Update: After hundreds of thousands signed petitions, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg retreated on demanding Occupy Wall Street protestors leave Zuccotti Park. Meanwhile, similar protests have spread to hundreds of communities. Daily Kos publishes a map of events.
It is Us against Them. The 99% versus the 1% who have amassed such wealth and power, that the 99% are ignored and neglected.
They’re mad and they aren’t taking it anymore.
It’s not one thing. It’s many things, but the frustration, anger, deep-seated discontent all seems to converge around the issue of growing inequity, and the feeling that people are powerless.
Occupy Wall Street describes itself as “a leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%. We are using the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to achieve our ends and encourage the use of nonviolence to maximize the safety of all participants.”
The sound builds suddenly, enveloping you as you get closer to the Zuccotti Park (which they have renamed Liberty Square) where Occupy Wall Street protestors have been encamped since mid-September.
It is around 6:30 pm, on the day of the mass rally at Foley Park, which drew (depending upon who you ask) 10,000 to 30,000 people.
Unions had come out en masse to give support to the Occupy Wall Street movement, seeing the youth-based action as the catalyst and rallying point to spark a wave. Among those represented: the AFL-CIO, United Federation of Teachers (though teachers were leery of participating because if they were arrested, they would lose their jobs); Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, Transport Workers Union, the Service Employees International Union, and the United Auto Workers – joined in solidarity.
Other progressive organizations also put out the call: Moveon.org, Working Families Party, Democracy for America, Campaign for America’s Future (www.ourfuture.org/)
The core of the group has their community in the park, but ringing the park, thousands more are continuing the rally from the afternoon, with many more who join in during the night, on Liberty Street and along Broadway.
Hundreds have come directly from the Take Back the American Dream conference (www.ourfuture.org) that had just concluded that morning in Washington DC, leaving the capital early and missing out at the Dream’s own protest at the Capitol Building that afternoon (bigger protests were scheduled on Thursday, at K Street, the bastion for lobbyists).
Police effectively have made a barricade around the park, the sidewalks, and the two side roads, and had a strong presence, demanding that anyone on the Broadway sidewalk keep moving. But the real guardians were positioned on outlying streets, especially blocking the way toward Wall Street and the Stock Exchange
What is most remarkable was the diversity of the people – they have come from all over, and are representative of a huge cross section of the country – truly the 99%, as many of the signs reminded.
“We are the 99%.”
I immediately come upon a middle-aged Jersey City couple, Jeanne Ewy and Glen Olf, who had come from the Take Back The American Dream conference in Washington DC.
“We are grateful to the students to get this started It’s about time. this isn’t class warfare. this is a response to class warfare against the poor, the young, families and children. “
What needs to be done? “Make sure the Obama Jobs Act passes.”
They are carrying a sign, “Jobs Not Cuts,” from the Dream conference.
Another sign, “Tax Wall Street Transactions; Heal America” – a crystallization of a proposal from nurses that dove-tailed another proposal to tax Wall Street half of a percent on transactions which would also have the benefit of cutting down on the speculation that has resulted in such volatility in the markets and pushed up prices for everything from gasoline at the pump to orange juice on the table. The nurses want the money to be used to pay for health care; Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to use it to pay for Obama’s America Jobs Act.
Within the park, the biggest gathering was, according to the daily schedule, the General Assembly.
A chant goes up, “All Day. All Week. Occupy Wall Street”
The Occupy Wall Street movement has already triggered protests in dozens of cities, including Boston, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles, and word goes out that one of the supporter groups occupied the Fannie Mae building.
The message goes out over the “people’s megaphone” – where the leader says a phrase, and it is repeated back to the crowd: “This is your time…. This is it…. Across the country…..We have the power…..Let’s take it.”
The people’s megaphone started because the police had prohibited them from using amplification. But the leader did have a megaphone, but still, the practice continued, probably because it also reinforces engagement and the message.
And then more chants, “We are the 99 percent”
“Jump Up. Jump Down There’s a revolution in this town”
Along the Liberty Street side, a group of perhaps 15 or 20 unfurl a massive banner signed by The New School in Exile: Arab Spring. European Summer. American Fall,” to which a young man looking up at it adds, “and Global Winter.”
It all has the look and feel of the protests of the 1960s, which spread around the world – with many of the same issues at heart: environmentalism, anti-institutionalism (banks, government), anti-war (Afghanistan, Iraq). Except that this time, a lot more kinds of people are represented and participating – in fact, many were probably veterans of that protest era.
A freshly painted sign, still wet, says simply, “Vote.”
“Workers Rights Are Human Rights”
“No Bulls. No Bears. Only Pigs.”
This sign was carried by Don Mackay, who had come from California where he is an actor. “It’s time for people to wake up Income inequality is at such a low point, it will just get worse and worse. We are waiting for something to counter the Tea Party. On the Left, there are so many. We are out here supporting this action.
An older man carried a full-length sign: “Jesus is not for Corporate Greed.”
Jonathan Jetter, who runs a small record studio business in New York City, says he was protesting the inequity in business. “I believe in free markets. But if a company fails, it should go away What we have isn’t capitalism.” Ten years ago, he says, I could bring my credit score, bank balance and credit report to a bank and get a loan. It’s criminal, what has happened.”
The anger at Wall Street – and the link to the loss of democracy – is widely shared, expressed in messages in a variety of ways.
“Wall Street Greed” is the sign held by Sherry Gorelick of New York, a retired sociologist, getting through the crowds in a powered chair.
What brings you? “This is a very exciting movement and finally an answer to the inhuman and cruel system we live in. This is taking back democracy .. I hope.”
“Corporations Are Not People.. Get Corporate $$$ Out of Elections.” The holder of the sign, Jeff Heebs of Brooklyn, who is a salesman, explains: The process of voting for politicians doesn’t work. There is too much corporate $ and until corporate money gets out, there is no possibility of true democracy We have a two-party, really one-party government – with no interest in serving people. The money corrupts and perverts the system.”
“Jobs. Justice and Education.”
“Schools not war”
“Restore the Constitution. We are the people and we are pissed”
And the very poignant: “Due to recent budget cuts the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off.”
There are families with young children, here as well. Some kids are drawing pictures on the ground.
Within the encampment, while all the hubbub is going on people are lined up to take food that is being served; some sit, camp-style, on the ground or around the flower beds eating; others are washing dishes.
The encampment is incongruously set off by eerie white-blue flourescent lights of food stands, lined up on one side (nobody seems to be buying anything). The street is crammed with satellite news trucks, and cameras, cell phones, video cameras are ubiquitous.
The gathering is mostly festive. Most of the gathered are good natured, there is music and drumming.
But then there is a faction that seemed spoiling for a confrontation. A pack carrying signs like “Pepper Spray. Racist Brutality.” and “Racist Brutality. Push for Police State.”
Another sign calls attention to the unprecedented $4.6 million donation from JP Morgan to the New York Police Department.
The word goes out that a group is going to try to get to Wall Street. I ask a fellow, dressed in his revolutionary best, if he is going. “I don’t have time to get arrested tonight.”
A group walks out of the compound, across Broadway.
They aren’t even out of view when the word goes out that they are walking into a trap.
A man says that he has already alerted a “green hat” – legal aid people wearing neon green baseball caps, who were there to step in and protect the protesters’ rights.
A bigger group gathers there, and chants started up, taunting the police.
A police woman, notably a short, nonthreatening lady, is holding a the “caution” ribbon, keeping people behind it until the light changes. Traffic is flowing down Broadway – buses and such. It seems she was just keeping people from crossing before the light.
A chant goes up, goading the police, “Remember Sean Bell. N-Y-P=D go to hell.”
I ask another fellow what is going on. He says they want to take over the Street. I think he means Wall Street, but he says they want to take over Broadway and stop the traffic.
“It’s the People’s Street”
But what about the people in the cars and on the buses? Isn’t it their street too?
“No, for the purpose of the protest.”
But what if you were on the bus, needing to get home? or the bus driver?
“I would respect the protest”
Using the “people’s megaphone” where a phrase is repeated, a man comes and begins:”Night check… Something real serious…. is happening at the gate…outside Wall Street… A bunch of our comrades….are being corralled…possibly arrested…They need reinforcements…,,possibly help.”
A new chant goes up, goading the police. “We’re all Sean Bell. NYPD go to hell.”
Now, the fellow who apparently has been getting reports from the Stock Exchange, comes back and starts again “This is just starting…. There are more ways to get there than Broadway…. Brothers and sisters got maced and punched…Horses trampled… Need to use yourself… and show your solidarity… Go this way, … or that way…as long as you end up.. at Stock Exchange… That’s it.” And the human megaphone switches off.
Some people walk toward Church Street, which isn’t blocked at all.
I go down Church Street, then back onto Broadway to Exchange Alley where I could peer toward the Stock Exchange, a long block away, but blocked by barricades. I think I see about 30 people gathered there, but did not hear anything. I walk further down Broadway and then back up toward the Stock Exchange. By then, it seems that everyone has disappeared. Vanished. There is no one. The police are calm, even oblivious. I say I wanted to see what is going on at the Stock Exchange. The officer says that no one is there any more. “The Party moved to Williams.”
I ask if I can see for myself. No.
I walk through the area but there is no one, and no sound, either. It was just before 9 pm.
I go down to the subway, where the four-corners of the streets have Cipriani, Tiffany, Schwab, the Museum of American Finance.
An announcement blares that “due to a police investigation at Wall Street, the uptown 4 and 5 won’t stop at Wall Street.
The New York Timesthe next day reported about “a disturbance about 8 p.m. Wednesday as the march was breaking up. The police said they arrested eight protesters around the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, after people rushed barriers and began spilling into the street. While a couple of witnesses said that officers used pepper spray to clear the streets, Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said that one officer “possibly” used it. Several protesters were also arrested at State and Bridge Streets at 9:30 p.m.; the police said one protester was charged with assault after an officer was knocked off his scooter.
See next: Life at Occupy Wall Street
Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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