I was awoken last Tuesday morning by an early morning call.
“Hey, it’s Noah,” came through the phone. I had met Noah about a week before in New York City at the Occupy Wall Street protests. I remember him as a person with many problems but also as someone holding onto optimism. This morning, his voice was distraught.
Noah began to describe his previous four hours. Around 1 a.m., a man speaking through a megaphone woke him. Hundreds of police officers, all armed with canisters of pepper spray around their waists, batons firmly gripped in their hands and thick plastic masks over their face began to push their way threw the narrow passageways of Zucotti Park, located in the downtown area of New York City. A police officer holding a megaphone, who proclaimed himself as lieutenant, repeated over and over that the park was to be completely cleared out within the hour; anyone who resisted would be arrested immediately.
As I listened to Noah’s story, I thought back to just a week earlier when I was there. Inspired by the stories I had been hearing about the Occupy Wall Street protests, I decided to take a four-day trip to New York so I could be a part of the monumental movement. Once I arrived and experienced the Occupy movement first hand, I began to have my own doubts.
“What am I doing here?” I thought to myself as I aimlessly made my way through the crowded, tight pathways looking for a place to sleep for the night.
A man with a Red Sox cap and a frayed button-up shirt approached me—it was Noah. His face was worn and he had white stubble sprouting from his upper lip and cheeks.
“You want a tour, kid?” he said.
As he guided me through the park he pointed out the kitchen, the library, the medical center and other amenities. Then he began to tell me about his experiences through out recent years. He lost his wife to cancer and his house to banks, it seemed his life was moving in a lamentable direction.
He told me of his audacious dreams as a college student and of his utter disappointment in the years since. He was laid off in August from a company after 30 years of employment.
“It’s just not right,” he simply stated. “I want to help make this country right again.”
Eventually, he led me to a concrete staircase towards the back of the camp where I laid down under my blanket and rested my head on my backpack.
“I know it might not be so comfortable, but there’s not much wind on this side of the camp. You’ll be warm.”
He sat down on a tattered piece of Styrofoam next to me. As he continued his story, my eyes moved around the camp to observe my surroundings. There was a cluster of men holding signs made out of scrap pieces of cardboard high above their heads. “End Corporate Greed Now” one said. “We the People Need Jobs” proclaimed another.
Many criticize the Occupy Wall Street protestors as being misinformed and of having ineffective tactics and fuzzy goals. However, these antagonists are only assessing the movement strictly on a practical standard. They don’t see the true power of the Occupy movement.
After only an hour or so amongst the protesters, I saw the efficacy and true triumph of the movement: it’s ability to create dialogue.
Just as food is the avenue for nourishment, dialogue is the avenue for progress. It has the ability to alter the opinions of millions, and can provoke social change in ways unforeseen by any form of violence or physical confrontation.
The Occupy movement has provoked an international dialogue in a remarkably short stretch of time. These dialogues are not confined to the mere hundreds involved in the movement in New York, nor are they subjected to the thousands involved in “Occupations” across the country. They have spread to classrooms, offices, dinner tables and nearly all settings of American life. This is the glory and ultimate accomplishment of Occupy. This is why it is already a tremendous success.
During my days on Wall Street, I was a part of so many of these avenues of progress with my fellow protestors, with curious bystanders, with journalists and even with police officers.
As I sat on the edge of my bed that early Tuesday morning, listening to Noah describe the eviction of Zucotti Park, I felt a weight settle in my stomach. I wondered if this was the beginning of the end of this important national conversation. I wasn’t able to bring myself to say anything as he pressed on. He fell silent for a while. I searched for something to say but it was Noah who finally broke the silence. His voice came again, “It’s not right,” he said. “It’s just not right.”