11:44 am Oct. 12, 2011
As the Occupy Wall Street movement enters its fourth week, the congestion in the park is pronounced. During this past weekend of clement weather, the count of protesters camping in the park swelled to more than 400. At night, bodies cocooned in sleeping bags and blue tarps sprawled across the granite grounds. Those in the most desirable spots, away from streetlights and foot traffic, have been sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder. Disputes over territory, once unknown, are becoming more common. To accommodate this surge of immigrants, organizers are quietly weighing an expansion to other New York locations.
While many of these campers have been drawn to the square because of their own persistent unemployment, a few of them actually maintain day jobs. Of these, the protester with the shortest commute is probably Ray Wasnieski, an ironworker at the World Trade Center.
For the last week, Wasnieski, who is 20, has been sleeping only a human mic's call from Tower 4, which looms 43 stories (and counting) over the square. On work days, he wakes up at 6:30 a.m., laces up his Carolina work boots, and picks his way through several dozen slumbering protesters, down to Trinity Street. From there, he walks north to 1 World Trade Center, the Freedom Tower, which, when it is completed, will become the country's tallest structure.
This week, Wasnieski will spend most of his shifts 780 feet above the protesters, on the tower’s 60th floor. His job is to set iron clips into place, which, when prepared, will be fitted with the windows that make up the building's modernist facade. If all goes according to schedule, the last sheets of shimmering glass should be put in place sometime in 2013.
"I feel really lucky to be working on the site," Wasnieski said. "I get to be a small part of this big, historic thing."
Wasnieski, a member of Ironworkers Local 580, began dropping by the square more than two weeks ago, well before his union’s leadership threw its support behind Occupy Wall Street. He attended alone, but soon made friends with a group of college students.
"It started out of curiosity," Wasnieski said, sharing a cigarette with his friends on Monday night. "I'd come during my lunch break just to look, but then I saw that I agreed with some of what they were saying."
The students invited him to join their camp and he accepted, borrowing a sleeping bag from the site's "Comfort station." Shortly thereafter, he made a cardboard sign, which now sits next to him, that says, "I have a full-time union job—don't tell me get a job!" He carries it in short marches and sometimes stands holding it up on the perimeter of the park.
Wasnieski has been an ironworker for more than two years now and has been working on the tower since January. Wasnieski said that visitors to the World Trade Center, on the whole, have been more receptive to his work on the W.T.C. site than to his presence on Zuccotti Park.
"All I heard was, 'Get a job! Get a job!'" said Wasnieski. "And I was like, 'I got a job.'"
Reflecting Wasnieski’s existence in two proximate but very different environments, he has a discrete uniform for each. After work, he trades in his boots (see picture at right, taken by Wasnieski at work) for a black bandana, a scally cap and a septum ring.
At night, when I interviewed him at Zuccotti Park, he was wearing a T-shirt made by the Los Angeles street punk band Time Again, with a photo of police officers in riot gear beating on a protester over the legend, "I didn't start no violence." Tattooed on one wrist is the word "RISE, " matched on the other by "ABOVE."
Although he blended in with the protesters, Wasnieski said he has not told his co-workers at the construction site that he's protesting.
"The thing is, where I work, everyone's always busting someone's balls about something," he said. "So I'm just avoiding the whole ball-busting thing right now and not even mentioning it. Even if I tried to explain what Occupy Wall Street actually is, they'd say, 'No, no, it's a bunch of anarchists, it's a bunch of communists.'"
Asked how he'd explain it to his co-workers if he were given the chance—or if given no choice—Wasnieski said he'd point out the common interests of the protesters and his fellow ironworkers.
"It's a bunch of people that are fighting for shit you should be caring about and not talking shit about because they're looking out for people that are our class," he said.
And how does the park compare to his apartment in Coney Island?
"Hell of a lot bigger," he said.
More by this author:
- 'It's that time': Coney Island hangs on, but the view from Surfside Gardens is grim
- 'Millionaires live here': Breezy Point, unrecognizably