Occupy Wall Street attracts more than protesters. It’s also drawing tourists from around the world. Correspondent Monica Campbell spoke with a few tourists at New York’s Zuccotti Park and sent this story.
A few days ago, Emmanuelle Bitton added Zuccotti Park to her New York itinerary. It’s easy to fit in. It’s right near the Ground Zero and the 9/11 memorial. After a look around, the Parisian tourist says she’s a little surprised.
“Your rally is very, very quiet compared to France,” she says. “In France, we shout, there’s fighting at the end. Here it’s very quiet, very nice atmosphere, compared to Europe.”
Bitton, an architect, looks at the sprawl of blue tents and sleeping bags. It’s messy, but there’s order within: areas for recycling, teach-ins, even legal advice. Still, most tourists stay on the edges.
“There’s no organization,” says Bitton. “That’s bad and that’s good because maybe for the first time just the people say what he feels and that’s it.”
An Argentine couple also hangs back. Eduardo Nougués and his wife say the protest here pales in comparison to what they saw back home in 1999, when the economy collapsed.
“In Argentina, we had protests with many, many people – more people than this. A lot of people. This is nothing,” laughs Nougués.
One protester who won’t give his name hopes for more engagement with passersby: “Don’t just walk by. Occupy!”
He quotes his sign: “Protest in the Middle East, revolutionary. Protest in America, dirty hippies. And that’s a direct quote, I read it out of the newspaper. They labeled us dirty hippies.”
Whatever their opinions, visitors capture the moment. Tourists on the red doubledecker buses thrust up their cell phones in unison and click away.
“I have some friends at home, who is really left, and they are really, ‘wow, you were there!’ says Pir Lundin, from Sweden, visiting with his son. “And I don’t really care. I think, it would be fun to put a picture on the Facebook and say I was there.”
Also looking on is Franz Gruber, a rugged 48-year-old German software executive. He connects with the protesters’ concerns: “I think that it’s very important that the Americans have started to question a few things. Your country has spent $1.2 trillion dollars over the last 10 years for two wars – the money could have been better spent.”
But other tourists are less supportive. Martha Velasco is an insurance broker from Mexico City. She stopped by between Broadway’s Billy Elliot and shopping. She says she hopes the encampments don’t drag on like the ones that took over Mexico City’s main square for months in 2006, after a disputed presidential election.
“We’ve had major plazas in Mexico taken over by people who are trucked in and don’t even know why they are there,” says Velasco.
Protester Joe Vonpotic is clear on why he’s here: affordable health care, better job opportunities. And he says it was a visitor from Egypt who inspired him.
“The first night we were here, there was an old man who flew in from Egypt, very well spoken, eloquent man … he told us the key to win the hearts of everyone in the country and you do that by holding a place and being peaceful and doing exactly what we’re doing, pretty much.”
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