At the Heart of an Occupation: Sandy Nurse

Sandy Nurse at the Shut Down Bank of America action on February 29, 2012, in Bryant Park. Photo: Stacy Lanyon

At the Heart of An Occupation is photographer Stacy Lanyon’s photo journal of the people who comprise Occupy Wall Street. On June 18 she presented Sandy Nurse, in her own words.


One of my best friends told me about Occupy in the summer. I had just come back from Haiti and I was figuring out how I was going to transition from doing international development work, which I was completely disillusioned with, to being a part of larger efforts to transform U.S. society. On September 17, my best friend and I camped out and were so shocked that we made it through the night. The morning was incredible. I woke up to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and coffee. People were doing Yoga and reading. It instantly became a home, a space unlike any other. People were having incredibly profound conversations, and I was really excited to see a lot of people willing to hold down a fort in the middle of New York City’s finance district. For me this experience was totally liberating. I had come from such an institutional background where I felt stifled, my creativity restricted and the work meaningless. I was with people in open space who came together and said, “Let’s do this!” And then, we’d figure out how to do it. We’d just go. Everything moved fast. Everything moved slow, and everything mattered.

For me, it’s really important to be a part of a visible opposition to the status quo, to be visibly, physically dissenting to all the visible and invisible oppressive and nonsensical structures around us. Even just coming off of a Times Square action right now, I can’t help but imagine how many people saved up enough money after working their asses off to bring their families to come to Times Square. For what? Just to shop? It’s an experience that’s completely based on supporting industries that thrive off the backs of millions around the world. For me, it’s very important to be there in that formation that we did today, doing a mic-check together and saying, “Actually, this is bullshit. This is not okay. This is an illusion.” I think what’s important about Occupy or any kind of demonstration or protest or movement is being out there with your bodies in the street saying, “It’s not okay. There are things going on. We all know about it. We need to take action against it.” If we keep ignoring it and we keep pretending that it’s not happening and we keep living out these fantasy land scenarios, when it does collapse, it’s going to be hard, and there’s going to be this power vacuum, and it’s going to be real nasty. I think we still have a choice right now. That’s why I think it’s important to just be there.

At the least, I would like an informed and engaged population. In the world I want to see, people are making decisions about everything around them based on real and accurate information. They are cognizant enough and connected enough with what’s happening very far away from them that they can make those connections to what they’re interacting with and the people who are suffering from those interactions around the world. At a minimum, I’d like people to choose to stop participating in those interactions in a way that’s harmful to others. That’s very abstract, but at the least, that’s all I want.

In my most ideal version, I want people to actually have freedom and actually have a choice in how society is moving forward. I want the millions around the world who are living off of nothing to have an improved quality of life, but I want quality of life that makes sense for everybody. I want a quality of life that isn’t one group having exponentially more than the others. I want food systems that make sense. I want political systems that make sense, health systems that make sense, education. I want everything to work well, and I think it can, but I think it starts with the minimum. That’s people being aware and engaged and active with everything that they’re doing.

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