On Saturday September 17th, I heard cheers and shouts on the streets of my city in Lower Manhattan. I didn't know what was happening, but it sounded big. I walked towards it and thus began Day One of the peaceful occupation of Zuccotti Park. I had no idea that my entire life would undergo a tectonic shift just days later. I had no idea that I would be thrown into a mass movement now being connected by millions around the country and even the world. I had no idea I would be writing this diary two weeks later...
On that first sunny Saturday, I saw 1500+ people marching then descend on Zuccotti Park, just 4 blocks north of Wall St. By the afternoon, I had already googled "protest" and "Wall St" and found an article on New York magazine's website explaining a group organized loosely by AdBusters magazine and a short video by 'Anonymous', the hacker collective group. #OccupyWallStreet sounded like a novel idea-- Use peaceful resistance by sleeping in public spaces to bring attention to the chasm of wealth in this country and the way it affects our national politics.
When I first descended on the park, I saw factions of all different stripes. There was a group petitioning against capital punishment. Another who was passing out literature on 9/11. The Socialist Party had a card table; I think the Communist party did, too. There were Ron Paul supporters and at least one LaRouche supporter. I saw performance art and hula hoops and a myriad of Guy Fawkes masks. It was a carnival and it was fun to just mingle amongst so many different ideas.
I should tell you that on Day One I spent a lot of time debating those who do not believe the 9/11 narrative. [Truthers has become a slur, so I won't use it] At least 45 minutes with just a few guys in one instance. I asked a Ron Paul supporter if he would have voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1965. And if he thought restaurants could exclude minorities from their businesses while not discriminating against smokers. Freedom and liberty and all, you know? I spoke to a New York Daily News reporter for a few minutes, but didn't give my name. I had no idea what this group was or what they wanted.
There were a few different young men and women with bullhorns. At least one mic and amp was set up. Some had competing messages and all were jostling for space and audience. I thought to myself, well if this was the Tea Party there would be glossy bumper stickers and shuttle buses and polished websites with a focused message. But this was sloppy and messy and disorganized. And real. I felt proud to be an American.
Then I was witness to an organized march that meandered around Exchange Pl and Broad St, since Wall St. was blocked and barricaded. A group of 100 or so ended up near Cipriani, a restaurant and event space, on Wall St and started to chant at a group of brunchers on a large open second floor balcony. This is now known as the viral video "Faceoff at 55 Wall." I saw smirking men waving champagne glasses at the group and others just taking pictures, probably wondering why some young people were shouting and holding signs deriding Wall St. greed. The police did a terrific job keeping both sides at bay and also protesters on the sidewalk. After 15-20 minutes, the group marched back to the park.
I stayed past 7pm that first day. And I left the park after hearing just a few minutes of the first General Assembly [though I had no idea what this was]. I did spend another 45 minutes at home watching on LiveStream. But I carried on with my normal life. Dinner, drinks, friends.
The next day, I went to a pub in the village and watched my New Orleans Saints play the Chicago Bears. I tried to talk about what I saw with two twenty something men sitting next to me. They were informed and had concise points to make on the state of the country. But they, like me, had no idea what was happening at Zuccotti Park. One told me pretty cogently:
"I have a good job. I'm [sleeping with] girls and doing the drugs I want. I'm happy. Why would I go down there?"
It was hard to disagree with him. Why would he go down there? What did this group want? Why where they there? And what could I do to find some answers, if nothing else just to satisfy my own curiosity. After the game ended, I went back to the park...
I sent a text to my good friend after deciding I would go back. I quote it here in its entirety:
"Ok. This could evolve. BUT they should set up online donation links immediately. Publish phone numbers to nearby delis who would deliver food by CC... Water access lists. They need immediate diaries on 4 blogs that self-publish. And they need a media contact to field questions, the press needs a coherent narrative now. They won't stick around for amateur hour..."
His simple reply:
"Get down there and give them this list!"
On Day Two, I spent hours back in the park, looking for emerging leaders or spokespeople. I quickly found out this was a "leaderless" movement. And that every action was voted on by consensus. There was little in the way of vertical chains of command. I heard more and more people say they would sleep in the park indefinitely. Was that even possible, I thought? Couldn't the police just close the park?
By coincidence, the marchers had found a private park, not subject to NYC Park rules and regulations. This would prove to be a crucial distinction later that same evening.
I saw a palette of jumbo jars of peanut butter and fruit and bottled water. There was a Food Committee organizing donations, I was told. Then, the first pizzas arrived. The group Anonymous had been sending in pizza orders from all over the world! Some of the boxes had hand written messages, presumably dictated to the pizzeria. "We Love You! Signed, Anonymous" read one. I had a slice and grinned at the others who were also filling their bellies with a hot meal. That may have been the first time I felt like a part of the movement...
As the evening wore on, the police presence seemed to grow. I saw hundreds of officers assembled at the perimeter of the park, some on motorbike. The sculpture of the Bull on Broadway had been barricaded off. Nearly all of Wall St was barricaded and guarded by police. Chase Manhattan Plaza had erected tall metal spiked barricades blocking all entrances. But Zuccotti Park was being held, and I could already see some encampments on benches and under some trees.
There was another organized march that evening which I followed. I even started to now shout some of the chants:
"WE... Are... the 99%!" and "Who's Street? OUR Street!" and "THIS Is What Democracy Looks Like!" and "Banks Got Bailed Out... WE Got Sold Out!"
I went to a friend's nearby office and printed out copies of reports from ABC News and Bloomberg and the Guardian.
"This is what they're saying about you Day Two," I announced as I distributed them in the crowd. I had also found a small legal advice flyer online that I passed to anyone who told me they might be sleeping in the park another night.
By nightfall I found myself now even more interested in what the next part of this plan was. If they could hold the park for just one more night and march during Monday's opening bell, I thought the event could be labeled a "success." At around 9pm, a plain clothes NYPD Officer approached me and explained the signs tied to trees and to stair bannisters were "fire hazards" and would have to come down in 30 minutes or the police would take them down themselves. I cannot now recall if he said 'clear the park,' but I DO remember thinking that's what he meant...
I started to ask around. "Hey, man. Is this your sign? The police say we have to clear the park." No one could identify who's signs were taped up. I asked for another 10 minutes, then announced I would start taking them down myself. I just wanted to keep them in the park.
So I began carefully folding the large canvas sign tied to the tree. I then started to peel duct tape from bannisters and carefully stack handmade signs on the park bench. Then, all hell broke loose.
A group of at least a dozen men approached me. "What are you doing?? Those are NOT your signs!"
I know, I know," I explained. "But the Police told me they need to be down by 9:30 or they'll take them down themselves. I'm just trying to keep you in the park." At that time, I didn't want to spoil the goodwill I observed between police and protester. Hell, they had already been allowed to sleep one night, didn't that mean we could try to be nice and get another night in?
"We just voted by consensus! Those are NOT your signs! You have no right to take them." The growing crowd is now 100+ and surrounding me. Some have taken out video cameras and others are recording me on their cellphones.
"I asked! I asked whose they were, no one knew. So I am taking them down carefully. If someone wants to stop me, they can stop me." [this was a peaceful group, and I'm 6'3". I wasn't worried...]
Now the majority of those asembled are near the stairs, some still shouting at me and others just shaking their head. Then, the first shrieking voice cried out: "He's a COP!!"
"What?" I said. "I'm not a cop. I'm trying to keep you in the [redacted] park!" I was angry myself now. Why would an undercover do what I had done the past two days? Why would he even care. Wouldn't he let the signs stay, therefore letting the police take the entire square? It was hard to argue these points reasonably because I was still stripping tape from the stairs and being followed by a phalanx of upset young protesters.
"Look," I said again. "I was told by the police the signs were fire hazards. I'm just trying to keep you in the park." The tension had subsided, but there were still some very vocal men who had "seen" me at the 10 year anniversary of 9/11 a week earlier.
"Yes, I was here last week. I come every anniversary. That doesn't mean anything." But to some in this crowd it did. And I would spend the next week fighting a whisper campaign left over by some who would not even stay one more day. It was a powerful doubt; some really didn't know why I had come. Or why I had stayed. Honestly, I was still grappling with those answers myself.
I spent the next 45 minutes on the periphery, walking directly up to people who were pointing in my direction and talking to friends.
"Hi. I'm Henry. Did you have something to tell me?" I sometimes don't realize how imposing I can be to strangers. I'm a 'little brother' to two older sisters. And I'm a peaceful man. I didn't want to scare anyone, but I DID want to confront those who continued to lie about who I was.
"Yeah. Who are you? Why are you here?" said one guy in a small group. "I'm a civilian. I'm nobody," I said.
"CIVILIAN? Who uses that word? You're a cop, man!"
"Fine. I'm just a guy! I used to live three blocks away from this park. I'm just a guy!"
I wasn't convincing anyone else that night. I walked around the perimeter again and wondered what would become of this group. I felt like I was done trying to help them. The police had maintained their positions, but were not confronting anyone. It looked like they would hold the park another night. I jumped in a cab and shook my head at the charges being thrown at me. I giggled out loud to no one in particular. That night, I drifted off to sleep and wondered if they could actually find a way to make it on to Wall St. for the opening bell...
I had to go back. I arrived too late to catch the marchers who had already started snaking their way down an opened Wall St. Near the LiveStream team, a few benches had been taken and now dubbed Central. I spent some time asking what they needed. Most of the group from the night before was gone. I was told food and water and tarps were primary. Some pharmacy supplies were also being assembled.
'Great, let's see if the Kos community would respond the way I knew they could. If only they knew what was happening,' I remember thinking.
I immediately published a diary titled: "#OCCUPYWALLSTREET This is What YOU Can Do Right Now!"
My first idea was to gather just a few numbers of nearby delis and a pharmacy in TriBeCa that I knew delivered. After just an hour, you all responded in a big way. By afternoon, I was munching one of the chicken sandwiches DELIVERED by a nearby deli and paid for by a Kossack. It fueled me. I thought, this group needs more than food and water. They need media. Which means they need money.
I updated my diary and included a public donation page with a goal of raising $1,000 in a week and providing them with batteries or chargers or even umbrellas. I asked for donations of $9.17 [September 17] and set the goal. I waked back to the park that night and wondered what the next day would bring. Then, my email started to blow up. Donations were pouring in, and almost all were $25 or less. Some generous donors gave $100 or even $300 in one instance. We hit $1000 just after midnight...
The next morning, I rushed to J&R Electronics and purchased flash drives, memory cards and batteries. I bought as many golf umbrellas as Staples had on the floor and lug everything a few blocks away. By the time I got to the park, things were truly a mess. Rain had come all morning and the crowd was dispersed. There may have been less than 25 people in total still remaining. Some were at a nearby McDonalds, which offered free wi-fi and bathrooms, too. Some were walking to other delis to dry out and rest. And still others, I was told, had been arrested.
I stayed near Central. Laptops had been damaged in the earlier arrest. Tarps were stretched, covering the equipment from the LiveStream crew still on site. One young man walked up to me and simply said: "I have the arrest on my camera. Do you want to see it?"
"Yes. Let's walk out of this park," I said with wide eyes. "Just stay with me and talk normally. Let's go, move. Move, come on."
I waited until we were a safe distance away, then I watched the footage for the first time. It was powerful. It showed several uniformed police approach Central, including a white shirted officer who used a bullhorn. One young protestor was sitting with his back to the approaching police, beating a small drum. He is shoved by the approaching officer and turns around to yell his disapproval. He is then swarmed by a few others and tossed over the bench by his waistband to the stone ground. There is an unconfirmed report his tooth broke hitting the pavement.
I have to get this video out, I thought. It's a clear shot showing a violent arrest of a peaceful protester. While I finish uploading the video, I head back to the park to figure out how else I can help. My media fund takes 48 hours to hit my own account, but I can front the cash until then to get urgently needed supplies to those that donors wanted to support.
I approach Central and bark out questions. What do you need right now? What internet are you using? Can we set up hotspots and keep you on the air? I get blank stares from some of the faces around me. I feel suspicion in the air once again.
"Well, we are going to vote tonight on what media needs. We'll let you know later."
"What?" I ask with incredulity. "No, you don't understand. This is not my money. These are donations from all over the country, the world even! What do you need right now? I can go buy it for you. The whole world is sending you money."
Still nothing. The previous slur against me proved quite effective. And some are even more certain I am a provocateur because of the infusion of cash I now want to use to support them. There is discussion about "bugged" equipment being handed out. I leave in a huff, upset and frustrated and tired. I start with more essentials of batteries and laptop chargers. Even now moist towelettes and pens and paper. I drop everything off and say "When a pizza arrives, you don't ask the Food Committee if you can have a slice. So I'm just donating this and leaving it. Use it if you want."
By the evening, I'm contacted by another Kossack who has heard about what is happening. He makes an incredibly generous donation of $2200 on an electronics site. I'm even more ecstatic. In less than 48 hours, I've raised $3500+ for the movement. How did this happen? What did I do? And will they accept it?
I go back again late night, after the general assembly and request access to a Leader. "We're leaderless," I'm told.
"Sure, sure. But is there anyone on the Media Committee then that I could speak with?" I ask again. "Who do I talk to about what you need? I now have $2200 on this [electronics site] to spend. WHAT do you need??"
I wish I could say that I was calm, rational and even handed. But I was none of those things. I was tired and petulant. I was furious. And I still wanted to face my accuser from days earlier, especially if that's what brought so much derision against me with the core group. "That's just Magna Carta! 13th century... Facing your accusers!" I remember shouting to almost no one in particular.
I sat on a bench and looked around. 'Why am I still trying to help these crazy kids.' I remember thinking to myself. 'No one even cares. They'll be washed out in a few days and forgotten. They don't understand optics. They don't realize corporate media must be spoon fed digestible nuggets to broadcast.' Then I remembered the sheer bravery of just sleeping outside with hundreds of police surrounding them. I looked deeper and saw courageous kids continuing to peacefully occupy a space.
As I roused out of my pity party, a girl within Central walked over to me. She's from Madrid and was in Puerta del Sol during this past summer's protests. She explains that some are just inexperienced. Others just scared. She ask me to keep doing whatever I'm doing. It's working, she says. Then she hugs me and thanks me. She has no idea how she has changed my perspective on the protesters, maybe the whole world. I promise her I will return the next day.
DAY FIVE and on...
It's hard to write everything that happened afterwards. It could fill a book [and maybe one day it will!]. I started to work with some tremendous writers on this site, Ministry of Truth and Ollie Garkey. I kept purchasing Sani Hands and batteries, Q tips and Gold Bond, poster board and paint. Slowly and with genuine feelings, some privately thanked me. I always explained the whole world was sending this to them. I was just a vessel. I don't have any money, it's not mine. The whole world wants them to have it. The man who mocked me for calling myself a Civilian pulled me aside, shook my hand and apologized. I told him it wasn't necessary. I was happy to help. I hugged him.
One girl by the Medic space starts announcing me as "the Awesome Guy" as I pass out more supplies. Her friends giggle and smile. It's hard not to grin at such a rad compliment. I never gave her my real name.
The next few days are a blur of increased coordination with the Facilitators and more trust between the occupiers. There was so much to do, a laundry list of Herculean tasks back then. Nights bring out a sense of community as guitars strum and cigarettes are passed around. I get to speak with 18 year olds who are scared of student debt. There are some who have come from California to just be a part of this. Others found themselves on the street and broke to heart breaking circumstances. All are Patriots. Everyone is committed to their country.
I thank the police I see on my way out of the park each night. They are honorable men and women, who are doing a difficult job extraordinarily well. I explain that others may not approach them, but that we all feel safe and protected in the park. And that we appreciate and respect their service.
The week crescendos to a big planned march to Union Square. At around 12:30 pm, the group begins to march a few times around Zuccotti Park then turns south towards Wall St. I have now shifted to journalist and start capturing footage of the day's events. I want to publicize what is happening and to weave a narrative together that can gain traction in the mainstream press. Hundreds and hundreds snake their way down Broadway. They are peaceful and chanting more slogans: "Banks got bailed out... WE got sold out!" and "THIS Is What Democracy Looks Like!"
I capture the first arrest just east on Wall St. A 19 yr old young man I've known for days is thrown over a barricade and violently placed in handcuffs. This brings chants of "The whole world is watching!" from the crowd. I can see a cutoff at Federal Hall on Nassau St, so I run in the opposite direction to capture the marchers as they come back up from Wall St.
As I approach Chase Manhattan Plaza, a young man who self identifies as a law student from George Washington University in Washington, DC, sits in the middle of the street and with tears streaming down his face, points at the bank and shouts: "This is the bank that took my parents house!" He is quickly surrounded by a crowd and police are instructing others to stay on the sidewalks. He remains there on the ground crying, now photographed by nearly a dozen people jostling for position.
After a few minutes, he is arrested and carried away. Then quickly, one of the young female Facilitators I recognize is being held by her arm. She is squirming and as I run around a few parked cars to get a better shot, she is taken to the ground and handcuffed. She carries heavy camera equipment which she manages to pass off to a friend. Then, she is carried off.
I try to catch up to the marching group, now running north on Broadway passing double decker buses with tourists gawking and snapping pictures. Some are returning the peace signs being held up by marchers, seemingly in solidarity. Doormen and construction workers and some in neckties are standing against buildings, just observing. The march is peaceful and even jubilant. It's a sunny day in the city and the energy is infectious.
I see another young man cuffed and being escorted by two policemen away from the scene. I sprint in front of them, and on camera ask why he is being arrested. He says he hasn't been told. I ask the officers and get no response.
Now I have to make a decision. I can continue to chase the marchers uptown or go back to Central and start to upload what I have so far. I hesitate briefly, but then start running back downtown to Zuccotti Park. I arrive on a scene of contained chaos. Some assembled media are interviewing protesters in the park on camera. Other protesters are yelling into their phones, asking where the marchers are currently positioned and reminding everyone to stay together.
A reporter who recognizes me from my interview with Countdown with Keith Olbermann a few days earlier comes over near Central and asks on camera what I'm doing. I am hammering out updates on my laptop, speaking with my trusted source by phone still in the march and trying to upload video. Some are now jumping on trains to join the others near Union Square, approx. two miles north. I speak with her for just a few minutes, then the first reports of mace and pepper spray start to trickle in.
"Can you confirm mace? Can you tell me what you see with your own eyes?" I yell over the phone to my source.
"Yes. Yes, at least 5 girls. I also see mesh barricades and they are starting to kettle in the block. I see dozens lined up against a building ready to be arrested."
I am dazed. I remember the kettling techniques from my time in the streets during the RNC protests in 2004. I wasn't arrested myself, but local independent news covered it well for weeks, mostly because of the onslaught of civil cases filed by protesters held at Pier 57.
But mace? We were peaceful. And women? I couldn't confirm it beyond my one source and even though I trusted him, I refused to report it myself. Almost a half hour passes now and multiple reports of mace continue to stream in to Central. I go with it. And hope that we have the footage to back it up.
Almost an hour after the initial report, a young man comes up to me. "I have something you need to see," he tells me.
I plug in his memory card from a mobile phone and see four girls penned in the street near 12th St and University Place. Some are yelling, others look like they are pleading with officers holding an orange mesh barricade sealing them in. On later footage, one is heard saying "Where do you want us to go? In to the garage?"
Then, two white shirted officers appear in the frame. One outstretches his arm, and maces all four women. The blonde girl in the video is Chelsea Elliott, who is my graphic designer for a few projects I was constructing. She crumples to the ground and screams. I know the the brunette girl next to her to be deaf. She seemed to be the primary target of the attack. It appears she has been hit directly in the face. She holds up her hands, blinded, and screams out for help. Some nearby are asking for water. One officer is seen wiping his eyes and coming up to another officer holding the mesh, asking in an exasperated manner what just happened.
The young man says he does not want his name out and gives me permission to upload the video to my YouTube account. He leaves after I hand him his memory card back and I feel tears streaming down my cheeks. It's the first time I've openly cried in the park.
Within the hour, I hear from Chelsea and she tells me her friend alongside her was arrested. She's frantic and unsure of what to do next. Passers by have given her milk and apple cider to cleanse her face. She's much more calm than I expected and I simply tell her to meet me back at Central. I remember wanting to tell her I was proud of her. I don't recall if I got the words out.
I had no idea what the footage would do to our movement in the next 24 hours.
Within a few hours, major media outlets are now inundating the park. Large cameras, satellite trucks and reporters interviewing people with fully lit cameras in the park are everywhere. By nightfall, police have shown up in force and with the same orange mesh barricades in rolls, being held by officers at the perimeter of the park. The situation is tense, but under control. We feel safe with so many reporters filming in the park. By midnight, rumors of an assault on the park overnight are permeating the camp. I still don't think the NYPD wants more footage of peaceful protesters being violently arrested, so I try to assuage people's fears.
I also am seeing the view count on our video climb rapidly. 1,000 views, 10,000 views, 100,000 views. The video is going viral. Overnight I get messages from ABC, the AP, FOX and other outlets. I give full permission to anyone that asks to run the video. Within 72 hours, it surpasses 1,000,000 views on YouTube. Within 'News & Politics', it's the #1 watched and the #1 discussed video in the world.
Our Media Fund page goes over $10,000. We are flooded with requests for comment. And suddenly there is an acute picture to the struggle I have observed happening peacefully in the park for the last eight days.
We continue to purchase supplies for the camp. And now I realize this will only get bigger. I meet with my team and discuss how to keep pushing this story. We realize we will have to start separating ourselves from the story, to tell it honestly and with primary sources. I decide I want to build a new media platform, free of corporate cash and funded by small donors. I ask the Facilitators to remove my link from their website. [it had been up for at least 24 hours before I was alerted] I explain there is still a lot of support left to provide the group with donated funds. But I also know that there needs to be some space between us moving forward.
Over this last week, the Facebook page "We Are The Other 99" has staged a few media events. We hold a Conversation With the Top 1%" each day at lunch. This gets attention from AFP [French AP] and Fuji TV and German television. I speak with RT News and local NY journalists and even journalism students from Columbia University uptown. On Saturday night, I was interviewed live on air for the BBC. There are some various appearances I am still considering in the near future.
I have been so lucky to have an assembled team around me that is as equally committed as they are talented. We have started to budget out logistics and equipment. Food and transportation and housing is being assembled for Washington DC next week. I want to continue to tell this story. I can't not keep going down to the park. I can't turn away from the brave kids who have been sleeping in the streets for a third week now...
The Other 99 is in the process of filing as a non-profit news organization. A website is being built as I type, WeAreTheOther99.com. We are planning to tell news stories others won't cover and long form pieces of journalism to be filed directly on our own media channel.
We will also be scanning and printing receipts, bank statements and a full accounting of how the Media Fund was originally used. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and there will be plenty of it. This will be posted on this blog and under my username, HankNYNY.
Continuing this week, we will tell this story the best way we know how. We will continue the "Conversation With the Top 1%." We will stage another media event called "Death of The American Dream" on Tuesday at 1 PM. And this community, the people who gave all of us so much love and support and the donations to actually make all of this come true, will continue to hear from us.
Please stay with us. But be advised, this will not be televised...