Remember the Occupy movement, when a large group of young people took over Zuccotti Park in New York City to protest Wall Street’s greed and the growing income gap between rich and poor? And that spawned similar Occupy movements in other American cities, including Buffalo?
Occupy Buffalo began its occupation of Niagara Square five years ago Saturday, and it lasted for four months. So, where are the Occupy Buffalo folks now?
For John Washington and Mindy Rosso, the experience became more than participating in a social movement.
“We fell in love in the tipi,” Rosso said, recalling where they slept in the square to brave the frosty temperatures.
“Our son was conceived in Niagara Square.”
The couple and their son, Justice William Prevail Washington, now 4, were at Niagara Square this week to commemorate the milestone with other veterans of the occupation.
Here are some of the people who were part of Occupy Buffalo, and what they’re doing five years later:
• Mindy Rosso, stay-at-home mom: “Occupy changed my life. I didn’t know what I was doing when I walked into that square. I just saw everything falling apart. It literally opened my whole world, and changed my life,” Rosso said.
Washington, her husband, also said Occupy Buffalo had a profound effect on his life. He works as a community organizer with PUSH Buffalo.
• Robert Albini, sheet metal worker now living in New Hampshire: “It allowed me to interact with people who had been involved with these issues for a long time. They taught me a lot, and opened my eyes a lot,” Albini said.
Albini volunteered for Bernie Sander’s presidential run, although he said he’s not interested in electoral politics. He referenced the Black Lives Matter movement and opposition by Native Americans to a pipeline in North Dakota as examples of the ongoing struggle for social justice.
• Anthony Baney, Green Party candidate for Assembly in District 140, which composes most of Kenmore, Tonawanda and North Tonawanda: “Occupy was the initial thing I did leading into political activism,” Baney said.
Through Occupy, Baney said he learned about the effectiveness of civil disobedience to effect change, and the influence of politics in government agencies, leading him to get involved in the electoral system.
• Jamie Stewart, legal assistant and self-employed business owner in Florida: “I look back and I almost don’t believe it,” Stewart said. “I’m living in Florida now, and there’s no way I could survive that. I don’t even know how I did. But it feels good to know I was a part of it.”
Stewart said she now volunteers with the Salvation Army providing gifts for underprivileged kids, helps with cancer awareness, LGBT rights and a wolf sanctuary.
• Linda Abrams, licensed clinical social worker and business owner: “I’m a ‘60s person, and you remain an occupier even if you’re not camping on the square,” Abrams said. “It’s the just the price you pay for being a citizen. Most of us continue to do work around issues of social justice and a more humane, loving society.”
• Heron Simmonds-Price, philosophy professor, Canisius College: “I don’t feel like Occupy is done. There is still a lawsuit.” He was referring to the city shutting down the square takeover on Feb. 3. “There’s also a consciousness formed in the Occupy movement on how there’s a different set of rules for the 99 percent than there is for the 1 percent who are privileged, powerful and connected.”
Simmonds-Price chairs the WNY Peace Center’s racial justice task force and is a facilitator with a coalition working for educational equity in Buffalo. He went door-to-door for the Sanders campaign earlier this year.
• Dana Gerace, self-employed: “I took time afterward to process the information and make personal changes in my own life,” Gerace said.
This summer, she gave a lay sermon at her Unitarian Universalist Church called “Soul Revolution” about her Occupy experience.
“I think a lot more people, collectively, are becoming aware that we need to make a change,” Gerace said.