(Occupy Wall Street erupted in Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011, several days after 26-year-old activist and musician Kanaska Carter arrived in New York City from Canada. She threw her life and work into Occupy on day one. She tells her story to HTR in July, 10 years later.)
A friend messaged me and told me about a protest that was going on. And I had this pull in the pit of my stomach, a gut feeling that I was supposed to be there, so I packed up my guitar and a sandwich or something, and I was there from the first day, September 17, until the raid in November.
So, you lived in Zuccotti from the first day to the last?
Yep, so I slept in the park.
First night, we were sleeping outside and then there were days when you’d be sleeping under a tarp. I remember it raining one night and we eventually upgraded to tents and things like that.
What was that like for you?
It was really beautiful at first, in the beginning, then it got so crowded that it caused a lot of … (trails off) I dunno. Near the end, it had its good points, but almost became too big for itself.
Could you describe your first day there in detail?
The first day I went down there, I was playing guitar, playing some songs for friends and hangin out, talking about the things that people wanted to change about the world.
There were people there for different reasons. It wasn’t just about the whole “99% vs. the 1%.” It became seen as about hating the rich, but I was never about hating the rich. I never believed in that, but that kind of became the whole slogan, and what people thought it was about. But, really, people were there for lots of reasons: They hated racism, police brutality, unfair wages given to people who couldn’t afford housing. There were so many reasons why people were down there.
So, the first night, people were kind of protesting and trying to sleep there overnight. We all slept out under the open sky and we all woke up next to each other. It was so beautiful, actually.
What were your feelings at that time about the financial collapse and Wall Street’s role in the political and economic system?
Okay, so we can’t just place the blame on rich individuals, especially if they did come from nothing, working their whole lives, using capitalism to create their business. Okay, however, there is a huge difference between Canada and America. Like, take healthcare: You pay I dunno how many times the amount that we pay up here.
So, when it comes to the differences between where I’m from and what’s actually happening in America, it is quite dire. The gap between how people can afford to live is extreme in the U.S. If you’re diabetic, you might have to choose between whether you’re going to eat or pay for insulin.
What did you feel were Occupy’s strengths at the time it was happening?
It was so cool for, like, the first month or so, the first few weeks. It was really cool, because we had our own library. I was part of the media center, so I was able to live stream every night to thousands of people and that was really new to me. We also had the kitchen set up, so people weren’t going hungry, and everybody was helping – you know – handing out supplies, hygienic products, and clothing. There was always new clothing.
So, it created this community. You know? I thought that was so nice. We organically formed that.
In your estimation, what were some of the most widespread misconceptions about Occupy?
That it was “a bunch of dirty hippies,” that there was “no real purpose to us being there.”
But, the main idea of Occupy was to spark communities that are for the people, by the people, where people were able to exist, and that was what was so beautiful about it: That whole gap that was created, with the financial crisis impacting so many people, that gap was not there in Zuccotti Park, because we had all of our needs met.
But, the misconceptions were that we were “dirty hippies” or that we weren’t very smart. They insulted us nonstop in the news – you know – but there were a lot of good people down there.
When it became so big, there were all different types of people down there and some were rowdy and some were addicts – you know – and there were so many different types of people, which is what our world is like.
So, it became kind of chaotic near the end, but the idea that Occupy protesters didn’t have any type of purpose was incorrect.
So, even though you felt it was becoming “chaotic” in some ways, you stuck it out to the end, until the eviction?
Yep, until the last day.
And what was that choice like for you, the choice to stay to the end? What motivated you to stay all the way through?
I finally became part of a team. And I was working with the media group, reaching people with my music, uplifting them, I would sing to people every night on livestream, and felt I was part of giving people hope, and hope that a revolution potentially could exist.
In the end, the police had more weapons than we ever could have imagined. They came in the middle of the night and threw out everyone’s belongings. They tossed out my guitar and my tent and everything. It became so chaotic near the end. But it was worth it.
It was worth it, because it created almost a family. It was a bond that you can’t just recreate. I haven’t been able to recreate what I went through there.