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September 27, 2011

Alan Chin at Occupy Wall Street: Nights at Camp Hashtag


An organizing meeting of activists to discuss the next day’s activities.

Late at night in Zucotti Park, also known as Liberty Plaza, across the street from the World Trade Center site, several hundred demonstrators remain camped out into their second week of the Occupy Wall Street protest. They are largely young, white, and many appear, at first glance, to fit a derogatory stereotype of “hipsters” or “hippies” or any hardhat epithet of choice. As such, they have been branded by The New York Times and other news outlets as being incoherent or worse.


A young woman fields phone calls in the “media cluster” of laptops constantly live-streaming video, Twitter, Facebook, and other feeds.

Certainly it’s easy to make fun of them this way: There are few totems of the old working and middle-class Left here, no visible labor unions, church groups, student organizations, or any of the other signs of a broad based movement that we saw as recently as last winter in Wisconsin. But what the mainstream media seems to have missed entirely is that neither coherence nor the traditional political calculus are the first priority here. Organs of record ignore the enormous elephant in the room — the Republican Party — driving this protest. It’s painfully obvious that the Obama administration fails to effectively address the Great Recession and the increasing divide of rich and poor, and that the consequent hijacking of the political system by the Tea Party is extreme and radical by historical standards.

Protesters rest and sleep on air mattresses, sleeping bags, and yoga mats.


Garbage cans are emptied out and the area swept with brooms by volunteer activists.

Many pundits have thus noted that the lack of greater protest is an interesting, if not surprising, aspect of our current moment. They would be well served by visiting the encampment in Lower Manhattan. The park is kept spotlessly clean, the disparate demonstrators field skeptical inquiries from hecklers and passerby with humor and patience, and their low numbers are steadily supplemented by people that join them for an hour or two at a time.


To the right is a video projection on a white sheet of a live Twitter feed covering the protest.

Neither explicit legislative targets nor negotiating points are the goal in Liberty Plaza. Rather, it is to give voice to the brooding discontent that so many Americans feel so inchoately, instead of allowing the far right to monopolize populism. Despite mass arrests reminiscent of the 2004 Republican National Convention, the sit-in has extended beyond the initial one-week plan to an indefinite protest. Each day and night that they remain is a testament to their resilience and creates a new fact on the literal ground of Wall Street. Their presence, however modest, proves that a few are willing to publicly dissent and stand up against conventional wisdom.

I photographed Tiananmen, and more recently Tahrir, and all the mass demonstrationss against the Iraq invasion, the Million Man March, the huge crowd for Obama’s inauguration, the disappointing John Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear, and this doesn’t merit comparison in scale to anything like that, even remotely. But it is a beginning, more than anyone else has managed to express. And for that, credit and respect must be awarded, disdain and contempt discarded. Time will tell if this will snowball, or if forlorn prophets cry in the wilderness alone.

–Alan Chin

PHOTOGRAPHS by ALAN CHIN / facingchange.org

These images and notes were made at Zucotti Park in Lower Manhattan, New York, September 27, 2011.

About the Photographer

Alan Chin

Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Alan Chin was born and raised in New York City’s Chinatown. Since 1996, he has worked in China, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and throughout the Middle East and Central Asia. In the US, Alan has explored the South, following the historic trail of the civil rights movement and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, covered multiple presidential campaigns, and the Occupy Wall Street movement. He is a contributing photographer to Newsweek/Daily Beast and The New York Times, a member of Facing Change: Documenting America (FCDA), and an editor at Newsmotion.org. You can see all Alan's posts for BagNews here.

  • Anonymous

    You always do such a great job of putting a human face to “news events,” Alan. Many thanks.

    Americans are seeing, not the “dream deferred” Langston Hughes wrote about so powerfully. They’re seeing that deferment multiplied by orders of magnitude via the “Tantalus” effect. They saw the dream. They were confident they could reach it. Many thought they had it within their grasp. And then they saw it yanked away and crushed. By whom? Complicated forces, manipulated at points by faceless puppet masters.

    However, regardless of how true it might be, there can be no sense of focus for resentment and action in such a phenomenon. It’s natural to want to blame someone. Who can identify the blameworthy person or group for you? For the Teabagger Republicans, Fox News, 24/7 hate talkers on AM radio, political demagogues, etc. identified their scapegoats of choice. Openly? Their choice fell on Democrats, liberals, immigrants, Muslims, etc. Through innuendo? Anyone of color. Anyone “different.”

    These young people in the photos had no Koch brothers, Fox News, CNN, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, etc. to fire them up and use them for their own purposes. They themselves had brains enough to recognize that, though there can be no single scapegoat or villain, a majority of what’s destroying the American dream is both symbolized by and embodied in Wall Street.

    They’re not yet a broad movement? In part that’s because they have no Fox News and major media me-too’s to promote them. They have no specific demands? That’s because they’re smart enough to know it isn’t that simple. Their message(s) are often close to inchoate? That’s because they have no puppet-masters feeding them daily talking points.

    I wish someone like Alan Grayson would stand with them to give them the recognition they deserve. There’s tremendous energy, resolve, and courage among them. I hope to goodness it doesn’t go for naught.

    • LanceThruster

      I heard Grayson on Stephanie Miller’s AM talk radio show this morning. For someone media detractors depict as a bully and a buffoon (he was accused of saying things that make the GOP cry, and for resorting to “gimmicks” to get his points across), he was very informed, measured, and compelling. No wonder the need by the right to marginalize him. He sounded a lot like Dennis Kucinich did on NPR the day before.

      A few tea-tards in tri-cornered hats and funny costumes get round the clock coverage, but have masses protest a war, or a stolen election, or 9/11 truth, or Wall Street fraud…and the media couldn’t care less; just an isolated bunch of nutters.

      Opinion and rhetoric are presented as fact, and outlets whose ratings depend on lies regularly resort to “zombie facts” as they bring discredited assertions back from the dead time and again.

      A more civilized society would be heating the tar and plucking the feathers already.

    • LanceThruster

      I heard Grayson on Stephanie Miller’s AM talk radio show this morning. For someone media detractors depict as a bully and a buffoon (he was accused of saying things that make the GOP cry, and for resorting to “gimmicks” to get his points across), he was very informed, measured, and compelling. No wonder the need by the right to marginalize him. He sounded a lot like Dennis Kucinich did on NPR the day before.

      A few tea-tards in tri-cornered hats and funny costumes get round the clock coverage, but have masses protest a war, or a stolen election, or 9/11 truth, or Wall Street fraud…and the media couldn’t care less; just an isolated bunch of nutters.

      Opinion and rhetoric are presented as fact, and outlets whose ratings depend on lies regularly resort to “zombie facts” as they bring discredited assertions back from the dead time and again.

      A more civilized society would be heating the tar and plucking the feathers already.

  • LanceThruster

    These protesters are my heroes. This is undeniably the “personhood” that corporations actually lack.

  • Anonymous

    I see non-dischargeble student loans in each and every one of these faces. And misdemeanor pot busts. And the frustration of standing by watching rising waters lift only those with boats. 

  • Susan Hall

    Glad you are covering it.  I went down to Liberty Park on Wednesday and Saturday this past week.  I’m following OccupyWallStreet on Facebook and their forum.  This is different than the massive anti war protests.  Not exactly sure why.  Perhaps it’s the general assembly and pouring out of support worldwide. I’m rooting for them.

  • http://ralfast.wordpress.com/ Ralfast

    I find the beards in the first photo interesting. I seen them before in college campuses. A sign that says, “Look at me, I’m a grown up.” Which in this case marks the only grownups “in the room.”

  • http://profiles.google.com/robshookphoto Rob Shook

    Well done Alan. I wish that those ignoring protestors because they are “just a bunch of kids looking for trouble” would read this. 

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  • http://twitter.com/DREGstudios Brandt Hardin

    The movement is gaining momentum after a week and a half and
    Occupy movements are popping up all over the country!  Stand up together and use your voice to give
    to those without.  Tax the rich and feed
    the poor- you are the 99%!  See my Occupy
    Wall Street painting and Anonymous homage on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/09/occupywallstreet.html
    where you can also see videos of the protests and police brutality as well as
    get other sources for real coverage of the movement.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/william.gerardino William Gerardino

    A decade ago I predicted this reaction. Republicans I knew laughed and waved my comment off. Well it’s here old friends and just watch the action. Ohio is next my conservative friends to quote our Governor Kasich, “get on the bus or get out of the way…we’ll run over you!

  • Dharmasprings

    Thanks Alan.  It’s wonderful to see the humanized face of OWS, and the reality behind the mainstream media BS.  Great work and much appreciated.

  • xxxMuff25xxx

    LOL…..most of your idiotic supporters on here are going to be crying rivers in November next year.  Most of America has grown tired of leftwing, socialistic degenerates forcing their agendas on mainstream America.  I laugh at the idiots in this article, and I send a special sneer at any of you who label them as “my heroes”….LMAO!  Bunch of idiots!

    • Alan Chin

      Very, very easy to mock, as I write. But most of America has also grown tired of the richest getting richer while everybody else gets poorer, and by everybody else that includes the middle and even “upper-middle” class. We’ve had plenty of thunder from the right as to what’s wrong. Fair enough. Up until now there’s been little activist response from what’s left of the left — but here it is, take it seriously just as liberals have been forced to take the Tea Party seriously. Sneering is fun. It makes us feel smart and wise, but it doesn’t get us any closer to solutions, any more than the potential failures that you laugh at. We are ALL “mainstream” America, in the end.

    • Progressive Mom

      By focusing on your small political meme, you’ve missed the larger point of OWS:  both parties are responsible for the outrageous erosion of the middle class, which began under Clinton (whom you — predictably — probably thought had a “leftwing, socialist” agenda and was a “degenerate”).

      Too many of us are watching our children walk away from college with $40,000 or more of  debt and no jobs, while our real incomes haven’t increased in the past 10 years.  Too many of us are shouldering enormous medical costs while trying to pay the mortgage on a home that’s worth less every quarter.

      This isn’t an issue that is going to be solved by sniveling politicians of either stripe.  They are either in bed with the problem or are the problem themselves. 

      Perhaps you are old enough to remember:  And these children that you spit on as they try to change their world are immune to your consultations.  They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_PK3HLRK7GDGOB2LAKW5S6NACKY Joe M

    Protesting big corps as you tweet and talk on Apple I-phones?  Losers.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with your point, though I can’t agree that tarring and feathering are expressions of civilized society. :-)

    Have you read Hawthorne’s Major Molineux? Apart from Scarlet Letter, I don’t suppose anyone reads Hawthorne these days. More’s the pity.

  • LanceThruster

    The tradition of “tar and feathers” was in essence, a bloodless lynching. It was meant to publicly shame the target of such humiliation. You’ve heard the phrase “hanging’s to good for them!”? I think tar and feathers is a bit lenient. I’d opt for them being put in stocks and pelted with garbage.

    I feel a little righteous indignation is not wholly inappropriate in this regard.

    They’ve done more to damage the people of this nation (if not the rest of the world as well) than all the street criminals combined.

  • LanceThruster

    The tradition of “tar and feathers” was in essence, a bloodless lynching. It was meant to publicly shame the target of such humiliation. You’ve heard the phrase “hanging’s to good for them!”? I think tar and feathers is a bit lenient. I’d opt for them being put in stocks and pelted with garbage.

    I feel a little righteous indignation is not wholly inappropriate in this regard.

    They’ve done more to damage the people of this nation (if not the rest of the world as well) than all the street criminals combined.

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