Protest drummers seen as both poisonous, inspired

By Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 30 2011 4:45 p.m. MDT

FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2011 file photo, Occupy Wall Street protesters play drums and other percussion instruments at Zuccotti Park in New York, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2011. To some, the drummers are an energizing force of the protest. But to others, including some fellow activists, they are a "poisonous people" whose relentless, pounding beat is now limited to four hours a day.

File, Seth Wenig, Associated Press

NEW YORK — To some, the drummers in the Manhattan park that's become the epicenter of Occupy Wall Street are the protest's energizing force.

But others, including some fellow activists, call the percussionists "poisonous people" whose relentless, pounding beat is now limited to four hours a day. The drummers were the subject of meetings among neighbors complaining about them, too.

And on a rainy night last week, someone stabbed holes into several drums with a knife. More instruments were found broken up and dumped a few blocks away.

Such acts miss the point of the drumming, says Kris Lew, a Manhattan paralegal who shows up daily to hit a cowbell for the group.

"This is the energy that keeps the movement going," she says.

She has an unlikely supporter — a neighborhood resident.

"It contributes to the positive feeling of the protest," says attorney Mark Scherzer.

Calling themselves the Pulse, the drummers first appeared in the park almost three weeks ago, led by John Eustor, a musician from Asbury Park, N.J.

At first, the beat would stretch from morning to evening and longer — a relentless, pounding rhythm that has become a sort of soundtrack for the few hundred people who moved into the park about a month ago. They've set up a tent community to contest the nation's biggest income inequality since the Depression, blaming it on Wall Street financial practices.

The boisterous ensemble is set up at the edge of the park, attracting an ever-moving crowd of spectators.

"We're here to motivate people, to unite people," says Eustor, 46, who was laid off from a health insurance company and is looking for work. "This is how protesters get their anger out, their aggression, and they leave refreshed."

But in apartment buildings across the street, some residents have had it with the show.

"There is drumming. There are trumpets. There are bugles. There are tambourines. There's yelling and shouting and chanting late into the night," says Ro Sheffe, who lives nearby and is a member of a community board that passed a resolution limiting drummers.

But the resolution is not legally binding, so the drummers doubled that limit and pound out their beats twice a day for two hours at a time. That's a compromise no one seems to be challenging, for now.

Susanne Moss, 69, a psychotherapist and amateur drummer who lives north of the city, came down Friday to take a look at the encampment. On that day, instruments included a giant natural seashell, blown like a horn, and empty plastic paint cans.

She called the drumming circle "a positive thing. It lends the protest a lot of energy."

Still, Moss is in favor of the limited schedule because a block away, the drumming sounds like "horrible noise; it's only when you get near that it sounds great."

The Internet Working Group, one of dozens of volunteer groups at the protest encampment in Zuccotti Park, recently hosted a video discussion titled "Surviving Poisonous People in Decentralized Groups."

To some participants, such people include the Pulse.

Not so, says Lew, who used her lunch break from her paralegal job at a nearby office to join the drummers on a recent bustling weekday afternoon.

"They make me feel safe and inspired," she said after an hour of striking a cowbell.

"We're all races, ages, religions, nationalities," Eustor said.

Drummer Zak Cunningham created his own instrument by lifting the round metal lid of a garbage can and striking it with two wooden drumsticks.

Cunningham, 22, the son of corporate executives in New Jersey, is a college philosophy major heading for graduate school.

These days, when he sleeps in the park, "and I wake up and don't hear the drums, there's something missing."

But Scherzer, the attorney, says the hours they're allowed to play "seem quite reasonable — as long as it does not extend past 6 p.m., when people come home from work."

For those who oppose the drumming, he offered a counterargument.

"It's only drumming, in an area where there's already an incredible amount of ambient noise," he said. "This doesn't add much."

That includes the ever-present din of construction for the new World Trade Center.

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