There’s Many a Gray Head in Occupy Wall Street Crowd

New York – Vince Taylor doesn't fit the stereotype of unkempt twentysomething protesters at the Occupy Wall Street site in Manhattan, which was clear from the homemade canvas sign he held there.

It read: “75 AND DISGUSTED.”

Taylor, a retired economist with a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, flew across the country last Friday from his home in Mendocino, Calif., to join the Occupy Wall Street protest.

“I thought it's important that people recognize that there are a lot of very thoughtful people in this country that identify with the Occupy Wall Street people,” Taylor said. Like many of his fellow protesters, Taylor said he was concerned with income inequality in America and corporate influence in Congress.

Though he was on the older end of the protesters, seniors and middle-aged adults are hardly uncommon at Zuccotti Park. A few feet from Taylor, a graying man and woman sat on steps at the park entrance singing “On the Road to Freedom.” Other seniors and middle-aged people held signs and milled about.

Like the younger protesters, the older crowd at Zuccotti Park offers a variety of reasons for being there, but all fit under the broad umbrella of being fed up with the status quo.

“What do I want? In a word, Denmark. The standard of living of Denmark,” said Robert Reiss, 55, who said he'd been bringing a different protest sign to the park every day for five weeks. “Clearly the mechanisms of normative change in America are broken.”

Joseph Bear Soldier, who's also 55, sat a table covered with information about the American Indian Movement. “We're an American Indian group giving a voice to the people who can't be heard,” he said.

Jerome Cirie, 66, said he was concerned with what he saw as excessive imports and not enough manufacturing jobs in America. “I'd pay more for my goods if my neighbor had a better job,” he said.

Though many of the older people in Zuccotti Park spoke of their political activities in their younger days — tenement organizing, the March on Washington — others, such as Taylor, didn't identify as lifelong leftist activists.

“This is unusual for me to be out like this,” Taylor said, noting that he'd participated in just one anti-war protest in the 1960s and hadn't even stopped by the Occupy Mendocino protests back home. “This is the one that really counts,” he said, “because this is at the epicenter of the financial organizations that are dominating our world.”

Mary Jane Timmerman, 57, a newly retired nurse, came to the Wall Street protest in her scrubs with a stethoscope around her neck.

“It's just the average working people that I'm here to represent,” she said. She'd traveled by train from Charlottesville, Va., to protest on behalf of health care workers for several days. “I'm not a radical.”

Like many older protesters, Timmerman said she wasn't sleeping at the park. Though she'd considered it, her husband had asked her not to. “”He thinks I'm too old to camp out anymore,” she said with a laugh

The general consensus was that noticeably older protesters added an air of import and legitimacy to the protest that their younger counterparts at times have struggled to secure.

“I think they have the gravitas of their age,” Bill Livsey, 47, said of his older peers. “They've lived through the changing of the rules on Wall Street.”

Livsey lives in New York's Chelsea neighborhood, but he's slept at Zuccotti Park “on and off” to show support, coming by between shifts at his two jobs to help with chores around the park. “Just because I'm older, I shouldn't leave it to the young people,” he said.

Other signs of growing support for Occupy Wall Street continued Wednesday, as veterans marched in uniform from Vietnam Veterans Plaza to Zuccotti Park, where they discussed why they back the protests.

In Washington, members of the Communications Workers of America union joined Occupy protesters in a march on the headquarters of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest “corporate greed.”

“The march that's marching today is focused on the police violence in Oakland” to clear Occupy protesters from a California public space, said Kevin Zeese, 56, a veteran liberal activist in Washington and one of the organizers of “…. We have good grievances, serious grievances, and we're assembling peacefully to create the more perfect union that the Constitution talks about.”

“We have people from their teens to their 70s, and they all have the same economic grievances. … The middle class is no longer dominant in the economy, and that's not a good sign for the United States and a lot of people are angry.

“We'll stay as long as it's tactically useful,” Zeese said. “But the goal really is to affect the political dialogue and the direction of the country, and we'll use this as long as it's useful for that.”

Another Washington protester, Charles Holsopple, 58, expressed his presence at Freedom Plaza since Oct. 6 in simpler terms:

“I've got two grown sons, they're both through with their college, and I've got nothing better to do other than try to save the planet in whatever way I can.”

(Palmer is a McClatchy special correspondent. Howard reported from Washington.)

© 2011 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

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