Two years on, the movement is little more than a Twitter account and a few true believers. So it’s easy to forget that there was a time when Occupy was the biggest story in New York City. There was a time when you would hear drums the moment you got off the train at Fulton Street, before the park was overrun by rougher elements and was too crowded to even walk through and there were new photos of miscreant occupiers in the tabloids every day.
I used to sneak out of the Village Voice office as often as I could to go hang out and talk to sources in the park, and when I couldn’t get there during the day I would go at night. I would marvel at the little city within a city — if you needed food, there was food; there were free clothes; a surprisingly sophisticated media tent; even a library. You’d see all these people taking on jobs pro bono — one of my best sources was a member of the Sanitation team, and I would chat him up while he ran around the park with a broom and dusting pan.
The bloom eventually came off the rose, and there are two examples that pretty neatly sum up what went wrong. One: the Radiohead hoax, when the occupiers were tricked into thinking that the band was going to perform in their camp in early October. It turned out to be a cruel joke and you couldn’t exactly blame them, but it was embarrassing nonetheless and spoke to their naiveté just as they were being hailed as the most forward-looking social movement in the country.
The other happened the week before the Zuccotti eviction at a Spokes Council meeting, the format Occupy adopted after the General Assembly devolved into an unmitigated mess, and that quickly became every bit as messy itself. Attending one held at Murray Bergtraum high school, members of the media were instructed to identify ourselves and our outlets while the organizers took a “temperature check” to gauge which news outlets were approved or disapproved. My face felt hot as a high school gymnasium full of people greeted my announcement that I was from the Voice with silence and a few fluttering fingers to indicate ambivalence or mild approval.