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VOICES

Zuccotti Park Calmer After Reports of Security Issues Addressed

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“There is a generally calmer demeanor in people who are there all day, every day, working their asses off,” Occupier Haywood said.

CREDIT: Flickr / mat mcdermott

The media— including Campus Progress—has made much recently of internal security issues at Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street is based: sexual assaults, drug use, and police possibly sending troublemakers into the park, as well as police making life difficult for protestors from the outside.

Since those initial reports, the mood at the park has changed notably.

Those living there last week, including me, noticed an overall positive shift in the occupation’s atmosphere. It seemed that as media reports became more frenzied, the camp turned calmer and more centered.

Some of it was probably due to the warmer weather. After a weekend of brutally cold temperatures, the occupiers certainly seemed ready to relax and celebrate on Halloween.

But much of the calming was, in fact, the direct result of frenzied activity—the kind of calm that comes from hard work and from taking control of a situation.

After the New York Daily News and other media outlets reported on the camp’s internal security issues, occupiers “freaked out” a little, said Christine Crowther, who volunteers with the community watch. Problems that most occupiers had known about and been working to deal with took on extra urgency.

And with that extra urgency came extra action.

Occupiers held emergency security meetings, anti-rape rallies, and more community watch trainings. They started—or bolstered—working groups supporting women and safe sleeping spaces, and they drafted procedures for dealing with sexual violence.

Perhaps most importantly, occupiers began to talk about the issues, more repeatedly and openly than in the past, which created an atmosphere of vigilance and of positive action.

And now?

“There have been fewer incidents and more community buy-in with the security process,” Crowther said, noting that, in her observation, the number of violent confrontations and open-air drug deals had gone down significantly.

“It’s a smoothing-out process that happens here,” said Haywood, a security volunteer who only goes by one name. After something problematic happens, “more people get involved and pay attention to it, and it gets better.”

Haywood also agreed that Zuccotti Park felt more peaceful—in line with the movement’s goals—over the past week.

“There is a generally calmer demeanor in people who are there all day, every day, working their asses off,” he said. “It’s the difference between just stressed and burned out.”

Occupiers are also giving the police credit where it’s due.

After an anti-Occupy Wall Street protester physically attacked someone and tried to run into the camp before being stopped by police, an occupier used the human microphone to praise the police for responding “with appropriate force.”

Women’s support groups at the site are encouraging assault victims to go to the police in order to keep known predators from returning to the camp.

And a march last Wednesday evening in solidarity with Occupy Oakland’s general strike went off without incident—a marked contrast to a march one week earlier protesting Oakland police violence, which ended in numerous arrests for the New York occupiers. An organizer promised protesters that the march would stay on the sidewalk so no one would risk arrest—and that promise was kept.

Later that night, occupiers danced for hours at a “silent disco,” using special wireless headphones that played the same music simultaneously.

Like the movement itself, the silent dancing may have looked a little silly to outside observers—but it brought together those who were listening.

Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.

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