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/ October 3, 2011
Occupy Wall Street’s Music Makers: Beating The Protest Drum

The noise that comes out of Zuccotti Park at night is really loud. Although the protestors aren’t allowed to use megaphones, voice amplification would be grounds for arrest, the hundreds of people stationed downtown speak in a general assembly where they shout back what whoever is speaking to the rest of the crowd. The drums and chanting aren’t easy on the ears either.

This Saturday night the drums were beating loudly as a few other musicians chimed in and the crowd led chants and dances. For five minutes straight, the word “Revolution” was repeated to a 4/4 beat as a group of face-painted and shirtless danced around in a swirling drum circle. The scene looked oddly similar to the post-apocalyptic underground celebration in the third Matrix Movie. After about 35 minutes the drumming stopped because people had announcements to make.

One of the drummers is Tom Stimpson, a middle aged guy from Asbury Park New Jersey. He plays in a boardwalk samba group called Congo Square North. He’s been drumming for 13 years and plays the Surdo – a Brazilian bass drum. Saturday was his first day at the protest and he came because his bandmate John showed him some online videos of the protest. He was intrigued, “It’s nice to see the wrongdoings being objected to.” He thinks his drumming is helping out the cause a bit too. “It attracts attention, it makes passerby’s pay attention.”

The NYPD have apparently had enough of the drums. Last night, police asked for the drummers to stop playing at 10:15, as opposed to their usual curfew of 11:00 PM. One of the drummers shouted back at the cops, “If they take my drum I’ll bang on the ground!” After the crowd started to get a little rowdy about the demands, the officers retreated and let them play until 11 but said, “You have till 11. If it’s 11.01, I’m coming back to arrest you.”

Another one of musicians occupying Wall Street is David Intrator – he plays the saxophone. The 50-year-old native Manhattannite owns his own corporate advertising business. “Compared to many I’m doing well [but] there’s an underlying anxiety and fear.” Saturday was his fifth day at the protest. He first went downtown to take some pictures for fun. The next morning he was practicing his saxophone at home when he thought, “why don’t I just practice down there?” He ended up jamming and coming back everyday with his sax in hand.

“Music is very powerful,” Intrator says very seriously between drags of a Marlboro and then adds, “How often do you see something like this? It’s noncommercial… nonperformance.”

The demonstration is known to have no leaders but Intrator’s shiny gold instrument often makes others think that he is in charge. Just the day before, a kid that came down from Vermont came up to him and said “they should really have more buses coming down from other states here.” Intrator agreed and said “That’s a great idea, so do it.” Intrator smiles as he tells me the story and says, “That’s the beauty of this whole thing – everyone can be a leader.”

The saxman was one of the lucky ones who marched on the Brooklyn bridge and managed to not be one of the 700 people who were arrested. He thought he was in the middle of the crowd but soon after getting on the bridge, he realized that he was one of the last people in line. The cops had sealed off the bridge and they were “penned in like animals.” Intrator was scared that he was going to get arrested (“I’m not sure if I’m ready for that yet”) or that he would get his head bashed in by cops (“If they hit you the wrong way, you can die”).

He quickly walked off the left side of the pedestrian walkway on the Manhattan side as cops yelled at him to “move fast.” He says, “If I didn’t have my horn I might have not walked away. I felt like an idiot for bringing it – if I got arrested I would’ve probably lost it. I was concerned for my horn.”