Tourists flock to New York’s Occupy Wall Street protests

The World

Story from PRI’s The World. Listen to the above audio for a complete report.

A few days ago, Emmanuelle Bitton added Zuccotti Park to her New York itinerary. It’s easy to fit in. It’s right near the Ground Zero and the 9/11 memorial. After a look around, the Parisian tourist said she was a little surprised.

“Your rally is very, very quiet compared to France,” she says. “In France, we shout, there’s fighting at the end. Here it’s very quiet, very nice atmosphere, compared to Europe”.

Bitton, an architect, looks at the sprawl of blue tents and sleeping bags. It’s messy, but there’s order within: areas for recycling, teach-ins, even legal advice. Still, most tourists stay on the edges.

“There’s no organization,” says Bitton. “That’s bad and that’s good because maybe for the first time just the people say what he feels and that’s it”.

An Argentine couple also hung back. Eduardo Nougués and his wife said the protest here paled in comparison to what they saw back home in 1999, when the economy collapsed.

“In Argentina, we had protests with many, many people – more people than this. A lot of people. This is nothing”, said Nougués.

One protester who wouldn’t give his name hoped for more engagement with passersby: “Don’t just walk by. Occupy!”

His sign reads: Protest in the Middle East, revolutionary. Protest in America, dirty hippies.

“And that’s a direct quote, I read it out of the newspaper,” he said. “They labeled us dirty hippies.”

Whatever their opinions, visitors captured the moment. Tourists on the red double-decker buses thrust up their cell phones in unison and clicked away.

Pir Lundin is from Sweden, visiting his son.

“I have some friends at home, who is really left, and they are really, ‘Wow, you were there!’ And I don’t really care. I think, it would be fun to put a picture on the Facebook and say I was there,” Lundin said.

Also looking on was Franz Gruber, a rugged 48-year-old German software executive. He understands the protesters’ concerns.

“I think that it’s very important that the Americans have started to question a few things. Your country has spent $1.2 trillion dollars over the last 10 years for two wars — the money could have been better spent,” he said.

But other tourists are less supportive. Martha Velasco is an insurance broker from Mexico City. She stopped by between Broadway’s Billy Elliot and shopping. She hoped the encampments didn’t drag on like the ones that took over Mexico City’s main square for months in 2006, after a disputed presidential election.

“We’ve had major plazas in Mexico taken over by people who are trucked in and don’t even know why they are there,” Velasco said.

Protester Joe Vonpotic is clear on why he’s here: affordable health care, better job opportunities. And he says it was a visitor from Egypt who inspired him:

“The first night we were here, there was an old man who flew in from Egypt, very well spoken, eloquent man … he told us the key to win the hearts of everyone in the country and you do that by holding a place and being peaceful and doing exactly what we’re doing, pretty much.”


PRI’s “The World” is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. “The World” is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. More about The World.

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