I’m AJ and I’m the East Coast Ambassador for Brown Paper Tickets. This new role has required that I relocate to the East Coast from Seattle. It’s a time of transition but this change has provided me the opportunity to follow my passions. I was raised in a home where active participation was encouraged and my family and I had regular conversations around the dinner table about public issues, politics, political leaders, history & democracy. While my parents taught us to think for ourselves, and to express our own opinions, we didn’t always agree. The most important lesson I learned from those dinners, was to find out the facts for myself. Which is exactly what I did once I got to New York City.
Upon my arrival in the Big Apple, I wanted to see what was happening at the Occupy Wall Street protests. So, one of the first things I did when I got into town was head down to Zuccotti Park where thousands of protesters has set up an encampment. After wandering around the park for a bit, looking for ways to help, I ended up volunteering for 10 hours preparing food for the protesters and for visitors to the park. The food was predominantly pizza deliveries, dishes cooked in various home kitchens and carried into the park by hand and salads made on site when other foods ran out. Unfortunately, this system doesn’t guarantee hot meals or a consistent, timely or nutritious diet but it succeeds in keeping the protesters and their supporters fed.
I was overwhelmed by the number of people lining up for food, over a thousand, perhaps more, and that was just for lunch. We took turns serving food to those that stood, at times not so patiently, in line. Many were visitors to the park that were not involved in the actual protests: tourists, businessmen and college students. No one was turned away even though some were just visiting. With other volunteers, I helped make food in the temporary kitchen that was set up in the center of the park. Everyone on the kitchen team had a task which rotated, depending on the needs of the moment; cooking, cleaning, hauling water in, doing dishes, accepting & sorting donations, taking up the trash and then hauling it blocks away. In this manner, the kitchen served three meals a day and stopped late into the night only to reopen again early in the morning.
Later that day in preparation for dinner, I took my first multiple subway line, cross borough trip to another protester’s home kitchen. Four of us cooked hot meals from donated food for several hours. I was able to converse with the others in that time about their motivations for being involved in these protests. The owner of that kitchen has been involved from the beginning and his live-in girlfriend had been among those arrested the night before. Another, the youngest among us, had placed his life on hold to travel by bus from Nevada to help in any way he could. The quietest one in the group had never been involved in any political activity or volunteered a day in his life. When I asked him why he’d come out that day to help, he said he didn’t know but he knew he couldn’t just sit around any more as he felt a need to participate and add his voice. He was preparing to be a NYC firefighter.
We drove back to the park with a variety of foods, from boxed mac & cheese to Indian curry & rice. I saw my first sunset over the New York City skyline on that drive back and it was amazing. It was a great feeling that I’ll never forget and I felt honored to share that moment with these three incredible individuals.
As we arrived to drop off the food, police shouted at us to “move along, move along.” We pulled up along the barricades, which blocked the park on all sides, to quickly unload the hot food. When I jumped the barricades, the cops, who refused to help us and chose instead to mock us, attempted to scold me. I thanked them for doing their job. Everyone needs a job, which is one of the main concerns of Americans right now and a major reason thousands of protesters and supporters had taken over Zucotti Park.
There were a vast variety of people among the Occupy Wall Street protesters. They were young and old, employed and unemployed, educated and uneducated, low income and middle-class, veterans and anarchists and people of faith. These individual’s varying views, experiences and backgrounds, were perhaps what I first found so intriguing when I arrived at the protests. There was so much diversity among the protesters, yet such cooperation and an overwhelming sense of community that it’s hard to put into words.
Most importantly, they are inspired and united in a common cause. “United by what?” is a question I’ve commonly heard in the last week since I arrived in New York, both in the news and in overheard conversations on the streets. The occupation has been met with a chorus of criticism and been the butt of countless jokes for failing to state specific policy goals; for not having a clear, concise, singular message. Which is exactly the point. There is not just one, singular change America needs. These protests, and the protests they’ve helped inspire, are united around common themes and topics. To summarize: bankers and corporations with their money and power, are ripping off America while influencing politics and policy ultimately to the detriment of the American people.
From what you see commonly reported on TV you would think that the Occupy Wall Street protesters are a bunch of unruly, un-organized, un-American, radical, troublemakers bent on “class war”. Many of the media have depicted these protesters as being envious of the, “hard-working, successful people”, the 1%. From my personal experience visiting & volunteering in Zuccotti Park, these statements are untrue. What’s radical about people wanting to have a voice, and to be able to participate and have a say in the matters that affect them and their families the most?
These grass-roots protests could spark major changes in the U.S. by helping create common ground and awareness among people with different views. I was glad to have helped and to have been a part of this. I’ve visited since & plan on continuing to show my support, in whatever manner I can. Aristotle once said, “In a democracy the poor will have more power than the rich, because there are more of them, and the will of the majority is supreme.” Some may disagree with how true this is, but, for me, it inspires hope and hope can inspire change.
If you would like to learn more, for yourself, here’s a site you might be interested in checking out:
Or, to see who the 99% are head over here: