The Troubled Soul: Elizabeth B.
Elizabeth B."They were hitting people with their batons, and that's when we got up and walked out," Elizabeth B. told me. It was late in the night of the eviction, and I'd just been dragged off by a cop as riot police moved in to cuff the park's final holdouts after dousing them with what looked like tear gas. "I really hate New York," said Elizabeth, who'd been camping with her husband, Matt, in a tent in one of the park's flower beds for three weeks. "It's becoming a cop state."
They newlyweds had lost their place and were staying in homeless shelters. They joined OWS, Elizabeth said, "because where the heck are we supposed to go?"
Matt was a union construction worker, Elizabeth a hospital maid. Neither had worked in years. They'd met in New York in 2010, married that September, and soon after lost their apartment and moved into a homeless shelter. "It was scary; they're not safe places," Elizabeth said. They told me a city program that might have placed them in an apartment was eliminated by budget cuts. They'd joined Occupy Wall Street, Elizabeth said, "because where the heck are we supposed to go?"
As we slurped down coffee at a nearby bodega, Matt admitted that he'd lost his job mainly because he'd been on heroin. Both were on medically prescribed methadone—as were many people in Zuccotti Park, they said—and felt that living in the park had helped them stay clean. "It has made it easier because there are a lot of drugs in homeless shelters," Elizabeth told me. "And they are very depressing, so the first thing that you turn to is drugs." Of Zuccotti Park, she added, "I was just saying how happy I was there." Of course, she also might have been happy, I later learned, because she'd taken ecstasy earlier that night.
I never got a phone number for the couple (they didn't have one), and an email that I sent to Elizabeth last week bounced back. I did, however, find her public Facebook page, where in January she announced that while she was still clean, "Everything is not great right now but will get better with time." In late April she reported that she was "doing something I shouldn't," and in early August she was living with her brother-in-law and his girlfriend—"a BIG UGLY WHORE WHO CUT ME WITH A BUTCHER'S KNIFE." Her most recent Facebook dispatch, in late August, simply reads, "Life Sucks."
"Hang in there," a Facebook friend counseled. "Remember to turn to God, he will get you through."
The Long-Distance Runner: Bobby Cooper
The indomitable founder of Zuccotti Park's sanitation crew, Cooper was perhaps more responsible than anyone for extending the length of theBobby Cooper OccupyTVNY occupation; his efforts to clean the park undermined claims that occupiers were trashing it, forcing the authorities to call off their first eviction attempt.
By the middle of last November, though, Cooper knew the end was near. "The park has descended into chaos," he told me after a tense meeting in the atrium of the nearby Deutsche Bank building, where organizers held their meetings. "If we don't address this, the movement is just gonna fall apart."
"I have been involved with activism for over a decade, and I learned by listening to Pete Seeger that you have to have patience."
In December, a few weeks after the eviction, Cooper joined an effort to funnel Occupy's energy into New York City's burgeoning squatters movement. He and many former members of his sanitation crew began working day and night to gut and renovate an abandoned house on 702 Vermont Street in Brooklyn, where they planned to install a homeless family. Yet the owner of the home—"a shady character," by Cooper's estimation—emerged to reclaim it. "It ended up being a big mess," Cooper says.
Ultimately, the homeless family moved out and, with support from OWS, the landlord won a break on his mortgage from Bank of America.
This spring, Cooper returned to his family home in Brookfield, New Hampshire, which had fallen into disrepair since his father killed himself there last year.* "It was hard, and the place was disgusting," he says, but it helped him put his father's death behind him and gave him plenty of time to think about Occupy.
"I have been involved with activism for over a decade, and I learned by listening to Pete Seeger that you have to have patience," Cooper says now. "I saw activists at Occupy Wall Street—and I still see them—hurt themselves through having expectations that don't get met. I feel like that's just the nature of the game. You can't expect things to go the way you want them to, and you've got to just keep doing stuff. You can't burn yourself out. If you are pushing for a progressive movement in this country, you are going to be doing this for the rest of your life."
"We had to move on," he adds. "You can't just keep doing the same action. When people talked about occupying this spring, I was not very excited, honestly. I wanted to see something new and different. And when I see some of my favorite occupiers getting involved in the immigrants' rights campaign, I am excited about that. The good, real activists, they haven't gone anywhere. And the people doing the hard work, they were doing it before Occupy. They just weren't famous."
Cooper still travels back and forth between New York, where he bartends and assists on advertising photo shoots for companies such as Victoria's Secret. ("It's fun. We make weird, surreal worlds, and a tiny blur of it gets in the photo in the background behind the ladies.") He describes his girlfriend, Beanna Limbitz, whom he met on his second day at Zuccotti Park, as "my best friend and the awesomest person I've ever been in a relationship with."
These days Cooper is attracted to campaigns against modern slavery, environmental causes—and even the presidential election. Though he's glad Occupy avoided electoral politics, he thinks campaigning is a good use of activists' energies right now. "I'm not a fan of Obama, but you can get a lot more done with the Democrats in power," he says. "There is a lot of hope in the swing states for the culture to change, and I would like to be a part of that."
*Cooper is trying to turn restore the property, Coleraine Farm, into a working farm and educational center, and has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the effort.