With over a month down and winter’s harsh embrace on the horizon, Occupy Wall Street has hit a pivotal point. Critics say protesters are simply blowing steam, rallying around unachievable goals. Protesters have the limelight and they must prove to the portion of the 99% not protesting that their movement will make headway in turning the country’s problems around.
Dan Beresheim is a college student, worried about paying student loans and finding a decent job. He carries a sign with him that isn’t printed. It isn’t colored or drawn well for that matter. It’s shock value scribbled in black ink: “Fuck da fed bro.” He has dropped in and out of Zuccotti Park from day one and realizes that despite the challenges the movement faces, gaining national attention for their cause is an early win in what is undoubtedly an uphill battle.
“It’s reached that sort of tipping point with these national occupations going on and you can’t un-acknowledge it anymore,” Beresheim says. “We need to recognize the legitimacy of the protesters.”
When New York speaks the rest of the country listens. Occupy OhioU began with uncertainty like Occupy Wall Street, but protest organizers quickly established an identity.
At the Occupy OhioU site the crowd gathered in a circle. Students, faculty and Athens natives alike were open to participate and voice their concerns. At first the crowd was timid but slowly people began to warm up.
“This is all about the process of learning what democracy is,” said an unabashed movement leader, giving Occupy OhioU a clear mission. He then took out a large piece of white paper and brandished a colored marker. The crowd then opened up. “Housing,” a woman shouted, alarmed at the thought of landlords choking every last dime out of students’ pockets. “Chase Chase out of Athens,” another called out, a primary concern judging by the steady round of applause. The bank has become a villain, a threat to Athenian life.
Although the persistent Appalachian rain washed away the campsite at the top of Morton Hill after less than a week, through presentations, lectures and locals willing to speak their mind Occupy OhioU saw their mission statement come to fruition. Whether the protesters find a way to make changes to the issues they wrote down remains to be seen. Yet, anyone who occupied the vacant lot by the bricks or stood and listened from afar witnessed democracy in its purest form – all people having an equal say – something that drew Chuck Overby back to the heart of the campus for the protest.
Occupy OhioU had the look and feel of a downsized Occupy Wall Street but it was missing a true character to put it over the top. Enter Overby: a distinguished former Ohio University professor with an interdisciplinary Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Overby’s top hat sat perched on his head at an awkward angle as if it were destined to fall off simultaneously as his glasses slid down his nose. It’s unclear whether the sign he wore front and back– covered with abstract phrases and political jargon – caused him to hunch over, or if he was crippled by the burden of old age, or perhaps both. He is Uncle Sam in costume but a flustered citizen in spirit.
“The country is running out of resources,” he mentions, addressing the crowd with a pre-meditated agenda. “The greed that drives this country of ours is so unfortunate.” Throughout his speech, Overby referred to environmental issues like fracking, which the region has been struggling to combat. Overby added fracking to his list of grievances because the issue isn’t overly broad or out of the realm of realistic change. If one town can right the wrongs, maybe the whole country will follow.
The sheer size of Occupy Wall Street has made the movement hard to ignore. There’s a lot of noise being made in lower Manhattan but it’s been difficult for protesters to channel that noise into a concrete plan of action. Where the Athenians succeeded, the monsters inhabiting Zuccotti Park continue to struggle.
12 p.m. at the corner of Broadway and Cedar, a scruff man with curly brown hair that seeped through a camo bandana leads seven men of varying ages and ethnicities across the street away from the chaotic bustle of the park. They sit in a circle –much like the one in Athens – adjacent to a hot dog vendor and a smoothie stand. They talk fast. They joke around. One of the younger men in the group feels the need to get everyone back on track: “This is about a purpose. We need to make progress.”
The men have worked for the last week on a document outlining their idea of goals and visions for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Their document is ready to be printed and the meeting was cut short. “Let’s do our moment of silence.”
The entire group bursts into laughter and disperses.
To view more photos from Longo’s visit to Occupy Wall Street, head to his Flickr account.