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| of 18 Play |

I’d never participated in a protest, and as I walked to Times Square on October 15th I wasn’t sure if I was going as a protester, or as a spectator with a camera.

About two blocks after I exited the subway, I came across a display on a building that counted our national debt in real time. A few tourists ahead of me saw it and chuckled, one quipping, “that’s why we’re in such a mess.”

I stopped and make a couple of photographs of the sign. It felt appropriate.

Since the protest wasn’t scheduled to start for a few hours I decided to stop in a pub for a pint of Guinness. There were a handful of other people bellied up to the bar watching college football. I counted 15 flatscreen TVs, all with some type of sporting event playing. I didn’t take a photograph. It didn’t feel appropriate.

After my second Guinness, I received a text from fellow stranger James Turnley. He was on his way. I told him to meet me at the corner of 42nd St. and Broadway. As I approached I saw the police setting up the barricades as tourists wandered around and busy New Yorkers hustled on their way somewhere else.

Then I noticed Turnley standing across the street looking around. When he looked in my direction I waved and then crossed the street. He had a new camera with him, one of those hulking Mamiya TLR’s I believe. A new purchase. We chatted a bit about Occupy Wall Street and how it was going to be challenging to make photographs.

“I feel like a protest tourist,” I said.

We’d entered one of the designated protest areas – ‘You are in pen 1’ a sign read. That made me a bit uncomfortable. Slowly people started to pour into Times Square, many holding signs.

“I’m not sure I want to be pinned in,” James said nervously.

“I kind of want to be in the middle of it,” I replied as I looked around at the gathering crowd.

Just in front of us was a middle aged white women in a wheelchair. Suddenly she started chanting – “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!”

The growing crowd repeated loudly – “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out”

At that point James decided he want to move out of the middle, opting to view it from the sidelines. As we walked I wasn’t sure if I was going to join him or continue walking, now surrounded by a steady crowd streaming in with signs. James went off, down a side street.

“I’m going to keep going,” I said as he walked away.

I walked about a block, and before I knew it I was surrounded by protesters. It was shortly after the starting time of 5PM, and the square was filling extremely fast as the drumming and steady chanting rang out.

“We are the 99%!

“We are the 99%!”

“We are the 99%!”

When I arrived at 44th St and Broadway I found myself on the sidewalk, pinned up against one of the barricades with a newly formed drum circle right behind me.

I knew I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile, so I started taking some photographs. I was forced to work from this spot, this perspective. As I snapped away, I felt at ease about straddling the line between protester and spectator. After all, this movement to me was one that avoided simple labels and classifications. I was there in the middle of it, that’s all the really mattered.

“All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street”

“All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street”

I spotted a couple of people I knew on the other side of the barricade. They turned around, we smiled at each other. A quick non-verbal hello was about all that was needed. As I turned around, I saw news trucks with reporters standing on them. There were photographers and cameras everywhere. I heard someone mention that the marchers were on 6th Ave., a few blocks aways.

Suddenly the crowd erupted and people around me were turning and looking up above us at the scrolling news ticker.

“Occupy Wall Street Movement Goes Worldwide”

I tried to check Twitter as the crowd roared but it wasn’t loading. It was a strange feeling because normally I followed OWS events through the web at home. Not on this day though.

“Show me what Democracy looks like! This is what Democracy looks like!”

As I turned around I noticed a couple more acquaintances I knew from a few gigs I worked earlier in the year. They moved up next to me and we chit chatted for a bit.

I’d now been standing in that same spot for about an hour and half. I finally got on Twitter and learned that there was some tension on 46th St where the marchers had entered. I thought about moving up to check it out but decided against it. Instead I slowly shuffled my way through the crowd and eventually found a clear path to the subway.

I sent a text to Turnley, letting him know I was heading home. Then I got on the train back to Greenpoint, trying to process what just happened, wondering about the photographs I made. At that point, I knew I had to visit Zucotti Park to experience the heart of the movement.

Two days after the Times Square protest, I headed down to Zucotti Park. As I approached on Broadway I could already tell it was going to be a bit of a circus. Barricades surrounded the park, creating a very noticeable outside/inside division. On the outside, there were protesters standing with all types of different signs, the police, tourists, dozens of people with cameras and other curious onlookers.

Every few minutes a police officer would tell people to ‘please keep moving.’

I walked around the perimeter for about an hour, making a few photographs here and there. The whole thing felt very strange from that vantage point. There were so many people taking pictures that it created this absurd dynamic where I felt the protesters in the park were like animals in a zoo being gawked at and examined. There were news trucks and reporters mingling around as well.

I was about to leave when I decided I should at least make an effort to walk through the park and view the movement from that perspective.

As I entered, I suddenly felt a dramatic change in the atmosphere. It was a completely different vibe. It was very crowded and hard to walk through, but it was also very calm. There was a certain tranquility in the atmosphere and amongst the people. I passed the people’s library, the kitchen, protesters laying on the ground reading, a few people rolling cigarettes on a table, people debating the movement, capitalism, racism, the media, the government.

As I continued walking through the middle of the park, the chants from a few days earlier started to echo in my mind.

“Show me what Democracy looks like! This is what Democracy looks like!”

A chill ran up my spine. At that moment something clicked inside me. What was happening here in the middle of the park was what the movement was all about, people coming together to actively and very publicly participate in our Democracy.

Maybe I was a protester, or maybe I was a spectator with a camera. At that point it didn’t really matter to me anymore. What was important was what was happening in the middle of that park and many others across the globe.