In Ms. Chin’s defense, most of New York’s elected officials have been delicately dancing around the protesters, eventually settling on the standard line of saying something to the effect of how they approve of the general outlines of the message even if they haven’t heard the specifics. But some in the City Council have been making floor speeches in support of the marchers, and have been actively encouraging their fellow lawmakers to get downtown and enjoy the fun.
“It’s a great thing to be around, it’s inspiring,” said Brooklyn Councilman Jumaane Williams, who like Ms. Chin is a member of the Progressive Caucus. “Those of us [elected officials] who are on the progressive side, it’s an extremely important thing to see. Those guys are walking the walk.”
“They are just kind of like, ‘Oh, yeah, I went down there to visit and it’s great,’” Ms. Chin said, lowering her voice several octaves in imitation, “But they didn’t realize there was an obstacle that was created too. Just imagine it was in your district, your constituents start calling you.”
Ms. Chin said that so far only a few dozen residents have contacted her office to complain about the protests. But others in the neighborhood say that due to Ms. Chin’s reluctance to wade in, the local community board—which is almost entirely made up of volunteers—has become by default the main liaison with the protesters. A subcommittee of the Community Board called for city officials to end the “intolerable intrusion” on their neighborhood. Eventually, demonstrators met with the community board and agreed to lessen their noise after 10 o’clock.
“There are some real quality of life concerns down here. We found the protesters to be incredibly responsive to our concerns,” said one board member. “And she is not.”
Ms. Chin pointed out that most of her constituents are used to disruptions, since Lower Manhattan has been in recovery or in lockdown for the past decade.
“In some ways down here we are so used to the street closures, and every time there is a terrorism alert all of a sudden you see the cops with semi-automatic rifles and National Guard and things like that,” she said. “In a sense we are in this every day. And this is just added. Maybe after a while they will get used to going around two more blocks.”
Seasoned residents, she said, are “used to having to go this way or that way and if they live here long enough—like for us, we know which way to go to get home, or to get around. And some of the more recent residents are maybe the ones that are not so used to going around or knowing the area.”
Ms. Chin scored just under 40 percent of the vote when she finally won her seat in 2009, and her politicos say that under the right circumstances she could be turned out of office, too. Earlier this year, Ms. Chin called for the criminalization of those who buy counterfeit designer bags on Canal Street—a measure that got dismissed out of hand by Mayor Bloomberg—and she pushed for the Chinatown B.I.D. (which led to the charge that she was favoring corporate interests over longtime residents of the neighborhood) but has been mostly behind the scenes otherwise.
“I don’t see the wolves at her door, but if she gets a strong challenge in Chinatown, and another outside of Chinatown, yeah she could be vulnerable,” said one local political operative.
As far as the methods of Occupy Wall Street, Ms. Chin would like the protesters to start articulate some more concrete policy demands—to vote, to call their representatives to get behind President Obama’s jobs bill, to push for Governor Cuomo to restore the millionaire’s tax.
For now, most of her involvement has been watching the protests from afar, either on TV or skirting the area on her way home. Last week, she did take a walk through Zuccotti Park with someone from the N.Y.P.D.’s community affairs unit, albeit in the early morning, when most of the protesters were still sleeping.
She isn’t sure when she will stop by again.
“I guess we’ll see if there are actually people that we can talk to that really are in charge or providing some leadership. I mean like the guy who was interviewed on MSNBC yesterday, on The Ed Show. I mean he was saying negative things about elected officials so he just wrote us off as he would all the bad guys. So it’s kind of like I am not sure how welcome [I would be.] If that’s the sentiment, I don’t know.”
She is sure of one thing though. If her younger self were around—the Margaret Chin who took on housing and language discrimination in Chinatown back in the 1980s—no one would wonder what the message of Occupy Wall Street was.
“When it comes to organizing, people follow [me] because I was like, ‘You’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’ I think that somebody or some group really needs to step up and craft a message and organize people about what to do,” she said. “There needs to be some structure. You need to form immediate demands. What do you want to gain out of it? What kind of goals do you want to gain now? Otherwise it’s like you camp out and you do this and you can go back home and say, ‘Yeah, yeah, I was in New York at Occupy Wall Street.’ But what did you achieve?”