The Occupy Wall Street protests in lower Manhattan reflect a variety of political and social agendas, from the opposition to bonuses for corporate executives to a call for a ban on the drilling process known as fracking. They also reflect a variety of fashion sensibilities.
There are people dressed in sweatpants and combat boots, others in orange construction jerseys and even a few wearing business suits. But in Zuccotti Park clothes do not always mark the man.
Christy Leonardo, 33, a freelance writer from Pittsburgh, Penn., says he used to work in finance and wore a suit every day. He left the industry several years ago to focus on his writing. But today he’s back in a suit and tie to deliver a different sort of message.
“I’m here to represent the centrist part of the movement,” he says, explaining that he wants to make it clear that mainstream people also support the demonstration. “There is a range of different kinds of people here,” he says.
Leonardo says he wears the suit because he wants people outside the Occupy Wall Street movement to see that not all the protesters in Zuccotti Park are students or radicals in sandals and T-shirts. At the same time, he believes suit wearers shouldn’t be lumped into a general category like “banker” or “Wall Streeter” either.
“The suit shouldn’t be a sign of oppression,” he says. “It’s not tinged by Wall Street.”
So far, Leonardo says, the most common reaction to his clothing has been requests for interviews from journalists and television crews who assume he’s a movement official. At first, his fellow protesters gave him dirty looks and questioned why he was there. But after three days in the suit, he says he can now walk freely through the park.
Nathan Schomber isn’t wearing a suit or tie, but he agrees that appearances can often be misleading. Schomber, 37, looks like of many of the protesters in the park –he wears an Occupy Wall Street T-shirt and jeans and he sports a long, blond beard. But he is not jobless, or underemployed. In fact, Schomber, the co-owner of the Buchi Kombucha tea company in Asheville, N.C., considers himself a successful businessman and entrepreneur.
Despite being part of the capitalist system, he came to the park to protest because he believes he can help create change by working from within. “I’m a subversive business owner,” he says.
Schomber says that the reception he’s received from his fellow protesters has been welcoming, even when he reveals his connections to the business world. He says that the goal should ultimately be to work together with Wall Street, not against it.
“You know, we can’t judge,” he says. “And there shouldn’t be any of that in here.”
City Limits is grateful to the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism and Professor Lisa Armstrong, who oversaw this project.