Zucotti Park is greatly changed from the bustling, overflowing, colorful encampment it was only a week ago when I was there. All the tarps, tents, flags, banners, food tables, various outreach tents with busy computers and phones, are gone. There are fewer people there.
But, it IS still there, and still embodies the spirit that catapulted it overnight into the nation's consciousness just two months ago.
It is still there despite the iron fences that surround every inch of space making it look like an open-air prison compound.
It is still there despite the plethora of police and security guards that now occupy Occupy. One can't help noting the irony of so many of "New York's Finest" deployed on one square block of Manhattan real estate while there are whole neighborhoods, even vast sections of New York City rampant with crime, poor sanitation, and safety threats with no police presence at all. These conditions are the avowed reason why Mayor Bloomberg sent the troops in to demolish Zucotti in the first place. Something is wrong with this picture.
Today, Monday, Nov. 21, I had the great privilege of going to Zucotti Park with a delegation of senior citizens, union retirees, people with disabilities, health and social justice advocates and just plain people concerned about the threat of cuts to the safety net, particularly those affecting seniors. We went there after a meeting held at the United Federation of Teachers premises a couple of blocks from Zucotti. Approximately 7 or 8 young Occupy people had joined our meeting and expressed solidarity with our concerns. We, of course, thanked them for all that they are doing. As one of the elders said, "You have awakened the sleeping giant!"
At the iconic site, we held a rally, Zucotti style, following their "Mic Check" method of human amplification wherein a speaker says a few words and then the audience loudly repeats them. As we spoke, beginning around 1 p.m., the crowds began to thicken in the park. A couple of us authors found that there is still a library, vastly depleted by the cops' vicious confiscation of all the occupiers' property, and we donated copies of our books. We were told by Jonathan, who was manning the meager little collection, that it was probable that the books would be grabbed again at the end of the day.
After we finished our program, a delightful bit of street theatre was presented by a batch of college and university students affiliated with studentloanjustice.org. Wearing caps and gowns, they were presented with Debt Diplomas inscribed with various amounts of money
-- one was $57,000, another $35,000, and so on. Each recipient was identified by name -- Penny Less was one. Bill O'debt another. You get the idea. I thought it was cute (are we allowed to apply that adjective to such serious people as Occupiers?).
A professor from New York University told us that the Federal Government would need $70 billion to cover all 2- and 4-year public college and university students today. He told us that 70 billion dollars was equivalent to that lost by the Pentagon for unaccounted-for spending.
I must add to this my own concern as founder of Grandmothers Against the War that the money wasted on our wars/occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan total far more than that amount, and we should all be pressing for an end to those unconscionable conflicts.
So, Zucotti Park goes on. Given the dedication and creativity of the wonderful young people there, physically and symbolically, I have full confidence that the movement they have sparked will continue to grow and flourish until the urgent changes we 99 percent seek are implemented.