Yesterday, the typical combination of curiosity and student loan debts led me to Zuccotti Park, where the Occupy Wall Street movement was celebrating its first birthday. Once inside the encampment, surrounded by politically-passionate conversation, hand-crafted pickets, Berlin Walls of shielded police officers and the occasional freely-floating joint, I sat down and took out a book from my backpack.
When a group of young people sat down across from me and asked me what I was reading, a pleasant conversation about identity politics, Soviet history and the advocates of marijuana legalization ensued. They revealed that they were High School students. One claimed to have been a Christian conservative only two months prior. Another was wearing a red t-shirt with Emma Goldman stenciled on it.
After booing some police officers while they randomly arrested someone, we began our march towards the New York Stock Exchange; the closing bell was about to sound. I walked alongside a mother carrying her child; a contingency of leftist grandmothers; an activist from the movement’s beginning who was warning people to close the gap between the protesters, as police are keen on arresting those within such gaps.
Somewhere above the Charging Bull at Bowling Green, we were told to walk back up Broadway, then told to walk down Broadway, and then told to reverse again. What I initially thought was some confusion on behalf of the group leaders turned out to be the product of a massive police kettle. The police had blocked us in both directions along Broadway, thus severely limiting our movement, yet were threatening us with arrest if we stayed still. “This is not where I want to be right now,” said a man in a sweater that read “Sweden.” I felt similarly: the police appeared ready to pounce, and a probable Vietnam veteran taunting the blockades of the angry-jowled officers seemed to further stretch their patience. Instead, we were allowed to cross Broadway facing Trinity Church and head back to Zuccotti Park. Around the church, I passed a stony-eyed blonde woman, smiling passively and holding a sign which read: “I (heart) cops who smoke (pot leaf).” Unlike over 150 others jailed that day, we escaped the fate of a night behind bars.
The organizers were offering free bottled water and cough drops. A thoughtful gesture: my throat had gone quite dry from chanting the topical slogan “All Day! All Week! Occupy Wall Street!” and the classic refrain “Who’s Streets? Our Streets!” I took one such drop from the concerned-looking bearded gentleman handing them out.
“Wanna cough drop?” One policeman said to the other, in jest, pointing-out the free offer. The bearded organizer extended the cough drop offer seriously. “You can have one.” But the officer, perhaps taken aback by the organizer's sincerity, did not accept.
Upon returning to Zuccotti Park, frenzied dancing to whistle blasts and the beating of buckets continued to mark the movement’s birthday. I bobbed my head and swayed for a while with the occupants before leaving. My keepsake from the day is a lovely, DIY pin, which reads “Zuccotti Park 2011, I was there,” which is a lie