Photo: Robert Johnson — Business Insider
On Veteran’s Day, we set out to write about Occupy Wall Street without any idea of what to expect. We had word that there were going to be demonstrations all over the city- one in Central Park, and a concert in Foley Square.We devoted the most time to the concert, where around 300 people stood smiling in the cold. Joan Baez was headlining, and it seemed like a good opportunity for pictures.
But it ended up being much more— because it was there that we noticed something had happened to Occupy Wall Street without it trying, and perhaps without it knowing. The amorphous movement had become a structured thing.
In the early days, we would enter the park and ask questions. We would receive answers, but they were without authority. ‘Well, this is what you should know, but I am no one to tell you. We all speak for each other in this place.’
Now it’s different. Occupy Wall Street now has a structure and a culture all its own, developed rapidly though the use of technology, the confrontation of adversity, and self-imposed isolation. They do, after all, live in a park on their own.
On Veteran’s Day it all showed.
An official with the authority to speak for the movement told us how they planned their concert. Over a day and half, they got a permit from the city— their first— and used connections they’d developed through their work to draw musicians whose music spoke to the occupation; Musicians like Stephen Said, who urged listeners to “occupy music” and liberate it from “the Wall Street music companies that have kept our generations music off the air for 20 years.”
They confirmed that Joan Baez performed at 1 p.m. and opened the show.
She is a musician and a celebrity that belongs to everyone. But Occupy Wall Street now has celebrities all its own; celebrities like Max Rameau of Take Back The Land, who said eloquently, “when the banks say foreclosed, we say fore-opened…we will elevate housing to a human right…we can, in our lifetime, change power relations between human beings and corporations forever.”
And then there’s former Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas, the Iraq war veteran who’s become famous after he was videotaped yelling at the NYPD for using abusive tactics against civilians during Occupy Times Square.
The video has drawn over 3 million hits on YouTube, and Thomas, a man who studied criminal justice in hopes of becoming motivational speaker and councilor for young gang members in high schools, is speaking on radio and television shows, and making public appearances nation-wide.
Thomas spoke to the crowd humbly without airs or graces. He told us that he decided to speak out because of his experience with the police after coming home from the Middle East.
As an imposing black man he was targeted by police at home in Brooklyn for random searches and fabricated arrests, and when he saw what was happening at Occupy Wall Street he turned to a friend and said: “If I see them hit somebody again I’m going to do something about it.”
So he did.
He still upholds the values of the occupation. He believes their message is solid and strong and that naturally, in time, more people would understand. In terms of politics he said, “I want the people to control everything. I don’t trust anyone now, I just want to focus on the movement.”
That focus has made him famous, but it won’t make him rich. This he knows, and he doesn’t care. “I’ve been poor before this,” he said. It was around that moment that a supporter reached out, shook his hand, and beamed at Thomasa as if he were meeting the President.
But as we were getting to Strawberry Field we got word the park event had been cancelled and everyone was headed to Foley Square
We knew we were getting close when we started seeing political signs like this one criticising the President
From blocks away the most prominent sign of the concert was the blue wall of police uniforms lining the perimeter
Some of the people there were NYPD Community Affairs police, trying to keep warm in the face of a biting wind
This Army veteran was standing on stage holding out fliers for the next big Occupy event on the 17th
Appearing every inch as big as he looks in the viral YouTube video hollering at the NYPD for abusing protesters
A former criminal justice major now studying at Nashville Community College on the GI Bill, Thomas spoke to the crowd of change
Despite his video tirade, Thomas spoke mildly and almost a bit reluctantly. Keeping his time on stage brief and to the point.
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