Wall Street Protester Weathers All Storms

Saturday night turned to Sunday morning in lower Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, and the hideous globs of rain and snow were still slapping tents and tarps like cold spitballs from heaven.

Lauren DiGioia, 26 years old, cheerfully served hot chocolate after a long day helping fellow protesters deal with everything from wet bedding to hypothermia.

"I've been a waitress and a bartender all my life," she told me. "I have this maternal instinct."I'd come in the middle of the night to watch Occupy Wall Street occupy a nor'easter.

"This is a revolution, and it's going to be ugly at times," DiGioia said, "but there are so many beautiful moments, too."

I first spotted DiGioia shouting from the kitchen tent, spreading word about an elderly man from Jamaica, Queens, N.Y. The man had come to offer a night's shelter for up to three people needing to get out of the cold. "It's the Christian thing to do to provide shelter," he said.

Tim Barker, 30, who had come from Minnesota, immediately took the offer. "It's not the cold," he said, pointing to his shoes. "It's the wet."

Throughout history, valiant soldiers have lost heart on battlefields, and intrepid explorers have died roaming the wilderness, only because of wet feet.

"I know how to keep my socks dry," DiGioia said. "Most of these people are not used to camping. Most of these kids came from their parents' house."

Before the protest, DiGioia was living with her father in Clifton, N.J., in a home facing foreclosure.

"The house I grew up in is falling apart," she said. "My dad doesn't have any money to fix it. .. He's got no heat or hot water right now.

"My dad was a music teacher in the Jersey City public school system for a long time," she continued. "He's a musical genius. He went to Julliard. .. He's a conservative Republican. .. He was tenured. And they cut funding.

"He's 65," she said. "He's tried to make money any way he can. He's tried getting into real estate. He's tried these get-rich-quick online things. He gives music lessons privately. He plays the organ at churches. He really does whatever he can, but he's running out of options.

"Mentally, it's taken a huge toll on him," she said. "He's not all there anymore. It's really sad. And I'm here representing people like him, too."

I was holding a cheap umbrella that sometimes flipped inside-out in the wind, steeling myself against a wet, bone-gnawing chill. DiGioia seemed perfectly adapted.

She has a Nov. 30 court date on disorderly conduct charges for marching on Times Square. "Most of us aren't used to getting arrested," she said. "I was in a cell for seven or eight hours. It wasn't too bad."

She has an older sister at Occupy Philly, and a younger sister who recently left school after her financial aid fell through.

DiGioia has lost dreams, too. She left college after a couple of years. She also sang in a band, and wants to sing in a band again. But lately the most meaningful work she's found is tending to the shivering souls in Zuccotti Park.

She broke up with her fiance, a steel worker in Buffalo, N.Y., to do this. "I love him to death. But I know that my place is here," she said. "His greatest act of love was letting me go."

Her eyes searched the shadows of the soaking shanty town where she serves on a sanitation committee, cleaning up after drifters, hippies, college drop-outs, the mentally ill, Harvard graduates, addicts, occasional celebrities, freaks, parolees, middle-aged folks who've lost jobs and homes, and elderly people who've lost all hope in a cold, unrelenting economic malaise.

"This occupation is basically a microcosm of our current society," she said. "Everything that is already wrong with our world is magnified here.

"Even though this may seem like this is a terrible place to live right now. This is a better environment than where I was before. I am mentally in a better place. I have more purpose."

She does not worry about critics who say the Occupy movement has no objective: "I look at this as like the 12-step process that they teach alcoholics. The first step is recognizing that you have a problem."

If America's economic decline is characterized by anything, it's denial. The next step after defeating the nation's collective cognitive dissonance might include encouraging folks to pull their money from the big banks that broke them. "If everybody decided to pull their money out of the banks, they would topple these banks within a month," DiGioia said.

That would be one way to demonstrate that nothing is truly "too big to fail."

Meantime, DiGioia is confident the occupation will last the winter. The sentiments it expresses will not fade in an epoch of high unemployment. Donations keep pouring in. Churches, community centers and anonymous individuals keep offering shelter for protesters to regroup when the cold wind howls.

"This is just the beginning," DiGioia said. "People are tired of feeling like the American Dream is dead."

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. The column is published each Tuesday and Thursday at 9 a.m. ET. Contact Al at al.lewis@dowjones.com or tellittoal.com)