Zuccotti Park had more private security people “occupying” it last Friday than Occupy Wall Street protesters. “Join us, join us,” a few people called out, huddling together at one end of the park in the rain.
“Sure,” I replied. A young woman offered me a luscious-looking piece of lemon pound cake from a large box, one of the food donations apparently still arriving at the park.
Amin Ali, 28, a Pakistani financial consultant was the first person I spoke with. While working near Wall Street a few months ago, he had daily joined protesters for around three weeks.
“I wanted to see how inequality works here. I came here because of the American Dream,” he said. “You supposedly get to climb up the ladder, but it’s rigged.
“I know what it’s like to live in a place where rich people barely pay taxes. In Pakistan, the rich control everything. The rich are the government,” he continued. “There are no Abraham Lincolns over there.”
Ali, who currently lives in Atlanta, said he doesn’t know if he’ll stay here. “The U.S. will end up being like Pakistan if the 99% doesn’t take control,” he lamented.
I couldn’t find anyone who had been at the park since the beginning of the protest on Sept. 17. Maria, who didn’t want to give her last name, is a paramedic and the psych coordinator for a church that now takes in former occupiers.
“At first, I came here to help provide adequate medical care for people who can’t get any,” she said. “I became involved, then I became angry.” The police would initially come by just to prove a point, but that changed, said Maria, who was at the park when police evacuated the protesters last month.
(I tried to engage NYPD officers still hanging out at Zuccotti Park, which I found out is privately owned. But they told me they couldn’t talk to the press: “Call the deputy commissioner’s public information [line]. They’ll talk with you for hours.”)
“A cop punched a kid in the face who was just sitting there locking arms with a few other kids,” Maria told me. While we were chatting, Eric came over and asked to be interviewed, which made me suspicious. I was wearing my press ID.
Eric had worked in marketing and promotion in the music industry, but “chose to be here full time. We’re here for the uplifting of humanity,” he asserted.
When I asked for examples of how to do that, he hesitated, after saying he was at the park “because the media coverage lacked clarity. I wanted to provide some answers.”
Here’s what he came up with: “Representative democracy hasn’t done too well for us. We need to limit interaction between Wall Street and politicians. We need more marches and boycotts around the entire world.”
But clarify this: As a member of the 99 percent with an urge to do something, I’m heading to a local credit union this afternoon, switching my account from corporate Wells Fargo. I’ll tell someone there why I’m closing my account. Does it matter? Maybe.