Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, where Occupy Wall Street has taken over, is like a campsite. There are people occupying every inch of the 33,000-square-foot park a few blocks from Wall Street. Some spend the night in sleeping bags on the ground (tents are not allowed); others come by just to spend the day.
It serves as a base camp where they organize the movement, hold meetings and, most important, live. A makeshift kitchen prepares food donations and dishes them out. A media center has been set up to blog, live-stream and tweet. It's powered by generators and, of course, solar panels. There is an area for sign making, an area for yoga, live music, a lending library and a clothing-donation center.
The reason the protesters can stay there 24-7 is that it's private property and there is no curfew, so technically they are not breaking the law. But Zuccotti Park — which, before it became private, was ironically called Liberty Square — is not where the actual demonstrations, rallies and marches take place. Those go on in other parts of New York City such as Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, where more than 700 were arrested.
So, just how many blacks or other people of color are involved in the movement? It's hard to say, because no one keeps count. The first Saturday, before the mainstream media really began to pay attention, about 15 percent of the demonstrators were people of color, according to Nelini Stamp, who has been there from the beginning.
But when it came to sleeping in Zuccotti Park that first night, Sandy Nurse, who has also been there from the start, says there was only a handful. So the best answer is that on any given day, the number of blacks involved changes.
When the labor unions joined in, the number of African Americans increased; when there was a Haitian-American march from Brooklyn, the number also went up. Both Stamp and Nurse, who were on Al Sharpton's radio show when he broadcast from Zuccotti Park, say there is outreach going on to involve more people of color.
Occupy the Hood is one such movement. The people behind it believe that blacks should be involved with the "99 percent," as they call themselves, because they represent those who are disenfranchised — the 1 percent being those who control Wall Street, corporate America and the government.
But Occupy Wall Street has never been about just one thing. The commonality may be dissatisfaction with the direction that protesters see the country and the government going in, but at any given rally or march, there are signs about the economy, about health care, even about Troy Davis' execution. Occupy Wall Street organizers have always said that they are about giving people a platform to air their grievances.
That message and their movement have resounded with people like Princeton professor Cornel West, who has been vocal about his support of the group. Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) also stopped by to see how more people in Harlem could become involved. Hip-hop entrepreneur Russell Simmons has been there several times; most recently he brought along Kanye West. But the rapper may have first heard about it from Lupe Fiasco, who was an early supporter.
Demonstrators have mixed feelings about the influx of celebrities. On one hand, they are able to spread the word and in some cases make generous donations. On the other hand, these are people who the protesters believe represent some of the things they are fighting against. West reportedly showed up in a Maybach.
When I was there on Sunday interviewing Simmons, an older white man complained to me about Simmons' prepaid debit RushCard. Simmons defended the financial instrument as being better than some alternatives. The argument ended with no apparent winner, but Simmons says that will not deter him from coming back and supporting the demonstrators and possibly even involving the hip-hop community. The next day is when he brought Kanye.
Julie Walker is a freelance writer in New York.