Wall Street protest functions like a small city
NEW YORK (AP) — It looks like a rock festival the morning after, a tangle of tattered sleeping bags. But the demonstrators taking part in the three-week-old protest against Wall Street have created a functioning city within the city, a small, working democracy.
There are task forces in charge of food, security, first aid, sanitation, legal help and Internet access. There's even a library. A generator supplies power for laptops and cellphone chargers.
A general assembly of anyone who wants to attend meets twice daily. Because it's hard to be heard above the din of lower Manhattan and because the city is not allowing bullhorns or microphones, the protesters have devised a system of hand symbols. Fingers downward means you disagree. Arms crossed means you strongly disagree.
Announcements are made via the "people's mic." If you need to announce something — someone's wallet has been found, there's a march at noon — you say it and the people immediately around you repeat it and pass the word along.
Participants in the Occupy Wall Street protests — organized to decry corporate greed and the gap between the rich and poor — say they have no leaders but are making decisions by consensus.
"Since we can no longer trust our elected representatives to represent us rather than their large donors, we are creating a microcosm of what democracy really looks like," reads a flier.
Somewhere between 100 and 200 people sleep in Zuccotti Park, and hundreds more arrive during daylight to volunteer and protest.
Andrew Flinchbaugh joined the sanitation working group and was sweeping the plaza Friday. "The idea is basically, you see something, you take care of it," he said.
Another protester who gave his name as just Samer was sorting donated hats, gloves and coats. He said passers-by stop to ask what protesters need, like underwear or socks. Then they buy it and drop it off.
The medic area was well-stocked with first-aid kits. Registered nurse Amy Cruickshank said she has treated cuts and scrapes and some cases of hypothermia.
Many occupiers were still in their sleeping bags at 9 or 10 a.m. Friday, while others were serving bagels and scrambled eggs, sorting donated supplies or posting to the Internet.
"I slept great," said 20-year-old Avrom Siegel, who arrived from Buffalo on Wednesday. "At a certain time people start to quiet down."
Siegel brought his own sleeping bag but was given a piece of cardboard and a teddy bear-print quilt to put under it.
Supporters have donated food, clothing, medical supplies, soap, razors, books and cash. Some drop off their offerings, while others send them UPS. A local pizzeria will deliver an "occu-pie" if someone orders one.
Katie Cristiano arrived Thursday with co-workers from an organic farm in New Hampshire and started volunteering for kitchen duty. Besides pizza there is usually bread, fruit and granola bars. One day this week someone delivered eight 8-foot sandwiches that were cut up to serve at least 100 people. One night there was vegan chili.
There are no bathrooms in the park, so protesters go to nearby businesses like Burger King and McDonald's. "Anywhere we can go that they won't throw us out," Cristiano said.
A few local sympathizers have offered protesters their showers.
Plastic bins labeled fiction and nonfiction hold the library of donated books. Among the available titles: Tom Wolfe's "I Am Charlotte Simmons" and "The Peppered Moth" by Margaret Drabble.
An effort is being made not to destroy the park, just east of the World Trade Center site. A sign reads, "Please walk around flower beds, not through flower beds. Show these flowers and their homes some respect."
But the owner of Zuccotti Park, developer Brookfield Office Properties, is unhappy with the occupation that began Sept. 17.
"Sanitation is a growing concern," Brookfield said in a statement Thursday. "Normally, the park is cleaned and inspected every weeknight. This process includes power washing, litter removal, landscaping and other maintenance as required. Because many of the protesters refuse to cooperate by adhering to the rules, the park has not been cleaned since Friday, September 16, and as a result, sanitary conditions have reached unacceptable levels."
A caller on Mayor Michael Bloomberg's weekly radio show complained Friday about "general incivility" and the noise from the drums. Bloomberg replied: "We are trying to deal with this in a way that doesn't make the problem grow and protects everybody's rights. There's no easy solutions here, and I can just tell you we are working on it."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly was asked at a City Council hearing Thursday how long the protest would go on.
"We are accommodating peaceful protest," he said. "We are proud of the fact that we do that in this city. If people are going to be here for an extended period of time, we're going to accommodate them as long as they do it peacefully and in accordance with the laws and regulations."