My Playdate with Democracy: Parents for Occupy Wall Street

On Friday, October 21, 2011, a group calling themselves “Parents for Occupy Wall Street” planned  the world’s largest sleepover in Zuccotti Park at the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Kirby Desmarais, the organizer of Parents for Occupy Wall Street was younger than I expected her to be, not yet thirty. She’s a a young mother, too — her daughter is not yet three (and adorable). Kirby manages, a company she built herself, which helps independent artists and bands find success, “through management, placement, networking and analytics.”

Despite an already-busy life, full of work and family obligations, Kirby and her then husband Mark were able to organize PFOWS in about eight days — from passionate concept to successful execution (over 200 people stayed the night) — including a website, a banner and hot yellow t-shirts reading “Parent SECURITY”. Oh, and they also secured a CNN crew to embed themselves for the duration; beloved kid’s musician Dan Zanes and band to play for the crowd (“Pay Me my Money Down”, of course, among other favorites), and Dana and I to film the event, as well.

That’s right — just your typical law-less, job-less, communists-hippie types. Like those NYPost headlines warned you.

Kirby and her husband and daughter had visited Zuccotti a few times before and noticed many parents with kids doing the same. She got the idea to create a safe, designated place for families within the park, so parents could participate in the occupation and take care of their kids’ needs at the same time. She reached out to the organizers of OWS, aka the General Assembly, with her idea for a family sleep-in.
The GA welcomed Kirby’s idea and the group, and said they would designate an area on the Broadway side of Zuccotti park for the congregating parents. Kirby also spoke to the New York City police department to discuss safety issues, and together they helped her devise the security guidelines employed that night (all parents had to bring a child to be welcomed into the space, show photo ID, and sign in and out) as well as an exit strategy, should the need arise to leave the space quickly.

Kirby was expecting 200 parents to show. During the course of the evening, from 4pm when the first few parents and kids trickled in, to 10pm when I finally left, they would have to expand the roped-in space two times.

By the time the event ended Saturday morning, over 500 people had signed in at the checkpoint in Zuccotti Park.

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Countries with Paid Parental Leave, left. On the right, countries with NO Paid Parental Leave; Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.

Mommy, Why Do We Occupy?

Many people are waiting for the organizers of Occupy Wall Street (and by extension, Parents for OWS) to declare an official agenda, and publish a list of demands. But my experience at the park Friday night tells me that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In my opinion, Occupy Wall Street’s first accomplishment was to bring international attention to the devastating effects of the criminal action(s) of the multi-national banks and financial institutions on American taxpayers — specifically the years of fraudulent lending that created the mortgage-apocalypse, the housing collapse and the 2008 recession — which has yet to be prosecuted (although the Federal Housing Finance Agency is now in the process of suing 17 of the financial institutions involved).

OWS’ next action, or actions, will be determined by the crowd.

The people organizing and participating in Occupy Wall Street are practicing (and expanding, daily) a horizontal, consensus-driven, living form of democracy. Here, the whole truly reflects the sum and the strength of the individual parts. Yes, there is a body driving the concept and execution of OWS — the General Assembly — but there is no one, elected, governor of the park directing it’s actions.

The head of this body keeps changing, depending upon the needs and desires of the group, at that moment. This structure may ensure it’s survival — if you chop off the “head” of OWS, another will grow in its place, immediately.

Members of various working committees — completely volunteer-powered — execute the tasks necessary to keep things flowing in Zuccotti; i.e., food service, sanitation, press and publicity and daily events, like hosting PFOWS.

Direct Actions, such as the march to Columbus Circle on Friday the 21st, to join Pete Seeger, is voted upon by everyone in the park, using the now infamous human megaphone method. (An incredible thing to witness).

What Do the Parents Want

Some of the values of PFOWS are reflected in the sign posted under their banner Friday night, pictured above. The broad mission they commit to is written on their website:

“With our children’s best interests in mind we join together peacefully to support the Occupy Wall Street movements across the US on our children’s behalf. We’re speaking for the 99% that can’t speak up for themselves. ”
“[We are] a collective community for Parents & Organizations in support of Occupy Wall Street. We choose to remain nonpartisan and offer a platform and forum for all to be heard in support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Isn’t that the first job of any parent? To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves? To protect their children and teach their children to use non-violent means, to “use their words”, to express their demands and concerns?

I found no one at this group advocating for the re-distribution of anyone’s wealth. What I found were thoughtful, educated, concerned parents joined together to protest an injustice, and to re-assert the democratic values this country was founded upon.

These parents believe that their children can build a life rich with reward and meaning — without diminishing the lives of others in the process.