Are drummers beating heart of Occupy Wall Street?
New York City is in a precarious position. It is attempting to balance the first amendment rights of the protesters at Occupy Wall Street with the quality of life needs of the surrounding community.
In the ten years since September 11th, the Financial District, the Lower Manhattan neighborhood where the World Trade Center stood; has bore witness to non-stop construction. Resident, and community activist Pat Moore says that adding Occupy Wall Street to the mix is insult to injury.
“This is a neighborhood that has been through hell in the last ten years,” said Moore at a Community Board meeting held Tuesday evening. “On one side I’ve got the 9/11 Memorial and jack hammering. On the other end of the block, I’ve got Occupy Wall Street with drumming that goes on until all hours.”
Moore, who has lived in the community since 1977, has had a first hand view of the Financial District’s evolution from an after dark ghost town, to a 24/7 community.
According to a survey conducted by the Alliance for Downtown New York the population of the Financial District has more than doubled since 2001, from 22,961 to 56,354 in 2008.
When Moore, a sweater designer, moved into her building, located across the street from the World Trade Center site, she was in search of inexpensive housing. In the ensuing 30 plus years, she has lived through two terrorist attacks. She was at home when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993 and during the September 11th attacks. Pat and her late husband, artist Andy Jurinko, cleaned out most of the debris that blew into their apartment during 9/11 themselves.
In the six weeks since Occupy Wall Street protesters set up camp at Zuccotti Park, Moore, chair of the local community board’s Quality of Life committee has been forced to manage the competing interests of several constituencies. New York City’s Community Boards consist of residents and business owners who offer advisory opinions on issues that relate to the geographic areas that they represent.
Downtown residents have complained about Occupy Wall Street related quality of life issues, such as public urination and noise that emanates from the park. When it comes to noise complaints about the protest, Moore says that Occupy Wall Street’s drum circle tops the list for many residents. She says that she has gone to Zuccotti Park to try to appeal to the drummers on an interpersonal level.
“They [the drummers] only care about forwarding their own agenda, and it has nothing to do with the movement. It has to do with them being seen and heard. If you want to forward an agenda, you give and take,” said Moore during an interview in her living room.
At 10 p.m the noise from the World Trade Center site was still distractingly audible. According to Moore, it continues until 2:30 a.m and resumes at 6:00 a.m every morning.
The drum circle at Occupy Wall Street is known to protesters within Zuccotti Park as the Pulse committee. Many of the drummers are people of color. According to Goldi, an Occupy Wall Street community relation’s representative who declined to give a last name, drums are essential to the occupiers cause. “Without drummers we are screwed as a movement. They make marches powerful.”
Not all of the protesters within Zuccotti park agree that the drum circle is the so called ‘heart beat of the movement’. Making the drum circle a bone of contention both inside and outside of the park. Within the movement there is a sentiment that the surrounding community needs to be respected, for the sake of the longevity of the protest. Goldi further stated, “If we lose the community board’s support we may lose the park.”
Last week, the drummers requested $8,000 at an Occupy Wall Street General Assembly meeting in order to replace some of their instruments, which were damaged or stolen. The proposal was denied, creating a noticeable fissure between the drummers, their supporters and the rest of the protesters.
On Monday, when the drummers were asked to limit their playing time from 10 hours a day to four, which is more in line with the community board’s request some cried foul. “I think it’s unfair what they are asking of them. Ninety percent of the drummers are people of color. I know that there is a lot of racism going on right now within this camp,” said Nan, who identified herself as the treasurer for the drummers, and also declined to provide a last name. “We thought we were fighting a system together. Yet we find out that not only do we have to fight the system, but we have to fight against racism.”
John Eustor, 46, purported leader of the drummers, was also dissatisfied with the General Assembly’s ruling that the drummers should only play four hours per day. He disagreed that there were racial motivations to the request. “The thing about drumming for four hours alone is that you are limiting people from coming in and joining the circle. Being a part of the energy and being attached,” said Eustor.
Eustor thought the lack of appreciation for the drum circle had more to do with changing demographics within the park, rather than racial tension. “A lot of activists ended up leaving because it is not the type of activism that they were looking for.”
Pat Moore says that activism is in her blood, but in the years since she marched with NARAL for abortion rights and against the Vietnam War her approach has evolved. “You get to a certain point and you change your way of going about trying to effect change; which is why I’m a part of the community board.”
Moore attended nearly a dozen meetings on Occupy Wall Street in order to help prepare a ‘good neighbor’ resolution that was presented to the community board for a vote at Tuesday evening’s meeting. The resolution supported Occupy Wall Street’s First Amendment right to free assembly and included guidelines for the protestors like arranging for off-site restrooms.
The resolution passed without Moore’s support. “I really felt that as a representative, and the chair of the Quality of Life committee that the resolution did not go far enough for the interests of the community.”