The Chalk Drawers of Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Wall Street: Oct. 15, 2011 from Stony Brook School of Journalism on Vimeo.

By Alyssa Melillo

A man draws on the ground with a big piece of green chalk over by the granite steps entering Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. He looks disheveled with his light blue jeans dirty with chalk dust and his matted shoulder-length brown hair thrown up in a bandanna. He draws with an angry fervor, etching the Crayola into the pavement with big strokes as he creates a floral design.

“It’s the energy and all of the things that should happen at Zuccotti Park,” the man says about the mural, an elaborate mix of colorful swirls and lines.

The man calls himself Dorjie. He’s been out in Zuccotti Park protesting the U.S. economic system since the Occupy Wall Street movement began September 17. He’s just one of hundreds who are demonstrating, camping out and dedicating their time to speaking out against that entity they call Corporate America. Over the last three weeks, these protestors have created a community in the park complete with a makeshift kitchen and library, along with information booths, electric stations and their own print publication, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. They also sweep the park and clean up after themselves, although hygiene and cleanliness have become issues.

And like most of the protestors, Dorjie, who came to New York City in July from Salt Lake City, plans on calling Zuccotti Park his home until he sees a change.

“It’s not that the system is broken,” the unemployed 32-year old says. “It works in a nazi-istic way. I hate it … [Politicians] strangle people. They make us work and they strangle us and give us peanuts.”

He says his chalk creation isn’t meaningless. A yellow, blue and pink orb surrounded by light orange represents Zuccotti Park. The orange color branches out in different directions to another white orb, which symbolizes the energy of the protests, and that orb is connected to a large eye—the government. “I hope they’ll see the wisdom in [the protests]…and cooperate with what people want,” Dorjie says. “I hope to…[create] a society so strong that when it makes a demand, that demand is met.”

The granite steps are covered in chalk, too. The words ‘humanity,’ ‘peace’ and ‘love’ are scribbled in block letters, accompanied by hearts and arrows and spirals of colors. But Dorjie, who, with a friend, came up with the idea of the mural, isn’t the only making a statement with art.

Trista Wright sits on the steps in the shade. She’s engrossed in designing her picture, thickly outlining flower petals with different colors and then rubbing them with her fingers to smooth them out and blend them. She’s been at Zuccotti Park since five in the morning, coming all the way from Morgantown, West Virginia.

“I feel it’s my duty as a citizen to seize this opportunity,” the West Virginia University senior says in a quiet voice. She has a nose piercing and short, choppy blonde hair with black streaks that’s mostly covered by a knit hat. “It’s my duty to protect these inalienable rights.”

Wright’s finished product would later become a big voluptuous flower, and underneath it the statement ‘I want more for our future than money.’ She would also draw an outline of feet on the top step along with ‘Your feet go here; Stand strong’ written in yellow.

A few feet away from Wright is another girl who kneels on the ground beyond the steps as she draws. Her hand guides the chalk, creating the face of a dancer who is surrounded by music notes. “What I feel I can contribute the most is drawing,” Erica Lavoie says.

The 23-year old says she knows what it’s like to struggle with no money or work. Homeless, she travels around the country with her Chihuahua Kyle and has been living on the streets in poverty since she was 16. “I don’t get jaded and cynical about it,” she says. Before arriving to New York two days ago to protest, Lavoie was in Arkansas. “I felt obligated to come as soon as I heard about it,” she says. She wears a black zip-up jacket with a hood covering her head. Pieces of purple and blonde hair peek out.

Instead of marching around Zuccotti Park with a cardboard sign that displays a negative message towards Wall Street, Lavoie observes the protestors and finds different ways to add to the cause. “I wanted to come here and see what people had to say,” she says. “I hope to meet a lot of interesting people, contribute in any way I can…and yeah, just gain a better perspective.”

Unlike those in the park who protest economic inequality by shouting “I need money,” Dorjie, Wright and Lavoie talk of energy, art, peace and using music as forms of demonstrating. The three say they are here for two reasons—to learn and contribute to a movement that is shaping their generation.
But for all of the protestors, any form of expression that demonstrates against Wall Street is important and valuable, and drawing murals with chalk is no exception. “This is an open society,” Dorjie says as he draws with that big piece of green chalk. “Everyone has a voice here.”

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