeding all the occupiers instead of all the tourists. We're having an easier time getting food here and distributing it, and having the hot boxes so we can keep all the food warm now."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I first came down on the 24th of September, but I've only spent two weeks sleeping here because I have a place in the East Village."
So what brought you down here? "Well I've always liked to photograph people, especially crowds, so after the first couple days here I was sort of cemented."
So what does the Sustainability working group do, exactly? "We're focusing on keeping the occupation green. Not fossil fuels or part of a system that supports corporate dependency or waste. So we transport compost from the kitchen and from different stations set up around, and we haul it out by bicycle to community gardens, especially the ones on the Lower East Side. We also do recycling, and we just built this device to do rainwater capture. If we could, we would do permaculture."
Are you guys also in charge of the bike generators? "Yes. The same week they took the gas generators, we got approval from the G.A. to get money for the bikes. They gave us approval to build five, but we're going to build 15. I was so happy when they came and took the gas generators…I was thinking of how to get them out of the park anyway."
And now they're back, though. "Yeah, hopefully not for long."
What changes have you seen? "The tents. And now they're fighting…well not really fighting…about who is going to give them money I think? And then who is going to get the money.
You live around here, what are your thoughts on the changes in the park? "Well initially I was intimidated. But then I started walking through, and now I walk through every day. I'm fascinated. I'm fascinated by the people, I'm fascinated by the community and how they serve food, and I talk to the cops all the time, and the cops tell me it's going to reach a boiling point really soon.
When did they say that? "Four or five days ago. I think something's going to break. There's a lot of homeless and mentally not with it people hanging out here now. I was even here Saturday and took a video of two homeless people fighting."
"I think that what the original people were doing here was very cool, but I don't think they can maintain it for that much longer. By the way, do you know why there's no General Assembly meeting tonight? I can't find it."
What brought you down here? "I was interested in seeing what was going on. Now I try to come down here and lend support…emotionally, and every so often when I get my paycheck, financially.
So why did you say you weren't part of the movement? "Because I'm not a volunteer. I'm just here to lend support."
Have you noticed any changes in the past couple times you've been down here? "Yes. I've noticed the tents went up. There were more tents, there were more people here."
Do you think the vibe has changed? "No, that's stayed about the same."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I can't remember exactly, but it was near the end of September."
What brought you down here originally? You said you knew Reverend Billy? "Well when I first came down here I didn't get it. I thought the mic check sounded like some party line…with everyone repeating it. But then I read about the microphone laws and understood. It's one of the most endearing parts of the community to me now."
How have you seen the movement change since you've been here? Every time I come here it gets better. I don't want to disparage the movement, but I will say today is the first time I saw two people fighting. But they were not representative of the movement…they were of a certain socio-economic background—which knows no color—and they were living here but they didn't attend GA regularly or anything, so they aren't really part of the movement. But those are the type of people corporate media latches onto, like how MTV wants to do an Occupy Wall Street thing, and they're only looking to showcase young people."
"People also have to remember that this a microcosm of outside society. So if anyone has a problem with what's going on here, I would say 'Heal thyself'…take a look at your own community."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I got here today."
What do you think of it? "It's pretty good."
What surprised you the most once you were here? "I'm surprised that everything's free."
Do you play music here? "I integrate myself into the drum line, yes. This is my third time playing here."
Are you part of that group Pulse? "I'm not part of it, but I like playing with that."
You come here for the community? "Yes, this place has a good sense of community, and it's ups and downs, from an outsider's point of view. I see that people get violent and angry here, and that's the wrong approach. I think people should try to integrate others, try to make them understand why you are here."
Occupy Legoland! When did you start doing this? "I started coming down on weekends about a month ago, but as it got more popular I started showing up after work."
You said you keep changing it to resemble the park. How has Occupy Legoland changed from the first time you were down here? "The tents. People keep joking to me that I need to add tents to my model, so I made a couple out of tarp. But that's definitely the thing I've noticed the most about the actual Zuccotti Park area: the tent expansion.
How long have you been at the Occupation? Since the fourth of this month.
Are you staying in the park? "Yeah, I've been sleeping here while visiting. My school sent us to get some documentation, and yeah…I've mostly been participating. Nowhere else have I ever felt this experience of community. Just having this connection with other people, and at the same time being positive about the place that we're at. I feel like there could actually be hope for this country and it won't just be about polluting and killing and criminalizing people. It's kind of scary being a student right now—I'm taking out a lot of loans--but when I come here I feel like there are fresh ways of looking at the world…that there's hope.
What have you seen here that was surprising? "The police. I've seen people get arrested here just for voicing their opinion, but when they go to the police for help they get turned away. There's a real bias here and people need to see that, because we pay the police officers to protect us, not to criminalize us for having the freedom of speech."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Almost two weeks."
What made you want to come down here? "To change the world."
Do you think that the camp is going to make it through the winter? "Absolutely. We're not moving."
Do you have a last name you want to give? "A philosophy?"
No, last name. "Oh…no."
How about a philosophy? "Not really. Be kind to other people."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Two weeks."
What attracted to you to the movement? "I mean, look at this. This is phenomenal. You have constant dialogue, constant conversation, ideas bouncing back and forth. You have a bunch of really, really angry people congregating, but the only emotion I see is happiness.
You don't see anger? "No, look around you!" (Editor's note: People are having a fiddling hoe-down on the corner of Liberty and Broadway. It does look pretty awesome…until ten minutes later, when the police bust it up and arrest several people. For dancing.)
How long have you been at the Occupation? "A month and a half-ish."
You do the poetry readings on Friday, right? "Yeah, I did the poetry anthology with a group of good people, and the poetry assembly on Friday nights. I work at the library but also help out at Community Watch."
What are the biggest changes you've seen here in the park in the past month and a half? "Well the tents went up and stayed, which was a really good thing because we needed the shelter. But it also changed the feel of the park, and there's been a criminal element that's made it into the park that we're trying to heal and work with, and hopefully help them transform into helpful members of the community here."
Do you think the criminal element is actually on the rise, or just that it's getting more attention now in the press? "There's more of it now, because now there's shelter, there's food, there's entertainment, there's lots of clothing. So it's everything a person would need."
Do you believe that criminals are being sent here? "It's been suggested. I've had people tell me they were dropped off here. We're not a homeless shelter, you know. We're an occupation fighting a political and spiritual battle to bring humanity back to people and take it away from the corporations. This attracts all sorts of people, and personally I don't mind criminals being in the park. If you have a history, you can transform, you can change. Just because you have a criminal past doesn't mean you don't belong here, but you need to be part of the community, because we are really fighting here. We need to be united. The people we are up against are."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Since September 23rd."
What brought you down here? "We (New Orleans) have been waiting for six years for people to be ready to fight the system. So I'm excited."
Are you part of any working groups? "Absolutely not. I am an autonomous individual. I have seen groups and meetings fail in New Orleans for six years, and I'm already aware that this will not solve the situation."
There's an Occupy New Orleans, right? "Tulane University has picked it up, but what I tell people here is that we've been Occupying our city for six years. The city tries to fine us and up the property taxes and devalue the property, so we pretty much have to stay at home in order to maintain our home."
So you see a lot of resemblances between New Orleans and Zuccotti. "Indeed. There is a psychological phenomenon called Kundalini Syndrome in the Western World. Kundalini …I don't know much about the Western origins, but it basically means 'The Enlightened Change.' In order to let go of the past and embrace the new, our brains as humans actually have to go crazy. We have to break down in order to break through. In Western society we institutionalize and we medicate, but that's not what we're supposed to do. We're supposed to embrace it and help each other through it."
So this crazy scene here is actually part of change for the greater good? "It is indeed. I didn't necessarily expect it, though I could have if I had thought about it more before I came. But it's identical to what everyone went through after Katrina."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "This one? Not very long. I'm actually visiting up from Florida for a job interview and training. So I've been here a couple hours."
Are you spending the night here? "No, not at all. Not even considering that."
Is there an Occupation in Florida? "Yes, in Orlando where I'm from."
What's the biggest difference between OWS here and the one in Florida? "Size. The one in Orlando is much smaller, unless it's gained any momentum in the past two weeks since the first arrest, but I don't think so. I'd say that there is more quote-unquote 'diversity' here, but I'm using that term very loosely."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I've been involved for three and a half months."
What brought you down here? "I'm going to Japan soon, and I wanted to be part of this before I left…maybe bring some ideas from here over to Japan."
What were your thoughts when you first came down here? "It exceeded my expectations. The first time I came down here was with the People of Color Caucus, and the GA approved over $3,000 for Occupy Harlem. So that was inspiring for me, because I'm from Harlem and I see the kind of struggles that are going on there right now."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "Since the 13th of October."
What brought you all the way here from Indiana? "Long answer short, trying to see if any sort of beauty still exists in America."
Does it? "I think I found it, yeah. It's like a giant Socratic seminar all day, sprinkled with some revelry. Everyone just cruises around here with ideas, and there are some fantastic intellectual conversations. When you're not doing that, it's just people smiling and laughing and dancing and having a good time."
How long have you been at the Occupation? Three and a half weeks.
What are you doing? It looks like art. "What we do here is make stencils for t-shirts. We get donated t-shirts, and anyone walking by who wants an Occupy Wall Street t-shirt, or a 'We are the 99%' shirt, we make it for them.
Wasn't someone trying to get a patent for that to make t-shirt? "We're not associated with that at all. We're a 100% free."
So what are your thoughts now that you've been here awhile? "I love it. I mean, I live here now. This is where I live."
Do you think the Occupation will be able to survive the winter? "Yes, definitely."
How long have you been at the Occupation? "I come here after work sometimes, for the last three weeks or so, to sing and play music."
So what has been your experience here? "It's different every time. The first time I came here they were cleaning, and so there were no tents. And then I came during the day last week and held up a sign and it was like paparazzi…the tourists all wanted to take my picture. And tonight I'm here, I've met some other musicians, and I'm just going to sing some songs. Here, have my CD." Emily Angell

It’s been a couple weeks since we’ve checked in on Occupy Wall Street’s most photogenic protesters (also known as “those people who allow us to take their picture), and since our last round of portraits, a lot has changed. There are tents now! And criminals from Rikers Island! (One of whom we met, and was very nice!)
There is a whole new class of bright-eyed, underage protesters to take the place of the early adopters who burnt out around the time the FDNY took the generators away. But the spirit remains, as was evidenced by a 8:00 p.m. impromptu ho-down on Liberty and Broadway, which was very fun until the cops came and arrested some of the people dancing.

Ah Zuccotti Park. Never change. Or do.

(Photos via Marielle Solan)

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