A Day in the Life of Occupy Syracuse

From the November-December 2011 PNL #809

Amelia Ramsey-Lefevre and Ben Kuebrich


2:07 pm: It’s Saturday, October 29, the 27th day of the Occupation in Syracuse. On Salina St. the Education and Empowerment Committee holds a teach-in on public narrative. Twenty activists attend the workshop ahead of a day of local outreach, fine-tuning personal stories of why they came to the movement. Johanna Berlin speaks of losing her job at a halfway house in the beginning of October. A young woman named Paige talks about being college educated but still struggling to find a job. Doc, who retired seven years ago from his job at a Fayetteville-Manlius school, says that he compiled a list years back about the problems in this country. When the occupation came to Syracuse, he says, “It was like a knock on my head: maybe I should be doing something!” He has been writing three phrases for inspiration each night. His current favorite—“Be the change.”


5:45 pm: We’re sitting at the information desk with Kensei Koji, a Buddhist who does a weekly meditation workshop at Occupy Syracuse, and Chris, a senior at SU visiting the movement for the first time today. Beside us a man strums on the guitar and sings while a group of about ten provide percussion, sway, and sing along. On the street, a car honks and Jessica, an 18-year old OCC student, lets out a “Woot!” in response. She comes out to Occupy Syracuse with Debra Keirsey, her mother. They hold signs like “Honk If You Miss Democracy.” Debra, also a full-time student, says that she’s “never been a protester type” but that this is the “first time there was a vehicle to make [her] voice heard.” For her, the issue is getting the money out of politics, starting with reversing the Citizens United Supreme Court Decision. Back at the table, Chris says his first impression of Occupy Syracuse is that the people are “much more educated and much more unified than you would think if you read newspapers about it.”


6:14 pm: Scott McGroty (aka Scoot), a 36 year old Oswegan who works in concert production, says he doesn’t generally get involved in politics because politicians and organizations so rarely represent his complete values. A registered voter, Scoot says no candidate he has voted for has won office because although “they have Americans’ views covered the best, they don’t have the propaganda machine to stop the opposing views. The Occupation is about bringing the people’s voice back. We have an amazing chance of changing the world as long as we keep focused, don’t let people dissect us, and keep it nonviolent.”


8:22 pm: A group heads off to use the bathroom a few blocks away at Empire News. Ryan O’Hara, who was among the first to join the occupation in Syracuse, describes the search for a friendly shop with a toilet. “I went in and started giving my spiel,” he says, “and the man just cut me off and said: Yes.” Alex, the owner, is from Egypt and had been involved in political movements there. His brother Joe is at the store tonight and says the occupation here reminds him of being in Egypt.


8:47 pm: We sit at the information table with Andy Dellicolli who has spent 26 days and 25 nights at the Occupation site. We are joined by Melanie and her husband Michael who were recently in New York City because Verizon workers, including Michael, were on strike. Asked about Verizon, Melanie says, “It’s a perfect example of corporate greed when a company makes nine billion dollars and gets almost a million from the government, doesn’t have to pay it back, and they want to cut pensions, they want to cut healthcare, they want to cut pay, and they want to outsource jobs.”


9:31 pm: Surveying the demographics of those present, we see 21 occupiers, aged 10-65, including veterans, small business owners, students, college graduates, union members, people dependent on public assistance, workers of all types, and one Norwegian Husky.


11:36 pm: We head out as a smaller jam session starts up. It’s 29 degrees, and there are still at least a dozen people at the camp. The commitment of the group is impressive. We can’t help but feel that even if the occupation ends tomorrow, something has already been won. People are learning that they aren’t alone in their perception of systemic problems, and they are creating a space to have conversation about those problems. It’s organic education in a day of lifeless schooling; solidarity in an age of radical self-interest; a close bond with humanity in a time of digitized intimacy; a sense of possibility to combat cross-generational apathy. To come down here means you’re claiming the right to an alternative from the drudgery and alienation of the current system.

Join us.


Ben is a graduate student in the Composition and Cultural Rhetoric program at SU and works on the Education and Empowerment Committee at Occupy Syracuse. Amelia is a peaceworker in Syracuse and a part-time occupier.