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BY CYNTHIA MAGNUS | More visitors continued to flock to Zuccotti Park, and Community Board 1 continued to try to liaise with the protestors that are camping out there, as Occupy Wall Street entered its fourth week on Saturday.
Over a thousand protesters gathered on Saturday, Oct. 8 at Washington Square Park to hold a general assembly meeting before returning peacefully to Zuccotti Park. Earlier in the week the protesters joined thousands of labor union members at a rally in Foley Square on Wednesday, Oct. 5. Several were arrested as they clashed with the NYPD Downtown following the rally.
At the C.B. 1 Financial District Committee meeting on Oct. 5, the possibility of the occupiers making space in Zuccotti available to neighbors and local workers to use again was raised.
Committee Chair Ro Sheffe said that the perception is that the park has been taken over. Justin Wedes, an occupier with the group’s community relations working group (comparable to a committee), said that the park is public and that anyone is welcome to use it.
Sheffe asked Wedes to convey to the general assembly the committee’s concerns about park space, pedestrian and vehicular traffic around the park, sanitation, and the noise from the drum circle that is active for up to twelve hours daily.
Pat Moore, chair of the C.B.1 Quality of Life Committee, said of the protesters who attended the Oct. 5 meeting, “They are not communicating with us. We’ve gotten no response from anyone saying, ‘I’ve brought this back to the body and this was their response.’”
One drummer, John, who said he is an unemployed computer programmer, comes from New Jersey, sleeps in Zuccotti Park on weekends, and drums daily from 3:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. “Drumming creates a space for people to come and feel a connection,” said John.
Brian, a protestor that serves on the facilitation working group, called the drummers “feckless” and said they were disruptive to the occupier community. As for the wider community, some of whom have complained about the noise, Brian said, “It’s just one of those things that you just gotta eat. I have no sympathy for that.”
Occupy Wall Street activist Helena said, “Having the drummers stop would make [the general assemblies] sane.”
When asked if he was concerned about disrupting the general assembly, where people gather nightly to discuss matters related to the community, John said, “I really don’t want to talk.”
Another drummer, Blackfeather, 19, explained that the drum circle is not a formal group that could easily agree to pause while the general assembly was in session. Participants come and go throughout the day, and include trumpet, tambourine, and guitar players. The drumming takes place from about 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., when it is required to stop.
Blackfeather, who says he has lived in the park for three weeks and attends the most of the time, said, “I’m here for the movement, not the drumming. I really wish more people would be at the [general assembly], not the drum circle.”
“We want to be good neighbors,” said Wedes, who added that some of the park residents could possibly volunteer in area businesses, and now that the nurse’s union has voiced support for Occupy Wall Street, perhaps nurses could offer childcare training to the occupiers of Zuccotti Park. The occupiers could then offer babysitting to neighborhood residents.
“We have a lot of people here who have a lot of time,” said Wedes.
When asked how the baby-sitting would work and how parents could check credentials, Wedes said, “They could go to the homes. There’s an element of trust [that would be] involved.”
Mike, a manager at O’Hara’s restaurant on Cedar Street, said that protesters come to use the toilet, driving up the cost of supplies like paper and soap. He also said that the sink in the women’s restroom was separated from the wall “when apparently someone tried to bathe in it.”
Asked if the occupiers would be welcome if the group reimbursed the restaurant for supplies, Mike said, “I don’t want to know about it. That time has come and gone,” citing an incident in which a protester shattered a glass by throwing it against a wall.
Among the many conditions that plague the Zuccotti occupier community and concern C.B. 1 committee members is sanitation in the park.
Jordan, 22, originally from New Hampshire, is a member of the occupation’s sanitation working group. A traveler for the past two years, she has experience as a migratory farmer, and with sanitation work at festivals, and joined the occupation in its third week.
Asked about two initiatives the occupier community recently approved to enhance sanitation, Jordan spoke unofficially about current efforts the protester-residents are making to have the park be a cleaner and healthier place to live. One involves requiring inhabitants to consolidate their belongings daily to allow for cleaning the park. This is not necessarily meant to create space for other park users, like neighborhood residents and workers, but could aid sanitation efforts.
The other measure is to spend $2000 from the O.W.S. budget on plastic bins to keep items clean and dry. Jordan said it is a health issue.
“People have been sleeping on the same cardboard since day one,” said Jordan, who noted the fact that current conditions present a bad image in the press and that, “cleaner places are safer places,” citing depression and irritability as “horrible effects on the entire community” that can result from poor living conditions.
Currently they have a recycling program that separates cardboard, plastic, metal, and glass, with daily collection by a non-profit. The NYC Department of Sanitation takes the regular trash from collection points at the four corners of the park.
Moore said that the neighborhood has been under stress for a decade and that, “Zuccotti is only one part of our problem.”
With the opening of the National Sept. 11th Memorial the issues faced by neighbors in the vicinity of Zuccotti Park include tourists who block the entrance to buildings, a police sky watch tower which faces at least one resident’s window, and the drumming.
“It’s bad enough that we had twenty-one hours a day for thirty days of a hoe ram,” said Moore.
City Councilmember Margaret Chin said, “Many residents support the right to protest, but this is an occupation, not a passing march. The protesters must take visible steps to lessen the burden on the community or risk losing the support they have enjoyed so far. This means that the drumming needs to stop. No one should have to listen to drumming all day and all night. This is a neighborhood of working families and young children. The protesters need to show some respect for the residents and history of Lower Manhattan.”
Moore said, “I think it’s insensitive that the Mayor [in his Oct. 10 comment that the protestors could stay] didn’t acknowledge the impact the demonstration has on the residents who live in close proximity to Zuccotti Park, especially with the opening of the 9/11 Memorial.”