Occupy Wall Street Protests Turn Downtown into a Toilet, Residents Say

By Julie Shapiro on October 21, 2011 7:23am 

LOWER MANHATTAN — Downtown residents fed up with the Occupy Wall Street protests attended a Community Board 1 meeting Thursday night to air a litany of complaints, including protesters turning their neighborhood into a toilet.

As the Occupy Wall Street protests go into their second month, residents' complaints have reached fever pitch, spawning meetings and press releases from the group that were meant to mollify the locals, but not enough concrete changes have happened to satisfy those who live nearby.

"The occupiers are not our neighbors — neighbors do not urinate and defecate in the street," Linda Gerstman, 40, a board member at 15 Broad St., told a crowd that responded with applause and jeers.

"This is our home," she continued, saying she's tired of sharing her neighborhood with noisy and unsanitary protesters. "We are not the enemy. I support free speech and free expression for all, but it shouldn't be at the expense of innocent bystanders."

Two of the biggest unresolved issues are the absence of round-the-clock accessible bathrooms in the Zuccotti Park campground, and the loud drumming and chanting that go on all day and sometimes into the night.

Despite the complaints, many locals also turned out to speak in favor of the movement that has captured the world's attention.

Kathleen Moore, a longtime resident of 125 Cedar St., said she was awed by the protest and felt privileged to have it so close to her home.

"It's not like anything else in the whole world," Moore said. "You can see democracy at work and you can participate in it. Thank you."

After listening to dozens of people on both sides of the issue Thursday night, CB1's Quality of Life and Financial District committees unanimously approved a resolution supporting the protesters' First Amendment rights but also calling on them to take steps to be better neighbors.

The resolution also said the board would not support action by the NYPD or Brookfield Properties, the owner of Zuccotti Park, to remove the protesters by force.

Han Shan, who does community relations for Occupy Wall Street, said the protesters take the residents' concerns seriously.

"Driving our neighbors crazy through all hours of the night and losing the support of the community…does not further our agenda," Shan said.

"We've got a ways to go," he added. "I think we've made progress. We have a better plan now than we've ever had yet."

Shan said the protest's sanitation team has been going out with buckets of warm soapy water early every morning to scrub down neighboring stoops, after receiving complaints about protesters urinating in the middle of the night.

Shan added that Occupy Wall Street is bringing in professional mediators to help formulate a plan for enforcing the recently approved Good Neighbor Policy, which bans drugs, alcohol and violence, calls for protesters to respect sanitary rules and limits drumming.

Occupy Wall Street also recently set up a 24-hour complaint hotline similar to 311.

However, because of Occupy Wall Street's non-hierarchical structure, it has been difficult for the group to build consensus on controversial items, especially the drumming.

Even as Shan told Community Board 1 Thursday night that the protesters had agreed to drum for just two hours a day, someone in the audience called out that it was four hours a day, not two.

"Herein lies some of the confusion," Shan admitted.

Earlier Thursday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg told reporters that protesters' lack of a traditional organization has made negotiations difficult.

"I don't think there's anybody to negotiate with and, if there is ,we haven't been able to find them," Bloomberg said.

The mayor also acknowledged that people Downtown are being negatively impacted by the demonstration.

"Someday we'll have to figure this out," Bloomberg said. "At the moment, people are having their say and I think what we really have to do is to look to the future."

At Thursday night's meeting, several Downtown residents blamed Bloomberg for not taking a harder line with the protesters, saying he and other local officials, along with Brookfield Properties, should immediately begin enforcing public safety laws there.

The discussion grew heated at times, as some protesters called Downtown residents selfish and entitled and some residents said they wanted to see the protesters gone immediately.

But many of those who spoke kept their emotions in check and their opinions nuanced.

"It is an inconvenience, but we must look at the bigger picture," said Tiffany Winbush, a CB1 member who lives on Wall Street and said she supported the protesters in their call for an end to economic inequality.

"While it is an inconvenience for me now," Winbush continued, "it is an even bigger inconvenience for those who have lost their hope because they can no longer afford to live."

Additional reporting by Jill Colvin.

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