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Travel & Holiday

Come tour the protests

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators in New York City have become tourist attractions
The Straits Times - October 25, 2011
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Come tour the protests Visitors to New York City can get a glimpse of the ongoing protests on board a double- decker bus offering tours of Manhattan. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

New York - Some women from Kansas were taking in as much of New York City as they could last Wednesday.

They hopped on a subway, watched the construction at the World Trade Center site and visited Lower Manhattan's newest tourist destination: the park where Occupy Wall Street protesters have camped out for more than a month.

It is now common to see tourists at Zuccotti Park taking photographs of themselves with protesters in the background. On a typical day, they clog the pedestrian traffic in the area, which is often bustling with financial district employees.

The protest against corporate influence in government and wealth inequality has many of the things tourists look for, including photoworthy moments and even some trinkets. In this case, the T-shirts and buttons offered by protesters are generally free, although they accept donations.

The double-decker buses offering tours of Manhattan pass by on Broadway, with guides pointing out the park site and tourists often waving sympathetically at protesters from the top decks.

Visitors get a show at times. Mr Shawn Lahey, a ruler factory worker from Poughkeepsie, watched a dancing man holding a pole marked 'corporation', attached to a noose marked 'financial system' - from which another dancing man was 'hanging'. Masked drummers provided a thumping soundtrack.

'I think it's great. They're trying to make a point,' he said, although he added with a wry smile, 'I don't think it'll make any difference... The government won't make any changes because it's all about money.'

Demonstrator Julian DeMayo, a law student from Montreal, said the tourists' attitude towards the protest has changed over the weeks.

'At first, they seemed sceptical, looking at this like it was a circus show,' he said. But more recently, he said, many visitors 'looked genuinely interested and inspired. And they seem impressed by the level of infrastructure'. He added: 'I think they also see that there's a huge variety of people here.'

Some nearby businesses are far less enamoured of the protesters and say the hubbub outside their doors is costing them money.

Ms Stacey Tzortzatos, manager of Panini & Co, a casual restaurant that is usually bustling as it serves financial district clients, said the eatery has been losing business because police barricades discourage customers from coming in, and media vans are blocking the view.

But the biggest problem, she said, was protesters coming in to use the bathroom '30 at a time'. She said she put locks on the bathroom doors in response. 'They take showers using the sink, they brush their teeth and make a huge mess,' she said.

Other food venues did not mind. 'Business is business,' said Mr Alex Gervis, who works behind the counter at Manon, a cafe near Zuccotti Park that sells imported Italian coffee and Belgian chocolates.

He said protesters have come in 'six or even 10 at a time. And as long as they buy something and don't make a mess, we're happy to have them'.

The only disruption came several days ago 'when they tried to play guitar', he said. 'We can't have that.'

 

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