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Evelyn Talarico, a 67-year-old Puerto Rican artist from Brooklyn, became a daily protester at Occupy Wall Street a week after it began on Sept. 17. She had only intended to drop by, learn what the commotion was about, and snap a few photos. But after talking to some artists and sharing her love of painting with them, she knew she’d found her new home for the next two months.
“I wanted to come and paint and the artists made me feel so comfortable,” she recalled. “The guys, they protected me. They told me how important I was to them.”
After Tuesday’s early-morning surprise eviction by the police, only a small fraction of the original protesters persist in Zuccotti Park. Barricades remain in place around the park’s perimeter to discourage an influx of protesters from pitching camp again and new silver sign plaques declare the square as a “privately owned space that is designed and intended for use and enjoyment by the general public for passive recreation”: No tents, no sleeping bags, no personal property.
“No, I’m not leaving,” said Talarico on Wednesday. “I’m staying right here.” Despite the fact that Zuccotti Park now lacks the commodities and services it had begun to accumulate under O.W.S. — like a library, Red Cross and food tents — she plans to keep painting signs and banners for the movement.
“When the police said to take the food out, it really bothered me because there’s a lot of hungry people,” she said. “But a lot of people took advantage of the situation. Mentally ill people, some of them with drugs, and it turned into a money machine. There were people asking for money and donations.
“I was saying to myself, ‘I should quit,’” Talarico added. “But then this happened and I think it’s much, much better now. Before, the majority of the people were staying in their tents all day long while I was out with my sign talking to people.”
As a young girl, Talarico’s politically active parents would drag her along to protests, sometimes waking her up at four in the morning. She moved to Brooklyn 50 years ago and Occupy Wall Street is the first time she’s ever been involved herself in a political movement.
“I hated it, I always thought those people who protest were crazy,” she said. “And with O.W.S., I thought, ‘You can’t fight the American government!’ But this country is ready for a change.” Through her two months of protesting, her mentality has evolved and she’s started to doubt the integrity of the government and media.
“I’m willing to die for this cause, I feel like I should do something for the children,” she said. “We’re still slaves to the government and the rich. The ‘1 percent’ controls us.” All of her kids attended universities in the city and though they know she’s been protesting and aren’t exactly comfortable with it, nothing will stop Talarico from showing up at Zuccotti Park with her painted umbrella.
“I don’t want nobody to tell me what to do,” she said. “I’m so proud of myself for what I’m doing and I feel good about it. I’m not stepping out.”