Revolution Online, September 26, 2011

"We Are Not Going Anywhere"—The Occupation of Wall Street

Several blocks from the financial center of American capitalism-imperialism, hundreds of mostly young people are occupying a private park in an action called OccupyWallStNYC. The occupation began with a march of 3,000 on Saturday, September 17 and since then, up to 100 have slept in the park every night. The occupation was called by Adbusters: "20,000 of us will descend on Wall Street, the iconic financial center of America, set up a peaceful encampment, hold a people's assembly to decide what our one demand will be, and carry out an agenda of full-spectrum, absolutely nonviolent civil disobedience the likes of which the country has not seen since the freedom marches of the 1960s."

The OccupyWallStreet website ( describes it like this: "Like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America. We also encourage the use of nonviolence to achieve our ends and maximize the safety of all participants... Occupy Wall Street is 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%."

From the beginning of the occupation 10 days ago, thousands of New Yorkers and tourists from around the globe have been moved to visit and millions are following it online. Similar actions are being organized in cities across the U.S. and around the world.

Last Thursday, several hundred from the occupation joined many others to march through the streets of downtown Manhattan for several hours, in defiant protest of the legal lynching of Troy Davis. Several were arrested.

Then this past Saturday, an anti-Wall Street march of many hundreds organized by the occupation was viciously attacked by the police. AlterNet described it: "A group of protestors from the camp ventured outside the park and marched on Union Square Saturday morning, and around 100 of them were arrested. Police sprayed peaceful protestors in the face with pepper spray, threw them to the ground and assaulted them with elbows, dragged a woman around by the hair, jumped over barricades to grab and rough up young people, and, when all was said and done, laughed to themselves triumphantly. This is exactly the sort of violence and brutality American authorities routinely condemn when perpetrated against non-violent civilians demonstrating for democracy in Middle Eastern dictatorships, even as they employ horrifying cruelty right here."

Far from crushing the occupation, people became even more determined, and more came to join and support the encampment. The police are now declaring that the encampment must end and are amassing an enormous presence surrounding the small park. Any attacks on the encampment or on demonstrations organized by the occupiers must be met with firm and determined political opposition.

Revolution newspaper distributors and readers have been spending time at the encampment, joining the street demonstrations, getting out the special issue of Revolution, "You Can't Change the World If You Don't Know the BAsics" and other issues of the paper, and the BAsics book by Bob Avakian. They sent this report:

For the past 10 days, the encampment has been the center of a festive and determined, defiant spirit. The occupiers have included many students, but many older 20- and 30-somethings also come in and out on their off hours from work. Older artists we ran into on Sunday who had kind of given up on the younger generation were just glowing to have found the kind of energy, community, and cooperation forming in the park. Neighbors from well-off nearby neighborhoods are stopping by with food and bringing cash. A nearby pizza place has had to hire extra cooks to accommodate the online orders for pizza pouring in from people around the world wanting to support the occupation. Their Mexican bike delivery person struggles with huge piles of pizzas.  He doesn't speak English, but grins and says, "hasta la victoria siempre!"  An African-American woman, laid off from a Wall Street job, looks ready to serve a dinner party, with earrings and apron all correct, as she organizes the makeshift buffet line that serves delicious, healthy food to the occupiers and to the homeless. Work groups voluntarily collect garbage. A garden of hundreds of hand-written signs lines one side of the park and grows daily—and none are ever trampled or defaced. The park, which before 9/11 was a drug sales point for Wall Street workers, is now a drug-free zone by intention.

Like millions around the country, especially students who had been active in trying to stop the execution of Troy Davis, occupiers were shocked, angry, and outraged that the state killed him.  People who had just heard about the case at OccupyWallStreet felt like this, too.  One young woman wailed on Thursday, "How could they do this.  One million people signed petitions!  I thought that would be enough."  Most gripping was a well-dressed young Black woman who stood in the middle of 300 people at Union Square the day after the execution. "My friends and I have been told that if we stay in school, study hard, and follow the program, we can make something of ourselves.  We are following all the rules.  But now, this feels like a stab in the heart.  You do all this correctly, then they kill Troy Davis.  And you look around, and you feel 'They just want to kill us.'"

Rather than demoralizing the occupiers, the police attack on the Saturday anti-Wall Street march was an education.  "They'll need more than pepper spray to push us out of here.  We're not leaving," said a young woman when released.  Sunday, a large sign read "Capitalism is a Violent Monopoly."  People are also wrestling with real and basic questions: "Why did the police do this? Don't we have a right to protest?"  Quotes from Bob Avakian, including the Bob Avakian quote on the back page of Revolution on the role of the police were read, and were controversial and clarifying.

We are learning more about the deep alienation and void youth feel. A woman in her early 20s, very conventional looking, said she'd never been to a protest before.  She heard about this, and said that in thinking about her life, "I look ahead to what my life is going to be—the idea that I'm spending my whole life just paying debt is frightening."  They see the enormous wealth and here they are struggling, not finding careers or even jobs, remarking that even white middle class people can't survive the recession. 

Many of the occupiers know, in great detail, about how endangered the global environment is. One woman from an arty neighborhood in Brooklyn described how she never spends money with a global corporation if she can help it, buying only at thrift stores, farmers' markets, and trading with friends. She feels hope in those actions; she sees that the problem is huge, she knows there's more to life than consuming; she is interested in what a communist revolution might open up. The sense of possibility in the word "revolution" is embraced by many in this scene.

One young man said he was thinking of quitting his office job and working on a sustainable farm. He said he just couldn't stand it; working was like being complicit with all that was going on. One of us read him the quote from BAsics about living in America being like living in the house of Tony Soprano … and the epistemology quote about how it's unacceptable to refuse to believe what is true just because it makes you uncomfortable. We told him there was a way out of this prison. He wanted to know what to do: we showed him the essay on reform and revolution on fighting the effects or uprooting and getting at the cause. He, like many others, wants to stay in touch.

We have found, from the beginning, a real openness and interest in talking about the biggest questions, including why the world is the way it is, and what it will take to change it…not only from the occupiers, but among those who have been attracted to the scene.

In the ten days since the occupation began, hundreds of copies of the special issue of Revolution newspaper, "You Can't Change the World if You Don't Know the BAsics" and other issues of the paper have been distributed to occupiers. The paper is getting known to people there and it's not unusual for people to come ask us for it. Dozens of copies of the BAsics book by Bob Avakian have been sold to participants and to others coming to support or learn about the action. We have taken turns at soap-boxing, and have spent time jumping in to the thinking—contesting ideas—that goes late into the night hours.

Most people in the occupation see the cause of the great disparity in the world as the greed of the banking system and rich people; some are very influenced by conspiracy theories that situate the problem in the monetary system, the federal reserve and so on. An understanding of capitalism-imperialism as a global system of vast exploitation and oppression, centered in the U.S., is new and different. We are using what Bob Avakian expresses so clearly in BAsics, in chapter 1, to open people's eyes to the basic problem: A global system of private expropriation of labor with corresponding social relations and ideas.

Saturday evening and Sunday, the BAsics map (a large artist's canvas with a map of the world and quotes from BAsics about worldwide oppression and exploitation) anchored an end of the "sign garden" as groups of a dozen or more gathered around it.  So many conversations began with the basic truth of the map. "What can I say? It's true!" said a professor who invited us to come by his class. 

A young guy was looking at the map for a long time, towards the back of the line of people at the edge of the map—alone. He began talking about how outraged he was about the Troy Davis execution. He was looking for community. He said he worked in a "corporation" but spent all of Thursday writing in his blog against the execution. He talked about how really upset he was that his whole family and social network didn't say a word about the execution. Then this morning, he had gotten a snotty one liner from a cousin on the "religious" side of the family about his being an "arm chair activist." He couldn't believe that people didn't understand what it meant that this innocent person was murdered, executed. What kind of society is this? We got into how this was not just about the whole worldwide system of oppression, but how Bob Avakian has gone into the 20th century history of communist societies, written about his new synthesis, we read BAsics quote 2:2 about communism—that there is a vision of a new world and strategy to get there. He got the paper and special issue and said he would read it and especially look into the book.

One young woman who is a student at a fashion college is very frustrated with people who just care about fashion and superficial things. She had never been to a protest before, but this touched something. She felt like "we [young people] can do something, we're going to, I have to be there." One of us ran into two young women on the subway talking about the occupation. They were visiting NYC as part of fashion week—they are workers in the luxury goods industry and came across the encampment by accident. They thought what was happening was so cool, interesting, positive, they went back a second time. They were stunned by the massive police presence. 

We are finding that the encampment is tapping into the deepest feelings people have of not wishing to resign themselves to the way the world is. This kind of rebellious, joyful, curious and determined expression from among young people is a significant and welcome breath of fresh air. Any attack on it has to be determinedly opposed and turned into a massive political defeat of the powers that rule such a world of hurt and oppression.

Wall Street, September 24
Copyrighted Peter Harris

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