Can’t Deny Occupy

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which officially began on September 17th in Zuccotti Park and that has since captured the eye of the country and the world, is picking up steam with each passing day.

Whether one is dismissive of the protestors’ cause or in support of it, there is no denying the passion that has been evident since day one.

One thing is certain: politicians and politically affiliated groups, on both the left and the right, are now trying to use and co-opt the movement and its energy in order to develop a policy platform. The problem lies in the fact that these people and groups did not need a crystal ball in order to see this coming. The anger, frustration and determination on display in Zuccotti Park and now in cities all over the country, is nothing new.

For anyone who has taken the time to walk Downtown and observe firsthand exactly what is happening, the message is clear: the United States of America is not stronger, not healthier, when the country’s wealth is more and more unequally distributed. For the last 40 years America’s middle class has remained stagnant. For those college graduates that needed financial aid in order to get their degrees, living in debt and worrying about a job has been a deeply painful reality. For those mothers and fathers who had to work two jobs in order to make ends meet, security seemed like an abstract notion and an unattainable dream.

In short, the last three weeks have been four decades in the making. But the last four years of recession and stalled recovery have been the real catalyst for what could be a real revolution. While the financial service industry responsible for driving this country over the cliff received bailouts, while the wealthiest one percent held onto and even increased their share of national wealth, jobs were being eliminated, dreams were being put on hold and, for the middle class, hope has been eroded.

Mayor Bloomberg was right to say on Monday that the protestors could remain in Zuccotti Park. The one sign that has always been in the park, even before Occupy Wall Street came along, was a silver plaque with the words “public space.” The mayor should be applauded for not suppressing free speech. And Brookfield Properties, who actually owns the park, has made a wise decision in not playing the “privately owned” card they hold.

But now we are at the point where in order for this movement to continue to have its sprawling outdoor headquarters in the heart of our neighborhood, there has to be a modus operandi moving forward. We were pleased to see that members from the O.W.S. group willingly showed up at Community Board 1’s full board meeting last month. They must recognize this pivotal moment as it pertains to the advancement of their cause: with many in the community and some elected officials offering support, working with the community is the only way to ensure that support in the future.

There needs to be a framework to address critical quality of life issues in the neighborhood such as park access, noise levels, sanitation (!), limiting effects on the area’s small businesses, and simply being good neighbors. We also believe that the N.Y.P.D has overreacted in blocking off key Lower Manhattan intersections and choke points.

A one-time olive branch, or a singular, symbolic gesture will not solve these issues.  An ongoing process needs to be set up by both sides where these issues can be diligently vetted, addressed and then consistently reappraised. Let’s work together to grow this movement on solid local footing.  If these local issues are not addressed quickly, pressure will build up to clear the park.