Tarps, Not Spirits, Sag as Storm Soaks Liberty Square
"It’s 100 percent tougher,” was how Sean Dolan put it to me as the rain poured down on the Occupy Wall Street kitchen, which was now a collection of blue tarps lashed together every which way.
Perhaps no single element of the new society forming in what used to be called Zuccotti Park is more emblematic of the Occupy Wall Street movement or its vision. No matter who you are, on any given day, whether sunny and balmy or a torrential rain and wind storm like today, the Liberty Square kitchen offers up free, nutritious food, no questions asked. Often the aromatic scent of curry or various homemade stews wafts from the station in the center of the park. On this soggy day, it was decidedly simpler fare. Peanut butter and jelly on rice cake sandwiches and a dried fruit salad of strawberries and bananas, anchored the afternoon’s offerings.
“It started last night. We had to consolidate everything. So it makes it very hard, because everything’s been moved around. Of course, the main problem is the rain and the wind,” Dolan told me at the back of the food station, as he took a break from racing around the kitchen.
Out front, the line was long and unrelenting as a parade of protesters wearing ponchos, silver foil emergency blankets and rain gear of varying levels of effectiveness, sought to grab a meal in the midst of the storm.
“It’s been like this all day,” Dolan said. “Maybe we get a lull for two minutes and then we get hit again.”
Just then, a ferocious wind whipped through the park, setting off a chain reaction of whoops and hollers from the soggy activists who have made the block-long, half-acre site their new home. Dolan leapt into action, grabbing one of the poles to which the blue plastic walls and ceiling were lashed, bracing the fragile kitchen against the blustery blast.
Out front, the kitchen crew and helpful patrons alike were keeping the station from collapsing. Faith, a raven-haired young woman with a tattooed arm, a clear poncho and a knack for knots, grabbed some twine and began tying new lines to anything remotely stationary: a tree, a flagpole flying a black banner with red lettering reading “FOOD,” and a nearby garbage receptacle.
“You definitely have to have a fast reaction time,” Faith told me while pulling a guyline taut as the wind and rain buffeted the kitchen. “We still have to continue feeding the people. But today, I’m the tie-er-downer.” And tie-down she did, again and again, as older knots worked loose and strings snapped in the angry winds.
Now in its second month, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been tested by the police, the mayor and the mainstream media, which went from ignoring it to subjecting it to a bright glare of coverage, and it has thus far prevailed. Now it's facing its toughest test yet, a harbinger of worse weather to come as a northeastern winter approaches.
That was the thought that was on the mind of one tall, middle-aged man with white hair, a suit and tie and an expensive-looking black coat, who was making his way through the park. “Wait until the cold weather. It will be tough to stay here in the winter,” he said to no one in particular as he strode past. Later, I caught the end of his conversation with some rain-soaked cops, which suggested he had a one-track mind when it came to the occupation. As he walked off, one of the police called out to him, “Maybe a snow storm will come soon.”
He wasn’t the only apparent Wall Streeter present in the park on this miserable day. “They’re even giving food out to the Wall Street capitalists,” another man in a suit called out to a cop as he emerged from the park, wiping his mouth. “I got my revenge on them,” he cackled with unsuppressed glee, never, it seems, imagining that food-for-all -- even Wall Street capitalists -- might be the point and that revenge, if there was any, wasn’t actually his.
All the while, the thoroughly soaked kitchen crew continued reinforcing their battered blue plastic hut, washing bowls and dishes in the back, tying down wayward plastic sheets in the front and keeping the line moving and food available.
“Today is not an ordinary day. We’re just trying to hold on. We’re just trying to keep this ship from sinking,” Dolan said. And together they did. Despite the downpour, the women and men of Occupy Wall Street were fed and the kitchen remained afloat.