It seems the Occupy Wall Street participants around the country have run up against something that even they would have difficulty protesting (though as we see below, some will). Their venues apparently have become hubs of sickness and unsanitary conditions for many of the principals involved. Ranging from the spread of a drug-resistant strain of tuberculosis in Atlanta to a fellow found dead in New Orleans, the conditions are such that this appears to be the impetus for authorities in New York and other cities to dismantle the camps.
Accounts of the horrible conditions can be found in the NYT article:
“Even some camping in the park have grown concerned in recent weeks with the living quarters. Damp laundry and cardboard signs, left in the rain, have provided fertile ground for mold. Some protesters urinate in bottles, or occasionally a water-cooler jug, to avoid the lines at public restrooms. Food, from orange peels to scrambled eggs, is often discarded outside tents… The…”protest’s evolution to private tents, from sleeping out in the open, had raised the risk of sexually transmitted diseases. The site’s pounding drum circles… could lead to hearing damage. (A doctor) compared conditions at Zuccotti Park to those in a hajj — the pilgrimage to Mecca, in which whole groups of people have come down with respiratory infections in a short time — and those experienced by the flower children of the 1960s, when, he said, communal living situations created problems with sanitation and sexually transmitted diseases.”
To be fair, there are some who wear these conditions like a badge of honor. As one protester stated “That’s what makes an occupation such a powerful statement,” she said. “We will risk our own health and give up completely our own comfort.” However, this sentiment paled when compared to the rich irony of her subsequent statement: “I’m amazed that in a park full of revolutionaries, there are large contingents that can’t throw away their own trash.”
Frankly, I’m not all that amazed…
A health center offered flu vaccine at no charge, but some refused vaccinations, citing a government conspiracy. This would appear to be the greatest irony of all; that public health measures would be looked on with suspicion, as the public health establishment seems to share ideological solidarity with many of the causes the protesters appear to champion.
Finally, this entire episode would seem to demonstrate that we are always close to a breakdown in the public health measures we take for granted; that the veneer of civilization is pretty thin if we aren’t vigilant and hold folks responsible for something as basic as customary sanitary measures even if the political establishment might hold sympathy for the protests, as it appeared to in many of the cities around the nation. Public health should never take a back seat to political expediency.