Occupy Wall Street Divided Over Cleanup Efforts

By Julie Shapiro on October 19, 2011 12:01pm 

LOWER MANHATTAN — Occupy Wall Street protesters are ramping up their efforts to keep Zuccotti Park clean — but not everyone is on board.

Dozens of people have volunteered for Occupy Wall Street's sanitation team in the past few days, in the wake of Brookfield Properties' threat to shut down Zuccotti Park to have it professionally cleaned.

But a handful of protesters are continuing to litter and refuse to help clean up, leaving the sanitation team frustrated as they battle the deluge of trash, several volunteers said.

"People just sit here — they think this is a vacation," said Lauren Digioia, 26, from Clifton, N.J., a member of Occupy Wall Street's sanitation team.

"This is an occupation. This is not a squatters' paradise…. People want us to leave them alone, but they're not doing it [cleaning] themselves."

Digioia, who gave up her waitressing job in Times Square to join the protest, said she is tired of picking up other people's cigarette butts, banana peels and plastic bottles filled with urine.

She is also frustrated by the flood of visitors who pass through to take pictures, and the activists who stop by to distribute flyers that wind up crumpled on the ground.

"I wish some of those people would put down their camera and help," she said.

Still, Digioia and others said they were heartened by the influx of volunteers following last Thursday's all-night cleanup. They say the park may not be as spotless as it was then, but it's certainly cleaner than it was a week ago.

"It's a lot better," said Jordan McCarthy, 22, a member of the sanitation team who is originally from New Hampshire.

"We're getting a lot more volunteers ... Most people understand this needs to get done."

McCarthy spoke as she washed her hands with disinfectant wipes — she had just finished one of the sanitation team's most unsavory jobs: cleaning up a puddle of vomit.

"Who else is going to do it?" McCarthy said, shrugging.

Over the past week, the sanitation team has built up an arsenal of supplies at their outpost on the north side of Zuccotti Park, including crates of scrubbing brushes, spray bottles filled with soapy liquid, boxes of rubber gloves and a mountain of paper towels.

They still need large, heavy-duty trash bags and more brooms because someone snapped the handles off of many of the donated ones in the middle of the night.

Digioia spends much of her time overseeing the supplies, answering questions and directing volunteers.

On a recent afternoon, she explained the recycling system to a kitchen worker who was wondering what to do with a few dozen empty cans, tried to find larger gloves for a new volunteer and doled out garbage bags to protesters who said they wanted to clean up their own campsites themselves.

"We work 24/7," said Digioia, who sleeps in the sanitation area each night with the most devoted volunteers.

"We do lose sleep most of the time because the trash does not stop."

Digioia and others said they hope to do major cleanups once a week, scrubbing the entire park from top to bottom just like they did last Thursday night when Brookfield was threatening to evict them.

Brookfield ultimately backed down and said the company would negotiate with the protesters to find a way to resolve sanitation issues in the park.

A Brookfield spokeswoman declined to comment Wednesday morning.

Bryan James, 23, an artist from Northampton, Mass., who has been volunteering with the sanitation team, predicted that there would be broad support for regular protester-led cleanups if that would allow Occupy Wall Street to remain in Zuccotti Park.

"People have gotten the idea that it's really important to keep the park clean, so they're willing to help out more," James said.

McCarthy agreed.

"It would be the silliest thing [for sanitation] to get in the way of what we're trying to do," she said.

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