Occupy Wall Street Protesters Don't Quit Their Day Jobs

Occupy Wall Street rallyThey have the noble goal of making a better world, and they're still paying the bills in the interim.

When the Canadian anti-consumerist group Adbusters put out a call for the Occupy Wall Street resistance movement to commence in New York on Sept. 17, it seemed to be the launch of yet another anti-establishment movement destined to remain on the fringe. Rallies across the country on May 12 aligned with many of the same causes being voiced at the Occupy Wall Street rallies -- an end to tax loopholes, a boost for the unemployed and relief for toxic mortgages. Thousands showed from New York to Moscow, and nary a dent was made in newspaper front pages and on major television news broadcasts.

The Occupy Together movement has been of a different order. The model of single-day activism has been cast aside, as protesters have made open-ended commitments to occupy urban spaces indefinitely in the name of increased democratic participation, among other disparate demands. The protesters represent professions as varied as doctors, lawyers and accountants. But the core of 5,000 full-time participants are more of the freelance variety, and are only able to fully commit to the movement because of freedom in their day-to-day schedule, according to numbers provided by the central organizing committees and more than 30 interviews with AOL Jobs.

"If you're going to be out there every day, you're not going to be someone who's got a 9 to 5 schedule," says Mark Bray, a 26-year-old member of the public and press relations committee, in an interview with AOL Jobs. Bray, who is studying 19th century European social movements in his third year at Rutgers University as a Ph.D. candidate in history, says he heard about the protests through social media websites including Facebook over the summer.

He says that the timing of the protests with the beginning of school year has actually made his commitment possible. He schedules his reading load around his attendance at the rallies in Lower Manhattan. And so he has been able to work around-the-clock on the protests since the first day, on Sept. 17.

He is one of a few hundred who are working on the central planning committees, of which there are roughly 12. In addition to the press committee, there are also ones devoted to food and the protest library.

These committees, which have attracted the support of many new to political organizing, are also counting on the support of protesters who prioritize activism over professional obligations. Indeed, many of the protesters point to the national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent as a motivation for their commitment. But they also say that their unemployment enables them to take part. After working for 10 years helping sell books for Avery Publishing on topics related to holistic health, 48-year Richard Degen was laid off during the Great Recession. He now lives off disability in a low-rent building on Pitt Street in Manhattan.

"Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to do this," he says. "But I am out here because I want the young people to realize revolution and freedom is not just a march but a struggle."

As an educational professional in training, Bray, of Rutgers and the press committee, also hopes the protests result in a teachable moment for the country. Given the large scale inequality of the country, citizens need to change their relationship with politicians and economics and not just wait and hope for help from politicians, he says. In rallying for a transformational change in American political participation, he doesn't see the demands of the full-time working world getting in the way of the movement.

"The fact that people are camping out and living there is really the symbolic part of it," he says. "What's important is that we can get people out to big events along the way and encourage people to generally become more participatory. We're not asking everyone to sleep in the park."

He points to the weekend occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge, during which 700 people were arrested on Oct. 1, as an example to get the wider audience involved in the movement. Indeed, the strategy seems to be working. The Occupy movement has formally spread to 148 cities at last count, according to the organizing committees, and meetups are planned for a total of 851 cities, according to the central planning website, OccupyTogether.org. Even President Obama has acknowledged the protests, saying at a Thursday press conference that they express "the frustrations that the American people feel" about the economic climate he says he hopes to reform.

"It's just shocking to leave at night, come back in the morning, and already see more people out there," says Tyler Combelic, a 27-year-old also affiliated with the press committee, during an interview with AOL Jobs. Combelic's only experience in political activism before the Occupy Wall Street movement was as a campaign worker in Gen. Wesley Clark's 2004 run for the presidency. He now works as a Brooklyn-based freelance web designer, and says that he has turned his schedule upside down to take part in the protests. He shows up in Zuccotti Park, the heart of the protests, at roughly 10 a.m. and stays until 8 in the evening. Then he goes home to work through the night.

"This is not going to be a schedule that can continue nonstop," he says. "Thankfully, we've finally grown to a size where we can accommodate commitments of a few weeks at a time. People can take breaks and the movement can keep on chugging."

Next: Kindergarten Teacher Hangs Herself In Front Of Class

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The following is what I hope these demonstrations accomplish:

1) The regulations on the financial industry are reinstituted to pre-Regan levels. (This is what the financial industry fears the most!)
2) All financial industry lobbyist are abolished. On second thought… all lobbyist should be abolished. Special interest… we the people should be the one and only special interest!
3) Charge and prosecute the individuals responsible for creating the sub-prime scam. Note: watch the movie Inside Job and you will know which people need to go to jail for this atrocity.
4) Obama is not re-elected! He assigned the majority of the key players mentioned on line three as his cabinet members. Yes we can (continue to make the 1% richer).

October 13 2011 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Each year, approximately 1.3 million student fail to graduate from high school. The world is changing and the types of jobs that Americans will find are not suited for the drop outs. In 10 years with the current drop out rate, that 13million amount will be as large as the unemployed we had in Sept 2011.

October 13 2011 at 1:14 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

On the same HP page with this headline is an article about the large number of well paying manufacturing jobs that can not be filled. The big lie spread out there is that there are no jobs. Of course if you major in 19th. Century European social movements your chances of being employed are slim so of course you will be out there protesting. Years ago even college grads were willing to change their career goals based on where the jobs were. Too many today are not willing to do this because they feel that they are entitled to the jobs that they want. It is easy for the protesters to criticize business for leaving America, but those same protesters are not willing to work for those companies if they stay!

October 13 2011 at 12:26 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They must be into real estate, hanging out so long.......I must go now to WORK!

October 10 2011 at 2:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

When the Canadian anti-consumerist group Adbusters put out a call for the Occupy Wall Street resistance movement to commence in New York

October 10 2011 at 7:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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