In the early days of the Occupy Wall Street movement, we took our kids down to Zuccotti Park. No, we aren't crazy and no, we weren't offered any drugs or harassed by half-naked protesters.
Were there communists and socialists there? Yes. Were there anarchists? Yes. Were there advocates of a return to the gold standard, Ron Paul supporters, college students, and new age hippies present? Yes, yes, yes, and yep.
Were there people there who were disgusted with our government? Yes, indeed.
In fact, according to demographics cited on Wikipedia:
Early on the protesters were mostly young, partly because social networks through which they promoted the protests are primarily used by young people. As the protest grew, older protesters also became involved. The average age of the protesters was 33, with people in their 20s balanced by people in their 40s. Various religious faiths have been represented at the protest including Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Rabbi Chaim Gruber, however, is reportedly the only clergy member to have actually camped at Zuccotti Park. The Associated Press reported in October that there was "diversity of age, gender and race" at the protest. A study based on survey responses at OccupyWallSt.org reported that the protesters were 81.2% White, 6.8% Hispanic, 2.8% Asian, 1.6% Black, and 7.6% identifying as "other".
According to a survey of occupywallst.org website visitors by the Baruch College School of Public Affairs published on October 19, of 1,619 web respondents, one-third were older than 35, half were employed full-time, 13% were unemployed and 13% earned over $75,000. When given the option of identifying themselves as Democrat, Republican or Independent/Other 27.3% of the respondents called themselves Democrats, 2.4% called themselves Republicans, while the rest, 70%, called themselves independents. A survey of 301 respondents by a Fordham University political science professor identified the protester's political affiliations as 25% Democrat, 2% Republican, 11% Socialist, 11% Green Party, 0% Tea Party, and 12% "Other"; meanwhile, 39% of the respondents said they did not identify with any political party. Ideologically the Fordham survey found 80% self-identifying as slightly to extremely liberal, 15% as moderate, and 6% as slightly to extremely conservative.
A study released by City University of New York found that over a third of protestors had incomes over $100,000, 76 percent had bachelor's degrees, and 39 percent had graduate degrees. While a large percent of them were employed, they largely reported they were "unconstrained by highly demanding family or work commitments". The study also found that they disproportionally represented upper-class, highly educated white males. Said one of the authors of the study, Ruth Milkman, “It’s a pretty affluent demographic and highly educated. Many were the children of the elite, if you will.”
On a quiet Sunday afternoon on September 25, 2011, my family sat in on an OWS meeting in Zuccotti Park. The meeting was primarily an organizational one -- the "campers" were trying to figure out the best way to communicate with one another without bull horns or microphones. We participated in the "human mic" and learned a few hand signals. Interestingly, this video was taken the day we were there, but I don't think this was the same meeting we attended -- there were several throughout the day.
Take a look to see an example of a human microphone in action:
Of course, we would never do anything to put our children in danger, and a few weeks later Zuccotti Park would not be an appropriate place for a "field trip" but that day we became more aware of the diversity of the movement. This wasn't something that was often portrayed in the media. True, there were people there that I did not agree with, and some that perhaps I only agreed with in part, but the idea that only radical bums were inhabiting the park was patently false.
Two yeas after OWS we can't say that anything material was accomplished. It was an idealistic movement that never stood a chance. Many of us agree that the bank bailouts were ridiculous and inexcusable -- corporate welfare in the extreme -- but have little idea of what to do about it. At least the folks that camped out in parks across the country (and even worldwide) felt they were doing something to express their discontent. Perhaps it was ineffective, perhaps it did bring attention to the situation, but at the very least, several thousand people felt they were making their voices heard.
And not all protesters were socialists, or communists, or "extreme" liberals: