On the night of September 24, 2011, I was sitting at my kitchen table at college checking my Facebook. Everyone was talking about a viral YouTube video of three women who had gotten pepper-sprayed earlier that day at Occupy Wall Street. I quickly found the live stream and began intently watching. I wanted to be there. I left the next morning.
I remember getting out of the subway that first Sunday. My smartphone told me I was two blocks away but I heard and saw nothing: Had I missed my opportunity to participate in economic change? I remember almost turning around, but deciding to go until I had at least seen Zuccotti Park itself.
It was smaller than I expected; the live stream had made it seem as if thousands of people were there. What I saw was fifty or so people milling around. I walked up to one and said, “Hi, I just got here.”
“Cool,” he said, and just smiled.
I walked a little bit farther and asked someone else what I could do.
“Well, you can put your stuff wherever you want; no one has been stealing anything,” he said. “In fact, when there is money on the ground, people will hold it up and ask who it belongs to. You should try checking in with the info desk. They know what’s going on.”
I walked over to the info desk, which was one man sitting at a table with a sign that said Info. He told me the medics needed help and the kitchen always needed people.
I followed his pointing and found the medical team, which was about to have a meeting.
I had brought a comforter, a yoga mat, and a pillow. That night, I laid down my bedding and put a tarp over myself and slept on the ground. It was cold and hard. It took a couple nights to get used to, but this way of sleeping became the norm for the first few weeks. Where I slept would get soaked each time it rained. I would wake up freezing, in puddles of standing water, with no way to dry myself. I started taking the medical night shifts when it rained. Those nights all I saw were mental health issues and hypothermia.
I watched the numbers in the tiny park increase dramatically; people came from everywhere and squeezed themselves in. It got to a point where there was no longer space to sleep on the ground. Some people simply sat in their spot all day to ensure they would have a place to sleep at night.
I regularly attended the nightly general assemblies at the park, and I gave medical report-backs. They were usually things like, “Hey/ I’m Bre/ I’m on medical/ We help you stay healthy/ We have vitamins/ and earplugs/ come get some!” (The breaks between words and phrases represent the pauses I made in order to effectively use the human mic—the relay system for communicating at Occupy Wall Street, where members of the audience repeat the speaker’s words and pass them on.)
I realized that anyone who was not attending the general assembly had no idea what was going on. I wanted people, like the medics who were often on shift during the general assembly, to be able to read a report of what had happened there the night before. I found a dry erase board and a marker, and took notes of all the announcements and report-backs that were made. I continued to take notes and post them on the erase board for about a week. One day, the facilitation group asked me to facilitate.
I was terrified; I have always been a little afraid of public speaking, and this meant standing in front of 200 people and structuring their conversation. I started by explaining what our process was, and anytime anyone strayed from that process I would try to bring them back on track. The more the process worked, the more confident I became. The group then recruited me to facilitate again until I ended up facilitating a meeting of a couple thousand people...
My outlook on the movement is that it will continue but this winter we won’t see much coming out of it. Everyone is organizing for big events and actions in the spring.
My fellow occupiers have all had a taste of freedom, a taste of respect, and we have seen what can still be accomplished by such a small group of people. We held the attention of the world for months, and we will continue to educate and mobilize people, and the people themselves will continue to build communities. We have a power that refuses to quit.