True, some 150 protestors had been arrested earlier in the day marching on Wall Street, organizers urging protestors to remain calm, giving police no reason to imprison arrestees longer than necessary. Still, the drum circle was back, with a dozen pounding drums whose tops had been painted red or blue, accompanied by bells, the flute, whistles, even drumsticks tapping on the metal banisters on the stairs.
Also back was the public general assembly. But unlike last year, in which each speaker’s words were echoed in a single repetition, this year the repetitions went out twice, like an outgoing wave reaching distant park shores.
The police were back, too – dozens ringing the square with metal barriers through which narrow entries were carved out. Back, too, were handmade signs promoting word peace, legalizing marijuana, and jailing Wall Street bankers. Seemingly the only thing not back were the tents and free food tables which had formerly featured generous scoops of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.
Still, if the Occupy spirit was back, the desperation which had launched it had not abated. Robin, for one, was $80,000 in debt from student loans accumulated while attending art school. Having since transferred to a community college while working at Housing Works, which provides shelter to those with AIDS, repayment on her debt has been deferred four years. Nevertheless, she pronounced herself “scared. I’m 20 now; I will be paying this back until I am 70.”
Fellow Brooklynite Brendan Burke, 42, headed “De-escalation Security” – insuring that minor incidents remained minor, while sporting a shaved head and all black clothes. He was out, he said, “to serve my culture. Wall Street has too much power, and both parties have too much interest it.”
Trevor Irvin, 30, had come in from Wisconsin after that state’s residents had flooded the state capitol to protest Gov. Scott Walker’s legislation, widely perceived as busting unions. “The protests were going fine; the police in Wisconsin were among those whose unions were targeted,” he said. And then, Walker’s allies brought in police from out of state, leading to mass arrests.
“That was my flash point, why I’m out here now,” he said. “Those in power will stop at nothing.”
Alex Pruner, a 32-year old resident of Spanish Harlem who works for an educational non-profit and had put on “Power to the Puppets,” a sidewalk puppet show, had been looking for interesting visuals to drive home Occupy’s point. “I once saw myself represented by the Democratic party. Given the death of campaign finance reform and the flood of money into the system, I don’t any more. So for me, this gathering is a milestone.
Serguei Spetschinsky, 27, a Ph.D student who had been in Berlin writing a dissertation on the human idealism, had nevertheless felt hopeless and depressed about the world. Taking a month off to hike the Pyrenees, he completed his dissertation, then flew to New York for the protest.
Meanwhile his girlfriend, Rajkamal Kahlon, 37, an ACLU artist in residence researching illicit government detention and torture, pronounced herself “surprised” at the anniversary protest. “Part of what I had thought of Americans was that they buried their head in the ground. I am shocked that Americans put themselves at risk to question their own privileges,” she said as her reinvigorated boyfriend smiled and held her hand.
Summed up Mike Dobsevay, 36, a video editor from Connecticut who had spent the last couple of nights sleeping on the sidewalks (“It’s just like camping, just in a different environment”) “I’ve had friends who’ve been evicted from apartments because of the financial crisis. If we don’t do anything, there will be no change.”
Before Occupy began a year ago, “No one was talking about economic disparity. Now they are.”
Even with Occupy’s diminished momentum since its early, heady days, the movement has, in this election year, changed the national dialogue to emphasize economic inequality – to the regret of a certain candidate for President and his party. And for changing the dialogue alone, it deserves its place in history.
By Joseph Hanania, Aslan Media Columnist
Photo Credit: David Shankbone