Accountability: Occupy Wall St. Cleans Out 'Problem' Areas to Confront Safety Concerns

Representatives from multiple working groups, including Sanitation, Medical, Mediation, Community, and Security, are leading sweeps through Liberty Plaza to clean up before the rain.  Equipped with brooms and wearing sanitation gloves, they ask fellow occupiers to help clean their tents and even enter some camp sites themselves. The request to enter and clean out tents is met with harsh resistance by some, and arguments have been breaking out and slowing down the process.

As the leaders of the initiative made clear in a meeting before the clean-up, the issue here goes far beyond cleanliness.  Safety is also a driving force. There have been instances of assaut - and even rape - in the park late at night.  Amid allegations of hard drug use, many occupiers are concerned that people with substance dependency problems and other mental issues may proliferate a dangerous environment.  In their words, they don't care about the movement, but the camp-out, the food, the cigarrettes. For some of the organizers' targets, they may be right.

The clean-outs began in problem areas, including tents where violence had erupted and around the "Nic at Night" cigarette station that has attracted late-night drifters eager for free tobacco. During the cleanings, sanitation removed buckets and bottles of urine.  Aiming for transparency, they held up the "bio-hazards" and used the human microphone to explain to bystanders what was happening.  They are also on the lookout for illegal drugs and weapons, like knives. While they know they will not (and do not necessarily want to)  find and confiscate all contraband, they hope that the clean-up sends a message to people and encourages them to respect the space as the mecca of a global movement. Perhaps more urgently, they hope it will deter some of the characters they have identified as problems from returning. 

While the initiative is aimed to better living standards in the park, it also sends a strong message to observers.  The vast majority of Liberty Plaza's inhabitants treat the space with the utmost respect, and they hold themselves accountable for problems that arise. If they clean up themselves, Brookfield has no reason to evict them. 

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at October 26, 2011, 9:58am

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