Occupy Wall Street protesters wear Snuggies, sleep sitting up to get around new Zuccotti rules
ZUCCOTTI PARK, New York -- Early Monday morning, a new enemy dogged the small diehard group of Occupy Wall Streeters who have refused to leave a corner of Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, even in the week since New York police officers raided the camp and took away their tents, blankets and other belongings: It started raining.
Among the hardline occupiers is Sonya Zink, who has been living in the park since the movement began in mid September. The night before, the protesters slept sitting up, so as not to violate the new rules designed to discourage anyone from again camping out in the area. Prior to last week's raid, Zuccotti Park was home to a thriving mini-city, equipped with a "people's kitchen," information booths, medic's tent, library and post office box.
"Sometimes they wake us up even if we're sitting up," Zink said of the dozens of police officers and security guards ringing the nearly empty fenced-in area in downtown Manhattan. Zink was among the 200 protesters arrested last week in the NYPD's middle-of-the-night raid, when she linked arms with other protesters at the center of the encampment to protect the kitchen. She lifted up her shirt to show what she said was a bootprint-shaped bruise from where a police officer kicked her during her arrest.
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She was released little more than 24 hours after her arrest--at which point, she returned to the park, ready to adjust to the tougher rules.
Another protester, Will Conley, says he's been in the park for 40 days and nights now, and has no plans to leave, no matter how tough the rules get or how icy New York's winter becomes. "I'm going to be out here in an igloo," he says.
Conley is draped in what looks like a fleece blanket, and so I ask him how he's getting around the new no-blanket rule. "It's a snuggie," he says, grinning. Someone has donated almost a dozen camo-printed blanket outfits--equipped with sleeves--that protesters are using to keep warm, giving the protest an air of a slumber party.
On Monday morning, tourists wandered by the movement's epicenter to gawk at the remaining 30 or so protesters and reporters. (During the weekend, much larger crowds were gathered at the park and outside Mayor Michael Bloomberg's house on the Upper East Side.) "Welcome to the menagerie," a red-headed young woman says. "It's like we're caged in." Wayward tourists wake her up with their flash cameras when she's trying to sleep at night, she says, as if she were an animal in a zoo.
The mood among the remaining corps of OWS protestors seems to be growing more distrustful. One young man tells me that a "professional" group is soon going to arrive in the park and "weed out" homeless people who don't actually believe in the movement's cause. As he spells out this strategy, another group of protesters is looking at me askance and talking about how they distrust the media. "They depict us as perverts and junkies," one says. But Christopher Guerra, a 27-year-old caped protester from Newark who carries a copy of the Constitution in his pocket, tells them, "Any press is good." He then runs, cape billowing behind him, to set a-flight a group of pigeons.
"Before the raid, I worked with Info West [an information booth], but now I'm a black knight," Guerra says. His cape says "OWS Black Knight Till Death" in block letters. Guerra, an artist in paint-splattered jeans, says the job of the black knights is to grab people who are being arrested and throw them behind a group of protesters so they can escape capture.
Many of the protesters seemed a bit lost since the center of the OWS community has been dismantled.
Steve McGuinness, a career activist who has been on the road since 1982, pointed to a place in the now-empty park where a worker was sucking up leaves with a large cleaning machine. "I slept right next to the Spanish-language table," McGuinness said of the time before the raid. McGuinness is planning on attending the group's "general assembly" meetings and harassing the committee leaders, who he says aren't working hard enough to get the movement to regroup. "We should have been ready for that raid," he says. "It's been a week now."
Just then, a class of middle school students all wearing tour guide headsets walk through the park. A protester from Vermont--who teaches at Burlington College--tries to ask the kids what they know about Wall Street and TARP while the kids stare back at him blankly. As the adults quickly shepherd the kids back out of the area, one young boy yells, "One percent, you suck!"