Stretched across his neat padding of blankets carefully placed out of the walkway, Andre Robinson exudes positivity even as he sits next to the five plastic bins containing everything he owns. Every morning after sanitizing his space in Zuccotti Park and washing up in any available bathroom, Robinson spends hours looking for odd jobs and filling out applications. “I lost my job in March and as a result I became homeless,” said Robinson, who according to the latest reports released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development (HUD), is only one of over 643,000 homeless Americans on any given night of the year.
Robinson never imagined that at age 41, he would be sleeping on the streets of New York City every night and searching for food and work every day. Skilled in carpentry, Robinson lost his position as a maintenance supervisor and then his home mere months after his mother and seven-year-old daughter were killed. Now, as the Occupy Wall Street movement speeds into a fifth week, Robinson and many others have refused to be moved from Zuccotti Park since the occupation began on Sept. 17.
“I shouldn’t have to walk the streets 10 to 12 hours a day begging store owners to sweep, mop or take out trash so I can have something to eat but I will because I’m very independent. I do what I have to do —its how I survive,” said Robinson, who expressed concern over the state of the job market not only for himself, but also for the scores of college students graduating into fast-food careers. “I’m in a bad situation but I’m going to turn it around because I can,” continued Robinson, who says his own circumstances, like those of so many others, were worsened by the recession.
As the protests move into a second month, the world has been constantly watching as fights between police and protesters have flooded the media. Hundreds of people have been arrested in New York City alone. Citizen journalists from cities as far away as London and Dublin, Ireland have been posting video to YouTube and tweeting pictures of international protests as outrage over the amount of force used on protesters has brought criticism on police departments worldwide.
“People were pushing and shoving and the cops were getting rough,” said Baltimore native Laura Faison, who attended the march in Times Square last week. Faison, a registered nurse of 15 years, caught a bus to Occupy Wall Street alone when family and friends refused to attend after seeing mass arrests and escalating violence between police and peaceful protesters in media reports.
“This is a peaceful demonstration. There’s no need to drag a woman across concrete and bust her head open,” said Robinson, referring to an incident he witnessed between an NYPD officer and a protester engaged in civil disobedience.
Far from shiftless hippies and drug addicts, those involved in occupation movements across the country and nationwide are of every color, creed, and gender. Old and young alike have descended upon financial centers, the million dollar homes of big bank CEOs, and even the White House crying out for change. Calling themselves the “99 percenters,” protesters have had enough with the wealthiest one percent controlling the majority, while also slowly wiping out the middle class.
With the national unemployment rate at 9.1 percent, Congress still blocked passage of The American Jobs Act presented by President Obama last week, even as thousands of Americans are facing tough choices when it comes to clothing, food and shelter.
“Things as simple as a dollar not buying the same loaf of bread seem easy to miss but you end up working an extra week or not being able to afford presents at Christmas,” said Merchant Marine Zac Watson, a 28-year-old who came from Michigan to join the movement. After seeing reports in the media Watson said, “I could see the holes in the stories so I came to better understand and support what is happening.”
As movements in different cities begin to finally put out lists of demands, which include a revamping of current tax laws and the end of corporations having the same rights as people, some protesters see their fight as a much needed, but uphill battle.
“This is not about having or not having a job. It’s about a symbolic Wall Street where these big corporations hold the lives of many in their hands,” said Jacquel Ward of Brooklyn, NY. Sleeping in the park at night, Ward believes his efforts, coupled with those around the world, will make a difference not only on Wall Street but on Capital Hill as well. “The puppet strings of Congress are so strong it’s hard to get anything done,” said Ward from the steps of Zuccotti Park, looking out at the hundreds who have gathered and formed a peaceful and working community.
Complete with “the people’s library,” a volunteer kitchen, and a comfort center where containers full of everything from socks to sweatshirts and winter coats are provided for free, Occupy Wall Street has operated so far with no central leader. Instead, the movement is headed by a General Assembly that meets at the Zuccotti Park headquarters where conflicts are resolved verbally, and plans of action, schedules of daily activities, and workshops are created.
For more information about the Occupy Wall Street Movement visit www.occupywallst.org.