| NEW YORK, June 14
NEW YORK, June 14 Seven months after Occupy Wall
Street's eviction from Zuccotti Park, the round-the-clock
encampment in lower Manhattan that was once the movement's
center, one protester has created his own version of the
communal living experiment in Brooklyn.
The spacious apartment in Crown Heights where Austin Guest,
a 31-year-old Harvard University graduate, lives with another
seasoned protester is a far cry from the crowded, chaotic
Zuccotti Park of last fall, where hundreds of protesters camped
out each night.
Nevertheless, inspired by Zuccotti, with its free meals and
free books, Guest said he and his friends are pursuing an
Occupy-like experiment in mutual aid.
In the apartment, for example, the protesters follow a code
of conduct designed to prevent one person from dominating a
conversation. Guest, who majored in performance and media
studies at Harvard, said he has had to "unlearn" the sometimes
"impenetrable" rhetoric of the Ivy League.
"I was trained to speak in, like, five paragraphs at a time,
with really clearly delineated, bulletproof arguments. And that
kind of communication doesn't leave a lot of space. That's the
point. It's impenetrable. And that's not how we talk in OWS," he
FEWER TENTS, MORE TABLES
Guest, a California native with a slight build and a beard
who prefers his trademark cap tilted to one side, called the
Occupy movement "the best thing that ever happened to me."
It is not clear how many other Occupy Wall Street alumni
continue to protest in New York on a full-time basis. Several
hundred protesters packed into Times Square on May 15 as part of
a coordinated action timed to JPMorgan Chase's
shareholder meeting. Several dozen people regularly congregate
in Union Square, especially on Friday nights. And there are
several communal-living arrangements in Brooklyn.
At the same time, an analysis by Reuters earlier this month
found that donations have slowed to a trickle, while the
movement's social media popularity, a key indicator of its
strength, has fizzled since its zenith last fall.
"We're finding less people living in tents, but we're
finding more people sitting around kitchen tables, and more
people meeting up in cafes," said Ed Needham, a spokesman for
Occupy Wall Street. "There's an awful lot of decentralized
organization going on."
Guest, who is white, moved to the predominantly black
neighborhood of Crown Heights on June 1. He and another
protester, Marisa Holmes, split the $1,400 monthly rent while
they look for a third roommate to lower their costs. A number of
other Occupiers come and go but don't pay rent.
Outside Guest's apartment building, one Crown Heights
resident expressed support for his new neighbors.
"In my opinion, most of the people who were occupying Wall
Street were upstanding people," said Johnnie Godette, who works
for a local education organization called Foundations for Life.
"Them coming here to move and diversify the neighborhood is
definitely a good thing."
LOAVES AND SUSHI
Several times a week, Guest bicycles to wealthier Brooklyn
neighborhoods, like Park Slope and Cobble Hill, where he and
other protesters help themselves to the bread and vegetables
that gourmet shops deem spoiled or unfit for sale.
On a good night he might find trays of sushi stacked neatly
in an oversized trash bag or still-fresh-looking loaves of bread
from Caputo Bakery.
Last September, when the Occupy Wall Street encampment
sprang up in Zuccotti Park, Guest was working a few blocks away
as an online community organizer. He began dropping in on the
camp every night. By November he had quit his job and committed
himself to the movement.
Some features of the movement that have frustrated other
supporters, such as the refusal to set out concrete goals and a
disdain for electoral politics, Guest sees as refreshing.
"Every organization ... that I have ever worked for is just
trained to say, 'Oh yes, well, at some point we all have to be
realistic,'" said Guest. "And I said, 'No. I don't want to.'"
"BIG GIANT TRAUMA"
Guest struggled with convention at Harvard as well. Antics
tied to his experimental theater work and academic problems that
he described as writer's block, prompted school officials to ask
him to leave, twice. He graduated in 2007, eight years after
Toward the end of his time at Harvard, Guest and several
friends showed up at the university's career fair, dressed as
superheroes, to protest the participation of U.S. military
recruiters. Guest, in Captain America garb, was kicked out
before he could approach the recruiters.
These days, Guest spends most of his time planning protest
actions and refining the model of group living and self-reliance
inspired by his experience at Zuccotti Park. He earns money by
working for a friend's moving company and by doing freelance
Guest said there is "no going back" to the life he knew
before Occupy - a full-time job in Manhattan and a comfortable
apartment in Prospect Heights.
"The world is a big giant trauma right now. And this
community that I'm in is something that tries to build pockets
of healing," he said. "All you have is other people. That's what
this is all about. It's people who care for each other against
an unaccountable system that doesn't have to listen.
"It's like, are we going to live in a world where we throw
each other under the bus every chance we get, or are we going to
live in a world where we take care of one another?"