The last week has seen an ongoing protest on Wall Street. This weekend we saw how un-finest the NYPD can be. It is inquest time in Lower Manhattan. There enough thugs in public life without any of them being on payroll. Neither protesters nor Cops are angels. But they all need to be above board and not break laws. It is inquest time in Lower Manhattan. Ed.
This group of “occupiers” have had enough of privatized profits and socialized risk; many of the protesters come from hard-hit states, some whose homes have been foreclosed on.
Jane Maisel found about 200 hearty souls camped out and making noise.
There are times when a protest needs to be specific, but this is not one of them. occupywallstreet.org has called for people to protest the system as it now functions—or doesn’t function—for many of us, here dubbed “the 99%.” This group has gathered in the spirit of Tahrir Square, in this case speaking against the corporate powers that seem to have a death grip on what we like to believe is our democratic society.
Saturday had brought a flood of people to march along Wall Street in front of the NY Stock Exchange. So in the NYPD’s effort to keep the protesters from disrupting business around the New York Stock Exchange, police have now lined Wall Street with barriers, creating such narrow paths that everyone, including executives, tourists, and delivery people, must shuffle along nearly in single file.
I got off the Number 3 train at Wall Street, on the cool and rainy Day 4 of the protest. With the help of a kind Tweeter and some grudging, sarcastic directions from a NYC policeman, who said, “I’d like to find them myself,” I found my way a few blocks north to Zuccotti Park, at Broadway and Liberty Street. The park has a wall on the north side, just the right height for passersby to look into the park, which many did. They were as drawn as I was—what was going on?
I encountered a young man with a plastic bag for a raincoat who was serving as part of an impromptu welcoming committee along the periphery of the park. Twenty years old, here from South Carolina, he told me that he is part of the 99% in this country who are suffering because of the 1%’s greed. He explained his view that this is not personal greed, but structural greed. “And I’m going to stay here as long as the group is able to stay here.” He wanted to know if I had ever heard of agents provocateurs. We talked about the dance scene in The Grapes of Wrath, and he promised to look it up. After four days living outside, this twenty-year-old still didn’t need a shave.
Code Pink offered me a hot pink paper to fill out, extending the 60’s rallying cry, “Make love not war.” My sheet said Make ______ Not War.
The soggy paper quilt on the sidewalk made up of others’ contributions had already covered the necessities:
Make safe neighborhoods…
Make a mess ….
Make anything but…
and one that would make my father’s heart sing (he’s writing a book with a similar title):
Make laws not war.
As I entered the park I noticed that the man standing next to me was wearing a T-shirt stating “I am Troy Davis.”
And there were more cardboard signs, soggy, torn off cardboard boxes:
“Do you feel it trickle down?”
“Corporations are NOT People”
“Unfuck the World” (the only printed bumper sticker I saw)
“Only the Oligarchy got Democracy, not the 99% of us”
“Get your money out of our government”
(and tied to a balloon in the shape of a smiling pig) “Greed makes me happy”
A member of the group who was serving as a medic gave a short talk on the warning signs of hypothermia and how to avoid it. Pizza, water, hummus, bananas, and peanut butter in Costco-sized packs were neatly stacked along one of the planters, free for anyone to help themselves. Empty pizza boxes covered much of the pink granite walkways on this private park/public space, put to use to keep people from slipping on the cold wet stone between chrysanthemum plantings. The boxes are remnants of the huge numbers of pizzas that have been delivered from neighboring pizza places, paid for by orders placed by people around the world—as was done in Tahrir Square.
Arrests had been made that morning. I was told that police had removed the tarp that covered computers and other electronic equipment. When protestors replaced tarp the arrests began. A young man lying handcuffed on the ground was described to me as having called out that he was unable to breathe—having an asthma attack— but the police dragged him away, ignoring his pleas for his medication. He was rumored to be in critical condition.
The group is determined to remain peaceful. They have asked the police to see themselves as the protectors of the demonstrators and their right to free speech. Some of the police seemed relaxed and tuned in to the situation; others looked disgusted or bored.
I happened upon the moment when a lawyer was offering to seek an injunction to stop police from clearing the park and protect the group’s First Amendment right to free speech, and to gather and pitch tents in the park for as long as thirty days. One of the speakers addressed the group, asking whether they would collectively accept this offer of legal help. Since the police had ruled out the use of any amplification, people had to serve as amplifiers by repeating what was being said. Speakers spoke one phrase at a time and the assembled members repeated it so that all would be able to hear. What first appeared to be group-think turned out to be an effective solution to the need for amplification. Practicality mixed with the absurdity of the situation when the lawyer asked and his words were repeated: “Would anyone mind—” (the crowd: “Would anyone mind—”) “if I smoke?” (the crowd: “if I smoke?”), at which point the woman near me reached out and asked the lawyer, “Can I have one, too?” The lawyer handed her a cigarette, stating “I don’t have enough for everyone.” (About 200 of us were huddled together to hear him speak.) Suddenly many were lighting up and a great cloud of fragrant smoke wafted over the crowd.
Not only is the group determined to be peaceful, but it is also determined to be democratic. Engaged in the inefficient but virtuous quest for respectful discussion leading to consensus, they are really pulling it off. People were asked to be concise and they were. Questions were raised. Direct responses were given. The whole discussion was polite and avoided oversimplification. All this from a crowd that had been sleeping under plastic tarps with a layer of cardboard between them and the granite pavement for three nights—and had seen their neighbors dragged away earlier in the day.
When I had to leave I had to climb over people and up onto one of the polished, slippery granite walls. I gauged the distance and wanted to hop down, behaving like the twenty-year-olds around me, but thought better of it. I realized that I felt free to look my age, so I asked a young man to lend me a hand and I safely stepped down from the wall. You gotta do what you gotta do, which this group understands.