It was Thursday night, October 20th. The High was 63 degrees and the low was 47 degrees. We had guests in town from Ithaca, NY who are very socially conscious. I had the idea that we could camp out in Freedom Plaza or McPherson Square to show our support for the Occupy Movement. I struggled to decide which location to visit but eventually decided on Freedom Plaza. Since we had the toddlers with us, I felt that going with the group that had a permit was a better option. We planned to go on Weds but there were major storms, so we went on Thursday instead.
We arrived at around 5pm and set up camp. Everyone was very helpful and helped up set up our giant tent. It was me, another couple, my 2.5 year old daughter, their 3 year old daughter, and their 5 year old son. We all shared a tent and people thought we were Polygamists!
After we made camp, we attended the General Assembly Meeting. We learned the hand gestures to show our approval, disapproval, to ask a question, etc. It went too long for the kids but someone snuck them some food. A mentally ill, extremely intoxicated man began to rant and was gently escorted away from the crowd. This was unnerving but handled beautifully. The man hung out by the bathrooms after that and the “Peace Keepers” ran escorts to the bathrooms for the rest of the evening, which was nice. I was struck by how “ordinary” the topics of discussion were. They talked about cooking (they were just told that they are no longer allowed to cook on site), they discussed new committees, and they described an action that day where they shut down a bank. I guess I had imagined screaming and chanting. I feel silly, now, that I envisioned a rally.
It was also a very different crowd than I had envisioned. I imagined young activists. Instead, there were a handful of 20-somethings, a handful of veteran protesters, and mostly homeless people. It was really shocking at first, but they let us camp in the “Women’s Only” Section which was nice.
After the meeting, we turned in for the night. The kids loved tent camping. My friend’s son, Lucas, talked about how we were protesting which meant we should yell “Yes!” The kids made up stories from pictures and told them to each other. It was a nice evening, but also a terrible one. At one point we just laughed because everything was a mess: the tent looked like it would collapse, our children looked like they would never fall asleep, it was so unbelievably cold, and we all seemed to have developed a terrible cough. Still, we were enjoying each other.
As we settled into bed, Lucas turned to his Dad and said “We need to go to that meeting tomorrow. I have something to say. You should write it down because I already forgot it.” He paused then added. “But I have another idea.”
Some of us fell asleep, but I could not. I was very cold and my cough was getting worse. Ella basically nursed non-stop and I was so glad she could to keep her warm. I must have dozed off because I woke-up assuming it was 3am or 4am. I looked at the clock at it was 12:45am. I heard shouting and realized there was an altercation happening outside. I gleamed that a homeless man was drinking alcohol, which was against the rules, and they told him to get ride of it. He was clearly intoxicated and shouted threats for several minutes. Again, it was handled beautifully and he eventually left.
This altercation woke up Kristina and we decided we both needed to go to the bathroom. We also lamented that it was only 1am! It was this point that I made a change in my attitude. Instead of this being fun, I accepted it would be miserable. Instead of trying to make myself comfortable, I decided to truly experience the discomfort. I thought about what the other protestors were experiencing every day, what the homeless men in the encampment will experience in a few months, and really thought about why these Occupy Movements are happening. It was a beautiful moment and made the rest of the night much more powerful.
The next morning we woke up at 8am, had breakfast, and attended another General Assembly. I helped Little Lucas get in a “stack” so he could share his thoughts with the group. When they called his number, he marched up to the megaphone and said “I have a great idea! Let’s ask for peace.” Then he smiled and walked back to his seat as the crowd went wild.
I was so excited about the adventure and the camaraderie that I didn’t really take into account the extreme discomfort the adults and the kids would experience. Would I do it again? Not with the kids. If I could go back and do it all over would I? I think so! Am I glad we did it? Absolutely.
If you would like help the movement, the people at Freedom Plaza need socks, hats, coats, blankets, and prepared meals.