Occupy Wall Street protesters have been encamped in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan since Sept. 17, and at times the demonstrations have taken on the air of a large outdoor party. But some participants have had anything but fun there. They have been harassed by police, pepper-sprayed and arrested. However, all remain committed to the fight against economic inequality that is the unifying theme of the demonstrations.
“I just can't stand other people suffering anymore,” said Christopher Walsh, 25, a freelance photographer, who said he came to the park to take a stand against “monolithic corporations, hate, systemic racism and sexism.”
Walsh spent 12 hours in a holding cell on Oct. 1 after being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge with more than 700 other protesters. But he vows to keep protesting, even if the police descend on protesters again. “They'll have to drag me out,” he said. “It's going to take nine sticks of pepper spray and handcuffs.”
Experts who study protest movements say that putting people in jail can strengthen the will of some protesters.
“Arrests represent commitment, setting an example of possibilities for everyone else,” said David S. Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied social movements. Being arrested, he said, “could be an inspiration and a statement of seriousness, or it could scare some people off.”
Going to jail has made Edward T. Hall III more determined about his role in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Hall, 25, said he has been arrested twice. The most recent time was last Wednesday, when, he said, he was meditating near other protesters, who then started to move barricades on Broadway and Wall Street.
A struggle broke out between the police and the protesters and Hall said over a dozen cops beat him, smashing his head to the ground as one repeatedly shouted “I'll break your f neck.” The police didn't respond to a request for a comment on this incident.
But the confrontation made Hall, who has been at the park since the first day of the protest, want to fight even harder. “We always need to be active, we always need to be pushing the limits of the way we organize themselves,” he said.
Similarly, Jonathan Vergara, 23, a political science student at Queens College, was not scared but inspired by being in jail for 10 hours. He said it was an affirmation that he's doing the right thing.
Even though Vergara goes to classes at Queens College three days a week, he comes back to sleep in the encampment.
“What will make me stop?” he asks. “Ending corporatism, the government and the Federal Reserve. That will make me leave.”
City Limits is grateful to the City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism and Professor Lisa Armstrong, who oversaw this project.