On October 15th, I headed out to the first major Occupy Wall Street (or "OWS") event in my city, Binghamton New York. Today, roughly two weeks later, the small park being occupied on the corner of Court and State is still packed to the brim with tents, and driving by on any given day will usually show throngs of supporters bustling about, carrying supplies and showing solidarity with the movement. As winter weather approaches, the resolve of the protesters will be tested, but from what I've seen, and from the people I've spoken with lately, my confidence is growing that they'll be able to weather the winter... slight pun intended.
In these two weeks, I've visited when I could, and I've tried to stay in contact with friends who are actively
participating when I couldn't. My girlfriend lost her job at the start of October, and while she was luckily able to find a new job within a few weeks, which she starts soon, we spent the month of October relying on my income alone, which kept us from being able to donate yet (though that will change when I get paid next). But we show our support however we can, whenever we can, and from what I can tell, that's how most people support the movement, both here in Binghamton and abroad. We might not all be able to sleep in tents downtown (and even if we could, there isn't space, here in Binghamton anyway), but we stop down as often as we can, and we ask our friends to keep us posted, and we drive past every time we go anywhere, even when that drive is out of our way, just to see how things look. And I'm happy to report that Occupy Binghamton is still going strong two weeks after
the first major, non-assembly event.
The event on October 15th had a good turn-out, though when we first arrived, it didn't seem that way. I drove downtown with my girlfriend, Sharyn, and our friend Maray (also the singer of my band). When we first drove by the protest site, it was almost entirely empty, with no more than three or four people walking around. It looked as though they were anticipating a much larger crowd of people, but at first glance, it didn't seem like many were going to show up. We headed off to park the car, at that moment feeling like we were destined to be amongst the only demonstrators, but that's when we spotted the huge procession of Occupiers marching near the Metrocenter, loudly
chanting "we are the 99%!" to the rhythm of portable drums. We crossed the lot to join up with the protesters, glad to see the turnout was far greater than we initially assumed.
The event was quite fun. There were drummers, a punk rock guitarist jamming on his acoustic, and some great conversations with fellow 99%-ers. Arguably the highlight of the event for participants came later on in the event, and is shown in the images you'd have been hard-pressed not to notice already. A limo van pulled up along Court Street, carrying a wedding party inside, who waved and stuck up thumbs to show their support. With so many people beeping and waving as they drove past, I doubt anyone thought much of it... until the full wedding party was seen dashing across Court Street toward the protest grounds, smiling and tiptoeing through the grass. They posed for what I personally consider to be some of the most iconic OWS photos taken anywhere, their cool factor being trumped only by the "Occupy Antarctica" picture that you may have seen floating around the web. For me personally, those images will always be tied to the OWS movement.
Since then, Occupiers have camped out at the small park, putting on occasional live music performances and being joined every so often by passersby and full-on supporters alike. Donations have been pouring in from local supporters, including a full-sized power generator that arrived on Tuesday as we visited and chatted with participants. Mayor Matt Ryan has stated and repeatedly confirmed that the protesters are welcome to stay there indefinitely without a permit, and without the $1 million retainers the city normally charges for such events, with standing orders that the Binghamton Police, many of whom support the protests as well (some have actually donated to the demonstrators) will not interfere.
There are, of course, concerns that are growing more worrying as the weather gets colder. The northeast isn't exactly known for palm trees and mid-December beach blanket bingo. If you live in the northern regions of the Country, please grab those old blankets out of your attic that haven't been used since the Carter administration and give them to protesters in your city. Donating is as simple as walking or driving to the event and handing them off to organizers. Donations of money will be helpful too, as fuel for power generators isn't free, nor is it cheap, and food is always good as well. If you live in the Binghamton area, stop down and show your support sometime, too! We might not be as famous a city as New York or Chicago, but that doesn't lessen the devotion of our local OWS supporters, nor does it mean you shouldn't participate if you believe in the cause. If OWS can survive the northeast winter, it can survive anything!