The Occupy Wall Street protest has been variously characterized by multiple media outlets as dirty, depraved, naïve, anti-Semitic, elitist, monolithically white, and comprised solely of drum circle-loving hippies from Bennington. It is none of those things, and so much more. (Photos by Cody Swanson)
“Outlaw Bobby Steele,” he calls himself, “the rebel of Wall Street.” He lives in Canarsie and had been making his way to demonstrate in Zuccotti for 16 days when we spoke. Sixty-four-year-old Steele worked on Wall Street for 35 years, but when the company he worked for was bought by ING, he found himself out of a job. “I’ve seen the amount of greed that goes on,” he said. “I’ve seen how they manipulate the credit score and get you to pay more interest. I’ve seen how they step on people and there’s no accountability.”
It might be some time from now, but Steele believes OWS has the power to push forth reforms, and would like to see some securing healthcare, jobs and social security. His look and his demeanor might be a reaction to the stuffy culture of office work: He believes people pass judgments based on tattoos, and presuppose criminality when they see them—hence, his moniker. “I always thought when I retired I’d get one or two tattoos on my face,” he said. “When I realized I wasn’t going back to Wall Street anymore, I decided to go all the way.”
Born and raised in Bay Ridge, and a baker by trade, Courtney’s been out of work for a year now—and he’s homeless. He’d been staying in Zuccotti Park for 15 days when we caught up to him.
“I’m down here because my dad actually worked on Wall Street,” Courtney said. His father was a broker for over 40 years but lost his last two clients in 2010. Since then, his family has been living paycheck to paycheck. “We had to keep up with the Joneses my whole life,” he said (he once attended private school). “Now I’m homeless as a result of it. We have no money, nothing in the bank, all the assets are gone.” “I’ve had people telling me, ‘You’re homeless, get the fuck out. This is about protestors and you’re panhandling’,” Courtney said. He sees a lot of people who are “trying to be sympathetic, but they can’t be empathetic,” because they might never have had to endure really serious financial struggles.
As far as the winter coming: “It’s going to be cold,” Courtney said, “but I think there’s enough money that people are going to troop it out. The diehards are going to be taken care of.”
High School student
“I would come here every day if I could,” said Sage Meade, who spoke to us during her second visit to Zuccotti. She made the distinction of being a visitor, not a demonstrator, but she supports the OWS movement and said, “I’m trying to come here more.” The protest is the subject of much discussion at her school, and many there support the movement; friends of hers have been eager to hear what it was like down on Wall Street.