East Villagers Occupy Wall Street: The New Guard

Earlier today we heard from John Penley and other longtime East Villagers spending time at Zuccotti Park. Now contributor Sarah Shanfield, a more recent arrival to the neighborhood, writes about an early encounter with the movement at Tompkins Square Park last weekend.

Occupy Wall Street.Rachel Citron

I first heard about Occupy Wall Street when a friend sent me a YouTube video of girls in crop tops being maced while they let out blood curdling screams. My reaction: complete horror. What the hell was going on? And where were they, so I could go and watch?

In the beginning, it didn’t seem these protests would end in compromise, especially because it was unclear who the interested parties even were. And yet these people spent their precious New York time going down to Wall Street, to sit and protest for a change that they couldn’t define.

At first, I simply wanted to watch these people, with their matted hair, cutoffs, and the checkered Israeli keffiyehs that were in style several years ago. They hoisted signs with witty sayings and held dazzlingly intelligent conversation. But they frightened me because they were so angry. I didn’t identify with them, because I didn’t feel angry at all.

I’m not sure if the movement is at its peak now or if it is dwindling. But with outposts in dozens of cities around the country, viral Facebook photos, video memes, inspiring speeches printed in various publications, kids walking out of classrooms at NYU and Fordham, and people complaining about traffic (which is really how you know something is shaking up the town), this is truly the first full-scale national collection of ideals since the Civil Rights movement.

Tax the Rich - Occupy Wall StreetRachel Citron

On Saturday, there were murmurs that the Occupy protesters would head from Times Square to Washington Square Park and eventually to Tompkins Square Park. But nothing seemed out of the ordinary when I set out to the park to enjoy my usual Saturday of creepily sitting in the dog run, sans dog. I saw the same people I see everyday: the busybody bartenders in dreadlocks, the dads holding hands with their daughters (who also usually have dreadlocks), and the many people with bongo drums. There were a few protest banners, but for the most part, this seemed like a normal day in the East Village.

That’s when I realized I was in the middle of the protest, and I, just like everyone else, was a protester. I am well educated, without health care, and working in a job that has never and will never give its employees a 401k. I went to college and worked hard so that I could make money to live on my own and feed myself – which isn’t a goal I reach everyday. I can’t even have a job in the industry that I want – that I am good at, that I am educated in, that I would work so hard at – because there are “no jobs” in this particular industry. I moved here hoping to live and prosper, but I barely live sometimes.

I am the 99%, and I am miserable before a paycheck and miserable after. I am unfulfilled and underpaid. I often feel that my family spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to give me a useless education: when I graduated and couldn’t get a job, my peers said it was because my parents weren’t well-connected.

And yet, here I am – here we are – in New York City. Trying. We write and we sing. We make blogs that no one reads, art that no one sees. We have kids that may turn out to be just as unremarkable as we are. As E.B. White said, “No one should come to New York unless he is willing to be lucky.” If you are in the 1%, you’re already lucky. So where’s the fun in that?

Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor DreamcoatRachel Citron \

The East Village houses some of best 99%, in my opinion – people who create, contribute, and take pride in their neighborhood. People live and die here without much to their name – people who may only be influencers to some, but are influencers nonetheless. They make this city worth living in.

I’ve heard many people say it’s the 99%’s own fault that they are not rich, that they have debt, or that they don’t have better jobs. I’ve heard people say that no one should complain because we don’t know what true suffering really is. Look – I didn’t study economics in college, my eyes glaze over when I get my taxes done at H&R block, and if CNN is doing a special about how hard it is to find a job, I’ll usually change the channel to watch something more uplifting. But I live here, spitting distance from Wall Street, and my laziness when it comes to educating myself on the issues doesn’t make my suffering or the suffering of my neighbors and others like us any less real. We all have to get up and be mothers, daughters, neighbors, subway riders, and Americans each day. Life happens before Wall Street does, and I know many who feel that a quality of life that they worked for may never come to be.

Everyday we think about the happy endings we are working toward – one day we’ll make more money, one day we’ll get married, one day we’ll have kids, and one day we’ll own a home.  As the 99%, living in this city, I don’t know if all of these will happen for me. But what I like about this movement is that for once, we’re not thinking about a happy ending, we’re thinking about right now. How can we make life and our country better right now?

I am not angry. I’m happier than ever to live in this country. Sitting in Tompkins Square Park made me realize that no one is protesting anything. We love living here – we’d just like to be able to live.