Occupy Wall Street: A Revealing Look Inside the Movement

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Occupy Wall Street and its like-minded protests around the world are in their fifth week, following a quiet start in downtown Manhattan on Sept. 17.

The protesters' camp site here in the Financial District has provided a kaleidoscopic blend of issues and humanity. Here is some of what TheStreet has observed.


Anna Marie Rockwell was at the protest offering free shoe shines. She then collected the rags she used with the signatures of her clients, as part of an art project.
Shoeshining artist Anna Marie Rockwell

While she shined the shoes of a reporter from TheStreet, she asked various questions, such as why he felt less comfortable having his shoes shined than having his hair cut.

"Is it because of my position in relation to you--that I'm crouching down with my head next to your foot, as opposed to standing above you?"

Rockwell said she was not necessarily for or against the protest. "But I feel like this is a good way to contribute in some way. I like the fact that it's a one-to-one interaction."

Rockwell previously worked on a project with her brother, who was sentenced to seven years in prison after being arrested on drug-related charges when he was 20 years old. He now plans to pursue a Ph.D. She says that while she felt the punishment was too severe, she has a difficult time deciding whether the experience was good for him or not. --Dan Freed


A Wall Street trader talked to a pizzeria owner in the area who says he's selling an unusual number of pizzas at night, and they're bought with "one guy's credit card. Some guy out of Europe. Same card every night for hundreds of dollars of pizza."


One instructor of a university finance class recognized several of his students from that Wall Street-focused class over at the protest. Apparently these youths are rather privileged, with one having a fancy Manhattan address. They see no disconnect between going to business school and protesting against business, says the teacher.


"A couple of months after moving from London, I saw on TV a bus on fire at my old bus stop during protests that were really riots. Last week, I read about the rector at St. Paul's Cathedral, down the street from where I used to work, declining police protection and speaking with the Occupy protesters. At least gives me some hope for the nature of protest." -- Kamal Khan, RealMoney deputy managing editor


John Levin had a sign protesting "Operation Twist"--an effort by the Federal Reserve to lower long term interest rates. Asked why he opposed Operation Twist, Levin said: "Personally? I'm shorting Treasuries, and I've been losing a lot of money." -- Dan Freed


Harry Braun, a candidate for president, appeared at Zuccotti Park to speak to anyone who would listen. Damage to the environment is a big theme.

"The Republican system of government has allowed corporations to poison the air, land and water with over 85,000 unregulated toxic chemicals that cause genetic disease, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and permanent brain damage that is characterized by the epidemic of autism in children (including those unborn) and Dementia in adults," reads one passage on his Web site. -- Dan Freed

Charlie Meyers, 20, of Little Rock, Ark., sits in a cage to protest t censorship and corporate greed at the Occupy Wall Street protests.


Adam, 32, is from Syracuse, N.Y. and his job is to wash Occupy Wall Streeters dirty dishes. It's simple: Adam sanitizes his hands, slaps on gloves, wipes down used food plates in dishwasher liquid, scrubs, wipes the plates again with bleach in warm water and rinses everything.

"Just like you would in any kind of restaurant; even though we're out here in the park, we're creating this kind of mini restaurant here," Adam says. "The whole point of it is not to make us look cool, but to make it something that will help everybody."

"I wanted to be part of something important because I've never been a part of something important, ever, in my life," Adam says. "Even though I'm just washing dishes right now -- it sounds sad -- but the truth is, it really is the most important thing I've ever done." -- Joe Deaux


David, 19, is from Long Island, N.Y., olling up soggy cardboard that has been drenched from heavy rainfall. The cardboard isn't a pile of leftover protest signs; David says protesters use this cardboard for comfort to rest on in their "camps."

"The way that we've kind of figured out what works best for comfort and to absorb moisture when it rains is to, for when we set up our camps, we lay down a tarp and then cardboard and then another tarp," David says.

David says it rained early in the morning and that he now has pounds and pounds of wet cardboard to remove, and it will mold if it sits around for too long. This seems like a major loss of cardboard, but David says there's an infinite supply of it dumped by stores around Zuccotti Park.

"You could walk down the street and get 20 boxes tied up together," David says. "We live in a consumer society, so, cardboard, plastic, glass ... there's tons of that stuff everywhere." -- Joe Deaux


Andrew, 20, is from southern New Jersey and is one of 12 permanent sanitation volunteers at Zuccotti Park. He says that the sanitation crew disposes of litter and changes out trash cans in the park. The trash, Andrew says, is taken out of the cans and lugged to one of the four corners of the square, where the city picks it up three times a day.

A scene from Zuccotti Park in New York.

"We're demonstrators trying to cut down on the amount of waste we're creating," Andrew says. "With the amount of press that we've gotten, some criticism by the media -- it's something that we've tried to step up on."

Andrew says the toughest part about sanitation is monitoring everyone's level of hygiene: "Trying to keep others in order, as well as yourself, sometimes is something you have to deal with, and consolidation of people's gear and trying to keep things as neat as possible." -- Joe Deaux


Elisa Miller, 38, is from New Orleans, and she has her hand in a few baskets. She helps demonstrators cope with their personal stresses, "facilitates" money for needed supplies and launders sleeping bags.

"A thousand sleeping bags, plus clothes -- it's a lot of freaking laundry," Elisa laughs. "We go rent a truck ... we get teams of 10 and then we go to the local laundry mats -- and some of it goes to an offsite service."

She also handles material needs.

"People get frustrated and they're like, 'I need tarps,' and there's no tarps, and it's like, 'OK, I'll go find a solution and let's get a team and go to Home Depot ( HD),'" Elisa says.

Protesters come from various backgrounds, and Elisa says that she assists those who have been isolated.

"A lot of people here have never really worked within a community... disenfranchised, segregated groups suffering from elitist systems. -- Joe Deaux

Katal is from Egypt and works at a falafel cart inside the square. Katal's cart is on the south-central tip of Zuccotti Park, which hasn't moved from the same spot in his four years being there. The occupiers are virtually invisible to him.

"Same spot, same business, same customers, same everything -- nothing has changed," Katal says. "Thank God everything is alright about the business."

He says that customer traffic depends on the weather: if the weather is good then business is good, if the weather is bad then he suffers. Today it is raining.

Katal says that he gets a little protester business, but not too much. -- Joe Deaux

Josh is in town from San Francisco doing business in New York, but says he came down to Zuccotti Park because he wanted to check out the "historic moment."

"My parents were both free-speech movement people out in Berkeley Calif. , and it sort of feels like one of the first things like that since then ," Josh says. "I've been to protests and occupations and that sort of thing ... I think it's an interesting new kind of social political movement."

"I wasn't trying to see any particular thing," Josh says. He says that there's a unique mix of mundane (like one guy who raved about an appearance by actor Alec Baldwin) and striking characteristics (like protesters gathering around to sing and chant) about this "long-term" occupation.

"But I think that's the way these things go, is they sort of ebb and flow," Josh says. -- Joe Deaux


What is the point of the Occupy Wall Street protest and similar demonstrations?

Inequality. The rich add zeroes to their bank accounts while others cope with debit card fees.
Jealousy. Class warfare and income redistribution. The protesters don't want to work, they just want a free ride.
Economy. It's tough to find a job out there, especially if you don't have one.
Politics. The right has its Tea Party and now the left has Occupy Wall Street.
Greed. Banks and other corporations crashed the global economy in 2008 and then dined at the taxpayer bailout trough.
Educational system. Many have massive student loan debt but no jobs to help pay that off.
All of the above.
This article was written by a staff member of TheStreet.