We've been watching the Occupy Wall Street movement grow online and in the streets of New York over the past few weeks. The non-violent movement has attached itself to the unequal distribution of wealth in the U.S., where only 1% takes home nearly 24% of the nation's income. To find out more about the 99% check out their Tumblr. We decided to take a walk and talk to some of the protesters at OccupySTL this morning.
On the way, we talked about what we might find. We had this prejudice that the protesters were going to be unemployed or undergraduate, politically engaged hipsters and their hippie predecessors. We expected some disjointed rhetoric and homemade signs. We expected megaphones. What we found was surprising: a peaceful, thoughtful-leaderless- occupation. The biggest surprise being we related to them and liked them as much as we did.
We're not experienced protesters-we aren't really protesters. Interestingly, the people there aren't really experienced protesters either. We went as observers to talk to the people and get insights on this social movement.
It's Monday, and about 25 people lie on the plaza steps just waking from the weekend swirl of nearly 400 occupants on Saturday. Today, however, most of them had to go to work. That was a surprise that shouldn't have been surprising. These are working people who say they are part of the 99%. Our new friend Alex told us why he was 'camping': "I was a student but I lost my job selling pizzas, because of lay-offs, and can't afford to go to school anymore. I'm camping. I thought I should do something good with my free time-so I came here."
Another protester had a completely different story: "I'm a full time student. I'm here now, but I have to go to work tonight. But I'll be back. I'm not sure I agree with what everyone says - I'm not that liberal - but I just like the unity and I agree that something's got to change. 1% of the people have all of the power."
As we chatted with our new protester friends support rang from the streets of St. Louis in the form of an 18-wheel Budweiser truck's blaring horn and a BMW 3-series honking wildly at sign holders. Pedestrians stopped. Homeless Keiner Plaza residents were listened attentively. Even the city cops are lending a supportive hand to the occupants. Alex told us, "The cops have been great. They have been really, really nice. They are protecting us and they said that they will warn us if they need to take action."
Our new friend Alex really touched us. He isn't pitiful or sad even though we both want to feed him. His situation is like that of many other people and giving him a ham sandwich isn't the same as giving him a future.
- Abigail Aurelia and Crystal Merritt