One fact that quickly becomes apparent on a visit to Zuccotti Park, the center of activity for Occupy Wall Street, is that its current residents cannot be categorized or labeled or lumped together as a group. Of course they all believe that something in this country is broken and needs immediate attention. But after a few hours talking with a somewhat random sampling of protesters, one understands that the "something" is actually many different things.
And the issues being discussed are as varied as the people doing the talking. Amber Phillips, 26, from Fulton, Illinois, spoke about workers' rights, especially for females. She described a job where she was frequently harassed and denied a raise even after eight years of employment. "I just hope that because of this [protest] going on, more people start standing up for themselves," Phillips said.
Megan Blackburn, 33, from Brooklyn, talked about the need for healthy, chemical-free food to be available to everyone. Leon Pinsky, 28, originally from Israel, wanted to promote socialist ideas. And Tokyo native Takuro Higuchi, also 28, wanted to spread awareness of the nuclear crisis in Japan.
Eighteen-year-old Benjamin Ashley Frost from Johnson City, Tennessee, was frustrated by the state of education in this country, saying No Child Left Behind is "an abomination." And while volunteering on the food line, Emily Jira, a 23-year-old recent college graduate from Redondo Beach, California, spoke on behalf of skilled, educated young people who are not getting a return on their academic investment. "I feel like so many people who have really awesome skills are being screwed over right now," she said.
Also among the Occupiers are people who represent various religious and social groups. Sitting in a small sukkah erected at the edge of Zuccotti Park, 32-year-old Brooklynite Daniel Sieradski spoke about his Jewish heritage and the necessity to unify faith with action. And 32-year-old Jake Goodman, originally from Milwaukee, handed out pins that read "Hate is the Abomination" and stressed the importance of including queer voices in the OWS movement.
Despite their varied experiences, causes and passions, the people spending their days and weeks in a small corner of downtown Manhattan have at least one thing in common: They've left their homes, towns and even countries to come together and speak out. "Because sitting on your couch watching TV," said Amber Phillips, "clearly isn't going to make a change."
What do you think about the Occupy Wall Street movement? Let us know in the comments.