PLOG sat down on Friday with three local residents whose lives have intersected with the protests around the country and the national media coverage that has followed. We asked them to share their experiences and thoughts. The following interview is condensed and edited for space.
Daniel Goers, furniture designer, 27, Lefferts Avenue, photo left: First I just want to say that I don’t represent anybody else. I don’t represent any movement. I represent only myself.
Brian Russ, musician and teacher, 30, Sterling Street: Everyone is there with their own personal reasons but there is a collective consciousness that brings it all together. Everyone makes the argument that the protesters don’t have a specific issue that they’re about. But I think right now it’s more about how many people are involved and how large the movement is. It’s just the beginning right now.
Molly Miller, CUNY student, 22, Parkside Avenue: I got into this only recently. I went to Zuccotti Park and it was pretty inspiring to see how many people think their voices should be heard. I went to the Brooklyn Bridge on Thursday and the thing that really got to me was how human everyone turned out to be. It was so beautiful to see everyone caring about each other.
Daniel: Everyone asks what the goal of the movement is. Right now we’re at this early stage where everybody is really just starting to talk to each other. We are only now starting a conversation and identifying the issues everyone has. Once all the people in this country are in the conversation then we can begin to identity solutions.
PLOG: You can be unhappy with the current state of things without having a solution.
Daniel: It might be called Occupy Wall Street but the primary chant you hear out there is “We are the 99 percent.” It’s that cry for change. The message is that we are the huge majority of this country that doesn’t have a voice. We want a voice. We need a voice.
Molly: Look how many we are and we still don’t have any representation. So we’re going to do something about it. And if it’s just sitting outside for days and months on end people are going to see that and hear about it.
Brian: I’ve always been a fan of the civil rights movement and what went down in the 60s with the Vietnam protests. But I never felt totally inspired to go out and there and do something like my parents’ generation. Now I totally understand that feeling of getting out there. Everyone has this collective inspiration that something’s wrong. I’ve always wondered “Are me and my friends the only ones who see this?” We gave the banks billions of dollars for no reason. People don’t have healthcare who work everyday. There are no fair wages. It’s only been two months and it’s amazing that this much has happened.
Daniel: The primary accomplishment is that we’ve redefined the conversation that people are having. We’ve gone from kids camping out in the park to being a movement that’s dominating the media and bringing up tons of issues—not just representation and lack of democracy but issues of police brutality, immigration, healthcare and the marginalization of different groups whether they be racial, gender or what have you. The fact that they’re even talking about it means we’re in control and as long as this continues that’s not going to go away.
Molly: I went to the protests with my mother which was interesting since she was a total child of the 60s. She was at Stanford—she was arrested there. It was interesting to get her opinion on that. People kept asking her about it. She said that was about the war and this is about change.
PLOG: What have your experiences been with NYPD?
Molly: Thursday was just insane. There were so many cops. And they were in riot gear! I talked to a policeman last night and he said “We wish we could be on the other side of this but we can’t be.” One cop pulled a group of people to the side and told us that they had a sound cannon set up and that we should make sure to have ear plugs because it can pretty bad for people. And this is a cop that is on the other side of the line standing there with a gun in his pocket and a baton in his hand telling us this because he truly cares and understands where we’re coming from and what we’re trying do. We were at the front and we could see the 99 people who volunteered to [intentionally] be arrested. And they put them on the buses and it was so cool to see them go by because everyone was cheering them on. There was so much love happening. The cops were standing with their arms linked blocking the bridge and finally some guy talked them into letting us cross. He said “Look we’re not going away just let us through peacefully.” And the cops did it. And it was really beautiful to see that happen.
Daniel (above in New York Times photograph): It’s really interesting to hear [Molly] humanize the cops. I have a really hard time with that. A lot of my confrontations with them have been incredibly violent. Just talking about this upsets me because I want to see these people as humans but they all look the same. They all wear a uniform and look like stormtroopers. They have one goal: to control you. And I don’t believe that as civil servants that they have any right to control us unless we are out of line. And I have yet to see a single protester be truly out of line. I have been in some of the nastiest stuff of this movement so far. When we got an alert that [Zuccotti Park] was being raided I couldn’t get anywhere near there. They shut down the subways near the park; they shut down the airspace. There was press with us that couldn’t get through which is why I got photographed. That shot shows me moments before I got pepper sprayed for no reason. There were people getting snatched and grabbed from the crowd for no reason. The only thing we were doing was non-violent peaceful chanting. We were almost running away from the cops because of the level of intimidation and violence we had seen at the front. No one is going to stand around when people are being randomly pepper sprayed and beaten and pushed onto the street. I got hit with batons. And it’s not a fun experience.
Brian: The police brutality I have seen so far has been brutal, immoral, unethical, senseless and absolutely inhuman. It makes no sense to me. Last night I saw someone tackled by an officer and his head got cracked open on the street. We just want to peacefully march. Anyone who has been arrested is a martyr and a hero. There needs to be legal action. I talked to people who had been in protests in the 60s and they said the brutality was nothing like this.
Molly: I have seen the pictures but that upsets me in a whole different way. Maybe the cops [I saw] were so human because there was so much press. The whole reason I was there was to support humanity and the love that I feel. To hear stories like that about people who we are supposed to be protected by is just awful. That really hurts.
PLOG: How do you plan to be involved in the future? Are people supportive of your involvement?
Molly: I feel connected to this. I plan to help the movement in anyway I can and just keep talking about it and filling people in. Other people hear you and are inspired. The majority of people are very supportive about it. I did get one comment from a really good friend that was kind of hurtful. I don’t know if it was sarcasm or that person was being too opinionated but I wanted to say: “I understand that you have a different opinion but can you see my opinion at all? Can you accept or respect that I have a different one?” It was interesting to see that coming from somebody that I thought I would get a positive reaction from.
Daniel: I really believe that the decentralized aspect of this movement is one of its most powerful attributes. That’s what is going to maintain the momentum. It might be important for me to shift my involvement now to something more local. I recently realized that Brooklyn has started its own general assembly. I tell people to just attend meetings. See how the people’s mic works; see how it empowers people to start a discussion and share their voice.
Brian: I’m in a band and recently traveled around the country. And I actually got to go to different movements in the South and the Midwest. Right now I am promoting a major march that will be in Washington on March 24. My goal is to spread the march through social networking. No amount of cops or armed forces can stop us. We need Obama to open his curtain the way Richard Nixon did during the Vietnam protests and see hundred of thousands of people out there.
Molly: It’s important as neighborhood people in this tiny community to find each other and stay connected. Stay together. Even this neighborhood has a lot of people that feel like this and want to get involved but don’t know how. A lot of people that I hang out with say “That’s so cool and I wanted to go but I didn’t feel like I should.” And I tell them to just come with me next time and see. As much as the three of us can stay connected we can do our little part too. One droplet of water…
Daniel: We should have a community event…
Brian: That’s a great idea.
What do you think of the protests? Let us know in the comments. For more information check out Occupy Wall Street or the NYC General Assembly. Interested in creating a local community event? Contact Molly Miller via her email.