Flooding helped turn 19-year-old Doug Stott into a member of the Occupy Albany movement and an occupant of Academy Park.
The flooding from Tropical Storm Irene made the first floor of his home in Fort Plain accessible only by boat.
“We lost all of our furniture, and all of our stuff got ruined,” Stott said.
He found himself ill at ease with the flood recovery scene and on Oct. 22 settled into the park near the state Capitol. Now he shares a large, blanket-filled tent with two other people and still attends classes at Rensselaer Academy.
Stott has also become an activist from the experience, championing some form of a millionaire’s tax, funding for education to prevent teacher layoffs and generally just feels people have lost their voice in government.
“I’m out here getting democracy back. We want democracy back,” Stott said.
His story is unique, but it also speaks to the eclectic mix of about 50 people who have set up homes in Academy Park. If there is one thing that links the people of Occupy Albany, it is that they all feel the same attraction to the calling of the cause. Nonactivists and seasoned protesters alike make up the group.
Daniel Robins, 25, a graduate student at the University of Albany, said the occupy movement feels like his civic duty. Specifically, his work in a local mental health facility motivated him to speak up for the patients there, whom he characterized as “being left behind.” He now spends three or four nights in the park, while leaving to take classes for his master’s degree.
“I have the opportunity right now, because I am a student,” Robins said. “I try to do what I can.”
Robins now mans the information booth, a job he fell into. “That pretty much started because I sat down and was eating breakfast there one morning,” he said.
No single profile
Robins said the group is made up of people from all classes and all levels of education. Both assertions hold up during interviews with the unemployed, employed, people with high school diplomas and others with post-graduate degrees.
One constant among those people who spend nights in the park is that they are young — most are under 30. Others attend the general assembly discussions or do chores during the day.
Eighteen-year-old John Cichy of Lansing, Mich., is “taking a year off” in the wake of his senior year in high school. Cichy arrived in Albany on Wednesday after hitchhiking from Vermont, which was the most recent stop in his tour of the nation’s Occupy movements. So far he has visited encampments in Indianapolis, Wall Street and Vermont, with plans to take what he has learned on the tour back to the Indianapolis installment.
For Cichy, the Occupy movement represented a chance to wake up from a rudderless existence. After initially pooh-poohing what he thought would be a brief stay in the park by the Occupy Wall Street protesters, he developed a connection with them.
In his travels, Cichy said he has been struck by how well-educated people are about the local issues. In Indianapolis, he said the overarching concerns related to farming, and his two stops in New York had taught him about the millionaire’s tax and hydrofracking.
His parents were both activists. “They’re really proud of me,” said Cichy, but said they are uncomfortable with his hitchhiking.
Jude Camillo, 18, of Schenectady, said his mother and grandparents were concerned he might have a run-in with the law or be unsafe in the park, but a nearby police presence and friends in the park quelled their fears.
Camillo takes the bus from the park to attend classes at Hudson Valley Community College and sometimes takes the bus home to Schenectady.
Out of work
For Eric Egnor, 42, of Albany, losing his warehouse job allowed him to start a new life in the park. He runs a supply shop during the day where he oversees tents and such.
“It’s a great feeling to give back,” Egnor said.
Egnor said he decided not to get involved earlier with the tea party movement, which he felt some kinship with. “This is the first time I’ve ever found something I could thoroughly get behind. I’m not a big activist in any way, shape or form. I just feel like this movement is the right movement.”
He wants everyone in America to be given a fair opportunity to succeed. He wasn’t so concerned with the millionaire’s tax, but favors decisions that would make it easier to find work.
“I would love to have a job. Tell me where to go,” he said.
On Wednesday, the park had a scheduled inspection by the city’s Department of Fire and Emergency Services. Chief Robert Forezzi led the walk through the camp, which found only a few problem areas, like the storage of fuel and the lack of a foundation for gas heaters. For the most part, the inspection was very cordial, with Forezzi seeming a little uncomfortable with his job.
“I don’t want to go on the record saying this,” he said to a guide from the movement, regarding issues with a gas heater.
The movement has sometimes had strained relations with authorities, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has reportedly been working behind the scenes to move them out, and Mayor Jerry Jennings, who has been an uneasy ally of the movement.
However, Albany County District Attorney David Soares was greeted warmly by protesters Wednesday when he walked through the encampment.
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