"Occupy Wall Street" is in its third week, and it's attracting women, men, young, old, white, African Americans, English- and Spanish-speaking people from all over the region. Many are there protesting corporate greed and the huge disparity between the rich and poor in this country.
The protest is contained in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, commonly referred to as Liberty Plaza by protesters. The movement's name, "Occupy Wall Street," is a bit of a misnomer. The New York City police department is doing everything in its power to keep these people as far from Wall Street as possible.
Walking from the #4 subway train on the Green Line Saturday, we had to navigate a veritable maze of road blocks to get to the actual protest. Why?
We asked an officer stationed across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. He said the police are protecting the Exchange from a stampede that they believe is a real possibility.
There are paddy wagons, police on horseback, squad cars and officers, at the ready with reams of plastic handcuffs hanging off their belts and nightsticks.
Yet, on this sunny, warm Saturday there was nothing but peaceful demonstrating and people gathering. Sleeping bags, surrounded by knapsacks, pocketbooks and other personal effects, were scattered throughout the park.
Every available square foot was occupied by people standing, lying, sitting and walking. Just getting from one side of the park to the other was difficult. Yet there was a definite feeling of togetherness and respect permeating the gathering.
Some held placards, while others sat, in whatever space was available, to handwrite the message they wanted to get across. We watched as one young woman bared her upper torso to have the message "I am the 99%," in reference to the 1 percent of individuals that demonstrators feel control the country's wealth and power, spray painted on her back.
It was impossible to tell who was really "part" of the protest and who was there to check it out. While the lines seemed blurred, it is possible that some who go "just to check it out" end up part of the movement. That is, at least, the hope of the group.
"This is drawing a swath of people who are just beginning to hear these alarm bells like you can put aside your cynicism and take some action," said Bill Dobbs of Manhattan. "You find all kinds of people on this plaza who are both learning about what's going on and thinking what can I do to make this more powerful," he added.
"What's brought them here is anger over lost jobs, crushing student loan debt, houses that have been foreclosed and dashed hopes," Dobbs said.
We were told that we could bring the message to our community by hosting a small gathering in our home to enlighten, to educate our friends and neighbors. Let's face it - that is how a grassroots movement gets going.
This is a well-organized group of protesters. They have a list of jobs they divvy up to keep things running smoothly.
The makeshift kitchen was impressive with a small, portable sink, dishes stacked to dry, crates of fresh apples and oranges free for the taking and a compost heap brimming with scraps from the day's meals. Many people throughout the park balanced paper plates, with a serving of pancakes with syrup, on their laps.
There is a press area, clearly marked with a rudimentary "PRESS" handwritten sign atop a wooden pole, a makeshift library along a stone wall on the perimeter of the park, a table welcoming Spanish-speaking participants and individuals roaming around sweeping up and making sure the area around the trash cans was clean and tidy.
The protest is drawing people for reasons other than dissatisfaction with our economy. One young man, lounging amidst a mass of sleeping bags, said he was there because he believed in "bringing peace to this country." That is OK.
It is a gathering of people who believe in a better America for all. We are lucky we live in a country where this is possible, where we can speak our mind without the fear of repercussions and maybe, just maybe, effect change.