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Occupy Wall Street Faces Its Neighbors At Contentious Community Board Meeting

Drumming is one of the biggest problems neighbors have with Occupy Wall Street.
Drumming is one of the biggest problems neighbors have with Occupy Wall Street.
Zoe Schlanger

Last night, the Quality of Life and Financial District sub-committees of Community Board 1 held a hearing in Lower Manhattan. The topic was Occupy Wall Street, specifically the tense relationship the nearly five-week-old occupation has developed with its neighbors downtown.

OWS'ers Han Shan and Nelini Stamp represented the group and took questions from the board as the fired-up crowd of downtown residents and a smattering of occupiers cheered and booed. By the end of the evening, the committees had approved a number of resolutions concerning some of the biggest issues: OWS's drumming, its bathroom needs, and the barricades up all over the Financial District.

Shan, who wore a suit and earrings, described Occupy Wall Street's Good Neighbor Policy, which lays out behavioral guidelines for the occupiers. He also noted the existence of the Security Working Group and talked about its efforts, saying that it wasn't just "empowered alpha males."

Many of the Community Board members voiced their support of the occupation. Mariama James, a member of the Financial District committee, said that she wouldn't vote for measure that was "minutely indicative of being in opposition to the protest."

Some were less enthusiastic, like board member 15 Broad Street Board of Managers member Linda Gerstman: "Quite frankly I don't care about a Good Neighbor Policy," she said. "The occupiers are not our neighbors. Neighbors do not urinate and defecate in the street."

The hearing got rowdy when members of the crowd got in line to make speeches. More than 100 people had signed up to speak (though not all of them did, and in contrast with a typical OWS General Assembly, speaking time was limited to one minute).

The people who spoke were split down the middle between those who support the occupation and those who are fed up. There was 26-year-old Frank Calvosa, a recent law school graduate, who asked the occupiers to "Please take me out of your 99 percent" and described the Good Neighbor Policy as "laughable."

And then there was Garrett McConnell, an Exchange Place resident: "This is New York. It's loud, it's dirty, it's fabulous. If you thought it was going to be really quiet for your kids, you're in the wrong place."

The room erupted when occupier Ashley Love, 31, stood up and not-so-implicitly accused the board of racism for trying to place limits the drummers, noting that many of them are people of color and that "slaves built Wall Street." At that point someone in the crowd actually yelled "race card!"

Drumming was one of the biggest issues at hand, along with the barricades and the public urination and defecation. In the end, the committees voted unanimously on a resolution including limiting drumming to two hours a day, arranging access to bathrooms, working out arrangements with area small businesses, and taking down some of the barricades. The resolution will be polished and put to a vote before the full Community Board next Tuesday, October 25, according to Quality of Life committee chairwoman Pat Moore.

The hearing, which was the ninth meeting between OWS and CB1, was the largest to date, Moore said. She added that "I'd venture to say this is a very unique situation."

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