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Who Exactly is Occupying
Wall Street?

[caps]I[/caps] could feel the inspiration quickly fading inside of me as I entered Zuccotti Park Tuesday evening. Expecting a crowd of fellow Jon Stewart devotees, I instead found myself surrounded by what looked to be the very same crusty punks who used to pop out of Tompkins Square Park solely to harangue me for money—even when, on one occasion, they were sporting a brand new iPhone. I felt defeated, let down. Was this a dynamic political protest or a murky pond of lazy opportunism?

I walked around the 33,000 square foot park that sits kitty-corner from Ground Zero several times in the hopes of finding someone who looked intellectually invested enough to interview. When that failed I retreated to the outskirts of the park, resigned to the fact that my romantic vision of a vibrant movement happening in downtown New York was nothing more than a fantasy. As I stood there, my discouragement with what I perceived to be the reality of the situation was sensed by a protester who then approached me in an effort to change my mind. My hopes were resurrected as he eloquently refuted much of the criticism being lobbed at the Occupy Wall Street protests and gave me a sense that perhaps something bigger was happening here.

What’s your story?

Jed Holtzman, 34. I flew in from San Francisco…it’s been too hard to see [the protest] happening and not be able to participate in some way.

How would you describe the average protester here?

They may have blue hair or be a black blocker, but they’re very articulate and they’re fully speaking about what everybody is here for. Last night, I turned on CNN and this hot, vapid anchor is finishing up some story and says, “Up next, blah blah blah, and these protesters…really?” She’s rolling her eyes and it cuts to a picture of some old, stringy-bearded guy wearing those glasses that have spirals in them. That is not in any way representative of what is going on here, and the fact that a news organization would portray it thusly is just more reason for people to come. What it takes to fill this square with people like you and me is taking off work—and that’s hard, especially right now when people don’t want to fuck with their jobs. But there are a lot of really educated, passionate people here.

A lot of the people occupying the park seem to be squatters. Do you think some of them are just glomming onto the cause so they can have a new place to crash?

It’s certainly possible. It can be expected when you have this kind of thing happening that squatting anarchists and homeless folks might come, but at the same time, they are heavily affected by the issues that everyone is here for so it’s not like they don’t belong or are glomming onto the cause.

Everybody with festering frustrations wants to have their voice heard, but the people who are least centrist and least marketable are the ones who are able to drop everything most easily and set up shop down here.

That’s why I’m standing out here [on the outskirts of the park] and not in there. I feel like if you’re articulate and educated it’s almost incumbent on you to be a visible part of this movement so that you are overwhelming the lazy desire to focus on the most extreme and ridiculous participants.

What is your response to media outlets that are claiming this can’t be a legitimate movement because too many different things are being protested?

It is not surprising, given the breadth of the issues and the fact that there has not been a forum like this for some time. So while there’s the guy passing out 9/11 truth fliers you would not want the media to focus on one guy handing out fliers to this crowd and make it a 9/11-denial protest. The off message here is someone who is opportunistically using this conglomeration of people. God bless them, but there are some crusty punks sitting on the edge of the park with signs saying, “We’re trying to get to this place. Any donations appreciated.” I’m sure that they sympathize with this cause, but they’re basically sitting here because they’re smart and they know there’s going to be a tremendous amount of people coming by. So if someone comes here and only sees that and the 9/11 truth fliers, they are not getting an accurate portrayal of what is going on.

It seems that because of that the sense of a unified message may be getting lost in abstraction. Is there a specific goal or message on the part of the protesters?

There’s not a specific goal but there are lots of legitimate, passionate, well-founded reasons that all these people are here. Corporate power, corporate personhood, environmental degradation, campaign finance, and government corruption. There are a many number of things, but they are all related and what they come down to is that corporations are people. I do not believe that, but the Supreme Court has decided that they are. If corporations are people then they gradually have access to every constitutional right that a natural born human with blood has without any of the responsibilities…which includes paying a lot of taxes and being responsible for your actions if they’re criminal. I think from corporate personhood comes corruption of government and from corruption of government comes economic disaster, which a lot of these people are here for. I went to a fancy Ivy League grad school and graduated in 2008. I was unemployed for over a year and am not working in my field because it’s not happening.

What is your field?

I got a Masters in environmental science and policy. I was lucky enough to get a job after a year and I’m very grateful for that job…but it’s not in my field. I feel like that’s where people are right now. They’re just going to take what they can get because they know what the alternative is and that’s being on the street.

Is your job sort of a make-ends-meet thing or did you entirely switch fields?
[As per Jed’s request, we’re omitting the name of his employer.]

I’ve been there for two years, so I’m getting further and further away from my field and I’m worried that in this time away, with hundreds of people being churned out per year with this training, that now I’m too far away from it to get back. I’m massively over qualified and under paid. How I’m going to pay off these student loans now is totally unknown to me. It’s like treading water to pay off the interest and at the same time I pay taxes and my taxes bailed out banks, lending houses and mortgage lenders that now have record profits.

[By this point — nearly 7pm — the park had rapidly started to fill up with the type of protester I had not yet seen: professionals. That’s when I realized that those who initially turned me off to the movement are actually serving the very important role of physically holding down the fort while these late arrivals were at work.]

Is there one last thing you want to say before I go?

The increased consolidation of wealth has been going on for some time and people have been letting it happen. The thing that is especially egregious now though is that the government is basically saying, “let us cut back to the 1800s, let us get rid of our social safety net and public education,” making the difference between the life that you have in this country if you have money or not much greater. The more public services we have the less that gap exists. Obviously it’s still huge, but you’re going to have healthcare, you’re going to have money when you get old and you’re going to have a great education even if you don’t have money. As we start to dismantle that stuff and consolidate the wealth that is a double whammy. Now what you’re saying is people have no recourse.