A college student’s first protest takes him directly into the big leagues

By Connor Miller

The Occupy Wall Street movement and subsequent protests that are continuing across the United States have drawn world-wide attention. Our correspondent, a college freshman, participates in the first demonstration of his life. Here is his point-of-view of Occupy Wall Street.

Before I went to Occupy Wall Street, I did some research to see what I was protesting. I went to Occupywallst.org which told me the time and location of the occupation, but not much more. “The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%,” claimed the site. I felt like I could buy into this cause, so I got a couple of people from my college dorm just outside New York City to come with me to Manhattan in the tradition of  protesting college students. We were going to go down in history, just like the kids from the UC Berkeley Free Speech Movement, the Paris spring of 1968, and Tiananmen Square. Hopefully not just like Tiananmen Square.


I was a little apprehensive about going at first. A couple weeks ago, two girls from my school were sprayed in the face with mace. Someone caught it on video and put it on the unofficial Sarah Lawrence blog. I watched it several times to try and gauge how painful it would be to have mace in your eyes. 

“Soak a cloth handkerchief in vinegar and keep it in a plastic baggie. That’ll help with tear gas,” said a friend. “And with the cops, it’s just ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.’ Unless it’s a woman. And if you want to yell at them, go ahead, but don’t be surprised if they conk you on the head with a club.”

On the subway from campus to downtown New York City, my friends were really excited about the protest. “Where do we get off? My phone says to get off at Fulton Street, but wouldn’t it make more sense to get off at Wall Street? What’s it going to be like? There’s supposed to be a poetry reading at nine. That should be cool. So how do we exactly ‘occupy’ Wall Street? Do we just stand there?”

A man looked up from his iPad when he heard “occupy Wall Street” and gave us a dirty look. He was probably part of the 1%.       

We got off at Fulton and saw a huge crowd of people with picket signs coming towards us. They were chanting and playing drums. “Is this it?” my friends asked. The crowd overtook us. “ALL DAY, ALL WEEK, LET’S OCCUPY WALL STREET!”

“I think this is it.” I said.

We slipped into the march and started walking with everyone else. People were yelling and blowing whistles and clapping. Most people had signs protesting their own cause. There were signs for Haiti Relief, for job creation, and for “fighting the system.” My friends joined in on the chanting “ALL DAY, ALL WEEK.” I did not. I didn’t have any cause to fight for, and I thought it would strange yelling for no reason. Also, I did not want to draw attention to myself, just in case the cops decided to start clubbing people.         

The cops were in the street, some standing, some following on motorcycles, others in cars. Strangely, they looked like they were not even aware of what was happening in front of them. It was like they cared so little about the protest that they didn’t even see it anymore. They told jokes to one another, laughed and stood around pleasantly. They didn’t look angry or disapproving. It was like they were all on break. I was no longer afraid of being pepper sprayed in the face. To the cops, I wasn’t worth it.

The march ended at Liberty Square. The park was crowded with people and tables and mattresses. It was dark so it was hard to tell exactly how many people there were but you were always bumping into someone with a beard. There was a table with large plastic containers of free clothing, a food station serving pizza and vegetables, and boxes labeled “compost” everywhere. The whole area was set up like a city, with grids of living spaces where people slept, smoked, and played guitars.

My favorite person I encountered was a small, greasy-haired man who was handing out yellow pamphlets and talking to anyone who would listen: “We live in the matrix! And the matrix is comfortable because they give you your food, your driver’s license, and your home, which is why no one wants to break free!  But we need to break free! As Americans!”         

We heard drums, so we walked to the other end of the park to a drum circle. There were tambourines, conga drums, and tom-toms. A woman with pink hair and pierced lips started the beat and everyone else joined in. A tall lanky white guy danced enthusiastically in the center of the circle . Other people rocked back and forth, smiling and clapping. A black man with his hair wrapped in a cloth stood next to me and started vocalizing. Someone with a trumpet started playing “America the Beautiful” and some people sang along. The drums got louder and faster. More people danced. Someone had a light-up hula-hoop that they fist-pumped with. It was like a giant dance party.

“STOP STOP STOP! HEY!” Everyone went quiet. I looked over the crowd expecting to see a cop, but it was a random white guy, young, with a knitted hat and a shallow beard. He didn’t have a megaphone, so everyone in the circle repeated what he said so that he could be heard.           

            “There is someone with a broken drumstick.”

            There is someone with a broken drumstick.” Chanted the group.

            “Who is going around poking people.”

            Who is going around poking people.”

            “And it really hurts.”

            And it really hurts.

It felt like we were saying a prayer.           

            “If you’re the one doing it,”

            If you’re the one doing it,”

            “Stop. You’re being an asshole.”

            Stop. You’re being an asshole.

Light applause. The woman with the pink hair clicked her sticks together, and the beat started again.          

We left early because we weren’t exactly sure when and where the poetry reading was going to take place, and I’m sure that if we asked anyone they wouldn’t have known either. The whole protest was really disorganized. As one of my friends put it, “it’s just a bunch of people hoping for a ‘60s revival.”


 Everyone seemed to be protesting something different. Some people were protesting about the recession, others were protesting about war, and I saw a sign that didn’t seem to protest anything; it simply said: “XO”.

On Occupywallst.org, the vague mission as stated is to “raise awareness,” and I think everyone is succeeding. Anyone who has something to say now has a chance to say it in this collection of opinions in Liberty Square. For me, the point of the protest is to give people a chance to express their discontent with anything that is bothering them. It’s an outlet for people who are pissed off and want change.           

I left the protest unenlightened, but I was pleased to have been a part of something bigger than myself. If it is still going on a week from now, I’ll make a sign and protest for my own cause: lower college tuition.

Until then, I have work to do. I’m a little occupied.

Connor Miller’s column will be appearing regularly on AltPressOnline. Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a career in writing.