Back in October, like most other freshmen living on College Street, I considered Occupy New Haven a loud and obnoxious obstruction to our attempts to study and sleep. Regardless of whether we aligned with their cause or not, we could agree on one thing: Vuvuzelas and 3 a.m. drum circles were unnecessary.
To a certain extent, the occupiers’ celebration was understandable. They were — and still are — infatuated with the idea of change. Fired up with the fervor of a political upheaval, they expressed their excitement in song, dance and chants. However, once they got a hold of a projector and loudspeakers and began to play documentaries, the news and the Smurfs movie until the wee hours of the morning, their lifestyle started to enter the realm of disturbance of the peace.
It was with this mindset that I decided to go pay a visit to the New Haven Green and see what life as an Occupier was like.
Entering the camp is an adventure in itself; there is no clear entrance and no clear layout to the camp. I formed my own route and went straight up to one occupier by the name of Gregory Walker. Greg is 24 and wants to be a farmer, but, in the meantime, he just wants to live outside. He gave me a tour. Our first stop was a large, insulated tarp structure that protects many smaller tents inside. Scattered around are bikes, clothes and other occupation essentials.
Greg showed me his tent, explaining that he has a place to stay elsewhere but chooses to sleep here. When I asked what his routine looks like, he chuckled at the idea of a schedule. “I print fliers,” he said. Without a paid job, he spends most of his time at Tyco or other printers. When he isn’t printing, he helps out around the camp.
Next, he showed me the clothing tent, which was rather large and filled with donated clothes. Most of the items Occupy owns are either donated or found. Occupiers quite intelligently set up a deal with Au Bon Pain, Atticus and other restaurants to collect food at the end of the day that would otherwise have been throw out. Additionally, organizers of Yale events often come by and drop off pizza, cookies and other food left over from campus events.
One of my favorite tents is not actually a tent but a teepee constructed out of actual branches and cloth, inside of which are piled more than 15 TVs. Justin Sabatino, another occupier, says they plan to hold a demonstration where people will donate money to smash the TVs to their favorite music, indulging their hatred for television and politicians. The money raised will go to a combination of charitable and political causes.
The central tent is where I spent most of my time. In one corner sits a drum set where a hooded fellow played a slow, continuous beat that lasted the entire hour I was there. In another corner is a bunch of mismatched chairs, and the middle of the tent holds a jumble of crated books that the occupiers call the library. Most people gravitated towards the lounge.
As I chatted to them about their lives, the occupiers seemed content, if a little bored. They explained how they have different committees in charge of things like food, how they are on very good terms with the Yale Police and how Connecticut shelters are awful, awful places. As the interior of the tent grew hazy with smoke, the occupiers told me that besides political upheaval and food, what they usually wanted was cigarettes.
Although they have been criticized for spewing utopian rhetoric while having no plan of action, the occupiers are definitely achieving something. For one thing, they have discovered a way to make it as a self-perpetuating commune and to avoid being mired in dull day jobs. Additionally, they have provided the New Haven homeless with food and shelter and have made it explicit that if members do not contribute to the welfare of the camp, they will be kicked out.
They haven’t achieved the political upheaval they desire, and they won’t ever be able to without significant backing and political power and a real plan, but they have figured out a way to live harmoniously and help others along the way. That, more than anything else, is making a significant social impact on the city of New Haven.
Josephine Massey is a freshman in Ezra Stiles College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.