Revolution #247, October 9, 2011
“Occupy Wall Street”: A New Wind of Resistance
As I was finishing this reporter’s notebook to submit to Revolution, I heard that the police had arrested over 700 protesters—people from the Occupy Wall Street action and supporters—during a march on Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon, October 1. Many of the protesters said that the police had entrapped them; cops allowed the march onto the roadway and even escorted them partway across, only to then start mass arrests. These arrests are outrageous. Any police attack on the Wall Street occupation needs to be strongly opposed by all those who are against injustice and want to see a better world. Go to revcom.us for continuing coverage of the Wall Street Occupation.
A fresh wind of resistance blew into the Wall Street area of lower Manhattan in New York City on September 17 when 3,000 people marched through the financial center of the U.S. empire. And this defiant wind has continued to swirl since then, as 100 or more people have been camped out in Zuccotti Park (Liberty Plaza), sleeping on the ground every night, with hundreds more coming each day and evening to join this action called Occupy Wall Street.
The occupation continues as this issue of Revolution goes to press and online. Protest actions inspired by and in support of the occupiers at Wall Street have sprung up in dozens of other cities across the U.S. and in other countries. (See occupytogether.org.)
The occupation has a website (occupywallst.org), and people all over also follow the news from Wall Street on Facebook, via Twitter, and through various live feeds across the Internet. The website says, “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%.”
The anti-consumerist organization/magazine Adbusters had originally called for people to “descend on Wall Street” to carry out “full-spectrum, absolutely nonviolent civil disobedience the likes of which the country has not seen since the freedom marches of the 1960s.” They asked, “Are you ready for a Tahrir moment?”—referring to the protest movement in Egypt this spring, centered at Tahrir Square in Cairo, that led to the ousting of the longtime U.S.-backed strongman Hosni Mubarak.
When I went down to the occupation zone on a recent evening to talk to people and learn more about what is going on, there was a definite sense among the hundreds at the park that they are involved in something new, an action they hoped will be history-making, a departure from protest-as-usual. There had been a heavy downpour in the late afternoon, and the police had forbidden the putting up of tents or any other protective structures. But the spirits were anything but dampened. Along with the palpable determination and resolve, there was a joyous, festive atmosphere. A drum circle pounded out their rhythms at one corner of the park. Knots of people were engaged in friendly but animated conversation all around. A line formed for the serving of dinner. Sympathizers in nearby neighborhoods have been contributing food and cash, and people from all around the world have been phoning in orders to pizza places nearby to help feed the occupiers. An announcement was made for people to sign up on a list for showers at a nearby apartment that someone had opened up for that use. An appreciative response went up from the crowd.
There was a large police presence around the perimeter of the park. The NYPD has—so far—not moved directly to shut down the occupation. But a number of people were arrested when several hundreds from the Wall Street occupation joined many others to march through Manhattan on September 22 in protest of the execution of Troy Davis. Then on Saturday, September 24, an anti-Wall Street march out of the park to Union Square was viciously attacked by the police. About 100 people were arrested, many were roughed up, and videos showed a senior police officer pepper-spraying several women at point-blank range. A commentator on AlterNet wrote, “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.”
But far from intimidating the occupiers, the police attack has only made people more resolved to stand their ground as well as reach out more broadly. There was a march to NYPD headquarters on Friday, September 30. And even as some mainstream media claimed that the occupation is “dwindling,” there have been signs of increasing support—from those coming in from outside the city or stopping by off from work, and some well-known figures have come to show their support. The evening I was at the park, Francis Fox Piven and Russell Simmons spoke to the General Assembly, a mass meeting held twice a day to discuss various matters related to the occupation and to make decisions. Cornel West, Susan Sarandon, Roseanne Barr, Lupe Fiasco, Michael Moore, and Immortal Technique have also stopped by.
The occupiers and those joining in are mainly young people in their 20s—students, artists, unemployed, and others—along with some in their 30s and older. Clearly, the idea of the people broadly (the “99%”) standing up against the big financial institutions and powerful interests in control (the “1%”) has captured their imagination. A New York City College mixed-media student, who had first come to “observe” but now supports the occupation, was making a video of the scene for a class assignment to “deconstruct a myth.” And what’s the myth, I asked. He explained, “David and Goliath—a small group of determined people, willing to take on a mammoth.”
Beyond the “99% vs. 1%” theme, there is a wide variety of views on what the most urgent problems are, and what the causes and solutions are. No set of demands for the occupation have been put forward, though there have been discussions in the General Assembly. A “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City” was accepted by the General Assembly on Friday, September 30.
There is deep disillusionment and anger among everyone I talked to about the reality of the so-called “best of all countries” and the vaunted system of “American democracy”—and a driving sense that some kind of real change is needed in the society and the world. Typical was the sentiment expressed by a college student at the New School, who has been coming to support the occupation every day: “It seems pretty obvious that trying to get politicians to actually carry out our demands isn’t working at all... We keep electing people that we think are going to be better. And they keep not doing anything at all, and that’s terrifying to someone who’s been brought up in the kind of republic democracy that America is. I don’t know if I have a clear picture of a system that would work. But I think that it is really important that at least the system as we know it would be totally turned on its head.”
Her remark reminded me of an article I’d just read the day before in the New York Times, titled “As Scorn for Vote Grows, Protests Surge Around the Globe,” which commented that “from South Asia to the heartland of Europe and now even to Wall Street,” protesters share a “wariness, even contempt, toward traditional politicians and the democratic processes they preside over.”
People talked of their concerns about a wide range of problems. When I asked a 30-ish man who works as a chef in Brooklyn what had compelled him to join the protest, he said, “There’s a lot of things. We need to end the war. We need to end the Fed. We need to audit the banks. We need to stop corporate bailouts. And we need immigration reform. That’s my main goal, immigration reform. We need to open the borders, as far as I’m concerned... Let people come in.”
An economics student at a Long Island college spoke out against the stark disparity between the rich and poor around the world. When asked what he thought was the cause, he said, “The use of our military to back our trade policies. For instance, we subsidize our agriculture to the point that post-NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], we drove all Mexican farmers out of business. But we let them produce our clothing and our shoes and whatever other cheap manufacturing products, and in dangerous plants for horrible wages.”
I met a number of people from the communities and neighborhoods, including homeless people, who had been drawn to join this occupation. A young Black man, who lives in the projects in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn and works in maintenance on Wall Street, said, “I’m peaceful, but I’m angry. I’m angry at this country. I think our country is failing us. And I’m looking for improvement, I’m looking for change. And I think this movement could do that.” A homeless Black woman told me, “It’s primarily young people, and I see that as something honorable. Because we all know what time it is, we all know there’s a problem in the country. But it took the young people to get up and do something about it, to come out here and make a sacrifice, day and night, rain or shine... And that encourages everybody else to participate.”
I came across a young Latino sitting beside his suitcase, who said he had learned about the occupation on the Internet. He had recently lost his job in a town in upstate New York. He told me he has been living with his dad and said, “He told me don’t just sit there in your room and be a slug, go out there and do something. Maybe this isn’t what he had in mind for me, but I wrote him a letter, and I came out here. My mom is supporting me, I’ve got hundreds of people behind me on this, all over the country.” What moved him to pack up and come? “You know, this place, this so-called promised land, they make promises, but when you come here, it just feels like they lied to you, it really does. It feels like a big lie.”
Revolution newspaper distributors have been spending time at the Wall Street encampment and been part of the street demonstrations, getting out the paper and the book BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian. They say they “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.” (See “‘We Are Not Going Anywhere’—The Occupation of Wall Street” at revcom.us)
The fresh wind of resistance, right in the heart of American capitalism-imperialism, is very significant and most welcome, for all who want to see a radically different and liberated world.
If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.