Occupy the Village of Wall Street

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Zuccotti  Park  is not, strictly speaking a park – no rolling green fields but a flat expanse of dark stone. It is, however, something altogether different: an experiment in creating a neighborhood where none existed. Call it the Village of Occupy Wall Street.

The kitchen in Zuccotti Park (Alexander Abnos/ The Brooklyn Ink)

Its boundaries are benches that are little more than a collection of grey marble slabs that rise up seamlessly, underneath the uniform shade of the neatly pruned trees. The benches now serve a larger purpose: they divide the park’s medical center from the blanket depots. Pedestrian pathways run along their long sides. Campers sleep on either side of the benches.

“I don’t notice the urban-ness too much,” says Juan, a medic camped out at the makeshift medical. He refuses to give his last name, fearing the repercussions for giving what some may consider unlicensed medical care. “This is not about protest or politics for me. It’s about practicing how to live. How do we feed each other? How do we clothe each other? How do we care for each other?”

The medic’s station occupies a roughly 5-by-10 foot space. A thin piece of red duct tape separates the area from the surges of pedestrian traffic. To get into the medical center, just step over tape. Inside, a man sleeps on the ground in a dark green sleeping bag. A dog snoozes loyally beside him. Above him, a blue plastic set of drawers holds the camp’s medical supplies.

Behind those drawers is the comfort outpost, separated by a four-foot wall of boxes, tarps, sleeping bags, blankets and sweatshirts. All were donated, and are free for anyone who would like another layer of protection from the forecast rain.

“Rain has been our biggest challenge by far,” says Sparro Kennedy, who has been working at the table for three weeks now. In a bright yellow dress, she grabs various items from a large table in the center of the operation, sorting them into separate containers near the outpost’s “storefront.” There are clean pairs of socks, jackets, even a large box of condoms. A steady stream of people approach throughout the day, claiming what they need.

“We have to take care of each other,” she says. “Our society is so focused on ‘me, me, me’ right now.” She pauses to direct a protestor to coffee. It’s about 50 feet to the east, by the kitchen. “Sometimes we’re so busy that we don’t have time to go over to the kitchen to get food, so they bring some over for us. At the end of the night, ‘kitchen’ is tired – they need blankets, they need tarps, they let us know.”

At the moment though, it’s the kitchen staff that looks far busier. It’s 1 p.m., and the food line stretches around the encampment’s walkway. Three members of the staff stand behind the buffet as people pass, frantically spreading peanut butter and jelly on bread. Pizzas are unpacked for ravenous campers. Tom Hintze can hardly get a sentence out before he’s called on to help with a task.

“All day is like this, but around mealtimes it gets especially crazy,” Hintze says, chest heaving, bearded face forming into a wide grin. “When Kanye West was here yesterday it was just nuts, it’s like people saw a full moon or something.”

The medical care stall at Occupy Wall Street (Gloria Dawson/ The Brooklyn Ink)

Food, shelter, and medical care. Three important aspects of any community, and all have their own versions in the Park.

“I rely on comfort as a medic, because if they can give out fresh pairs of socks, I have less foot issues to deal with,” Juan says. “Everyone relies on medics because if people can stay healthy, then they can do work at ‘comfort’ or any other place. If I don’t eat food, it’s hard for my body to keep going at a high pace for very long so I rely on ‘kitchen’ to provide me with food. And as we get into discussions there are many topics I would like to learn for the first time, and the library is very helpful for that.”

The library is the first thing most visitors from the East experience when they enter Zuccotti. Betsy Fagin sits at a table, sorting through a large pile of paperbacks in a black plastic tub. Using a thick Sharpie, she writes “OCCUPY WALL STREET LIBRARY” on the side of the book’s closed pages, then records the ISBN code from the back of the book. When she gets home tonight, Betsy will put her kid to bed, and start inputting those codes into the library’s online catalog. Anyone anywhere in the world can know exactly what books are in the dozens of plastic boxes lined up behind her. They are painstakingly organized by genre. “Community Organization” is one of them.

“I have the drive that keeps me coming back. It sort of reaffirms for me the importance of libraries in general. I don’t know how to quantify it,” she says. “It might seem from the outside like I’ve been converted to something. But it’s actually just me wanting to do what I love to do and have it be valued.”

 

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