Occupy Wall Street Struck by Gunshots, Viruses, and Suicide

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Demonstrators with 'Occupy Wall Street' continue their protest at Zuccotti Park in New York on November 4, 2011. The encampment in the financial district of New York City is now in its second month. The demonstrators are protesting bank bailouts, foreclosures and high unemployment.     AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A. CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)
Thinking about that winter-vomiting virus. Photo: Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images

While occupying has never been easy, today brings some of the worst news yet for the 99 percent. A 35-year-old veteran shot himself this afternoon at the occupation in Burlington, Vermont — news broke this evening that he has died from his injuries. Gunshots broke out near the Oakland Occupation, leaving one dead. And closer to home, the Times has a devastating report on the growing health crisis in Zuccotti Park, as cold weather and poor sanitation drive the occupiers into phlegm fits and vomiting. The protestors are still making do with tarps or over-the-counter camping supplies, which can hardly brave the wind and rain. While organizers have placed orders for large, military-style tents, it's unclear whether Brookfield Properties, the firm that owns the park, will stand for a more formalized shantytown. Their official rules already forbid "the erection of tents or other structures."

Organizers and facilitators originally looked forward to winter, which they hoped would drive out the fair-weather protestors and freeloaders, leaving only the most hardcore activists. But even after the riff-raff is frozen out, those left behind will be far from comfortable. According to a doctor interviewed by The Times,

the conditions could leave park-dwellers susceptible to respiratory viruses; norovirus, the so-called winter vomiting virus, which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea and which could quickly overwhelm the limited bathroom facilities in the area; and tuberculosis, which is more common in indigent populations and can be spread by coughing.

Microscopic viruses might prove far more insidious counterrevolutionary agents than Mayor Bloomberg or the police. The occupation has already faced hypothermia, but contagious illnesses present a bigger challenge. That's because marches and general assemblies require large crowds in close quarters, passing pathogens from person to person. And it's difficult to hear a human microphone through choruses of coughs. 

Episodes of grunge and violence — pee in bottles, pickpockets, moldering trash, robbery, and sexual assaults — have been enthusiastically detailed by the occupation's enemies to score political points against the movement at large. But the bigger problem with reports like the Times' and news of a suicide has more to do with personnel than politics. The more gross or scary the occupations seem, the fewer members of the 99 percent will want to take up the cause and set up camp. The movement's power has always rested in its numbers. Now, terrifying headlines and vomiting viruses could make recruiting a great deal more difficult.