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Upper West Side Man Takes Occupy Wall Street Message on the Road

By Carla Zanoni | November 3, 2011 8:37am

INWOOD — When Bob Heller learned about the Occupy Wall Street movement, he hopped on a subway from his Upper West Side apartment and headed to Zuccotti Park.

Although he was impressed with the passion of the groups he found gathered there, Heller decided to bring the message to others throughout the city.

“I felt like I knew a lot of people who couldn’t come down to the park themselves,” Heller, 69, said. “There’s big support throughout the whole city for it, but not everybody has time or inclination to go down to Wall Street and protest.”

So, each morning Heller packs his handmade posters and rides the subway to a new neighborhood where he stands during the rush hour commute and attempts to inspire New Yorkers to pick up the cause and spread the word near their home.

So far he's protested in several spots near his home, as well as locations in Queens and Brooklyn, to spread the word.

On Wednesday morning, he trekked to the last stop on the A train in Manhattan to meet with his friend and longtime Inwood resident Paula Walzer.

Each held handwritten signs at the entrance of the subway on Isham Street and Broadway, a busy hub where locals and commuters from the Bronx or outside of the city get on the train. Several of Walzer’s friends joined the group and passed out fliers while talking to curious passersby, many of which gave the group a thumbs-up as they walked past.

“People here actually stop and thank you,” Heller said. “It’s a great thing. At 96th Street people were rushing by. Here, it’s a real neighborhood. People are smiling.”

Damian Rodriguez, president of the livery cab service First Class located across the street from the subway stop, said he was happy to see the group bringing the Occupy Wall Street message uptown.

As the head of the Base Owner's Association, which represents the livery cab bases throughout Upper Manhattan, Rodriguez said his industry supports the message of Occupy Wall Street.  

“The big corporations have 99 percent of the money for the whole world,” he said. “We all work so hard and don’t ever see the profits. It’s not fair.”

John Autin, a Westchester resident who commutes into the city for work, accepted a poster from Heller that reads “Reinstate Democracy, Decency, Inclusion & Justice” after speaking to the group for a few moments.

“I think my family will be excited to know about this,” he said. “I’m going to Occupy Westchester.”

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not the first time Heller has been moved to become politically active. During the 1960s, he was a Freedom Fighter in the Civil Rights movement and spent three weeks in jail after protesting in Jackson, Miss.

Since then he has been busy with work and raising a family, but he said recent changes in the political climate have reignited his interest.

Heller, like many of the Occupy Wall Street organizers, said his grievances are varied and plenty, but said he believes changes to campaign finance regulations are key to changing the system at its core.

“I honestly believe that if we can control spending and donations there wouldn’t be the kind of influence on politicians and regulations we have today,” he said.

“If it were fair and money didn’t influence the political system as much as it does today, a lot of good policy would come out.”

Riverdale resident Anna Shulman said she was happy to see the protesters at her daily commuting stop, a little more than 12 miles from Wall Street, and supports the message.

“Finally, you’re here,” she told them. “What a pleasant surprise.”