Celebrating Occupy Wall Street, and the November 17 Day of Action

18.11.11

Last night, defiantly responding to Tuesday’s eviction of the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park by New York’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, tens of thousands of protestors took to the streets of New York and filled Brooklyn Bridge, chanting, “Bloomberg, beware: Zuccotti Park is everywhere.”

As Occupy Wall Street noted on its website, the NYPD estimated that, at the culmination of the #N17 day of action, there were 32,500 people, and that thousands more “mobilised in at least 30 cities across the United States,” and demonstrations were also held in other cities around the world.

Beka Economopoulos, who was involved in the Zuccotti Park occupation, said, “Our political system should serve all of us — not just the very rich and powerful. Right now Wall Street owns Washington. We are the 99% and we are here to reclaim our democracy.”

As Occupy Wall Street explained, “New York led the charge in this energizing day for the emerging movement,” and, following the eviction, “the slogan ‘You can’t evict an idea whose time has come’ became the new meme of the 99% movement overnight.”

As advertised in advance, the day of action started at 7am with an attempt to shut down Wall Street. Although all the entry points to the New York Stock Exchange were blockaded, the movement’s extraordinary “call and response” method of communication — via “people’s microphones,” with speakers’ words repeated by those around them, broke out at the barricades, with participants “sharing stories of struggling in a dismal and unfair economy.”

Leah Lackner, 27, who had taken the day off work as a mental health counselor to join the protest, said, “I paid taxes and took care of my responsibility, and I’m struggling.” Her sign, capturing many people’s dissatisfaction, read, “I played by the rules.”

Another participant, Jonathan Smucker, who is also a small business owner, approached a Wall Street executive holding a sign that said, “Get a job.” He told him, “Ten percent of Americans are looking for work, most Americans are struggling, and you stand smugly in your suit and say to ‘get a job.’ You’re insulting just about everyone in your country.”

As Occupy Wall Street also noted, “Through the course of the day, at least 200 people were arrested for peaceful assembly and nonviolent civil disobedience, including retired Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis,” who came up with one of the slogans of the day. “All the cops are just workers for the one percent, and they don’t even realize they’re being exploited,” Mr. Lewis said. “As soon as I’m let out of jail, I’ll be right back here and they’ll have to arrest me again.”

Gene Williams, a 57-year-old bond trader, also provided a key quote of the day. After joking that he was “one of the bad guys,” he said supportively, “The fact of the matter is, there is a schism between the rich and the poor and it’s getting wider.”

At 3 pm, “thousands of students converged at Union Square in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street,” where they “held a teach-in to discuss their concerns about the prospect of a lifetime of debt and economic insecurity.” They then “held a student General Assembly and marched en masse to Foley Square,” where they met up with thousands of other protestors.

As OWS described it, the rally at Foley Square was “electric” — “remarkably diverse in participation, across race, religion, gender, and age.” As it came to an end, “thousands of participants walked across the Brooklyn Bridge, holding up lights — for a ‘festival of lights’ to mark two months since the birth of the ‘99% movement.'”

From the bridge, Bronx resident Carlos Rivera summed up how the 99 percent are suffering. “I worked hard and played by the rules, but when budget cuts hit last year I lost my job as an EMT and now I’m about to lose my family’s home,” he said. “I’m sitting down on the Brooklyn Bridge today because it’s not fair that our taxpayer dollars bailed out big banks like my mortgage holder, Bank of America, but they refuse home-saving loan modifications for struggling families like mine. It’s time banks and the super wealthy paid their fair share and Congress helped people get back to work.”

Below I’m cross-posting another perspective on the importance of Occupy Wall Street — and criticism of Mayor Bloomberg’s eviction of the movement’s geographical center, by Robert Hockett, a professor at Cornell Law School, which was published today in the New York Daily News. Prof. Hockett perfectly captures why the desire to eradicate the movement is so misplaced — because, as he describes it, the Occupy movement has become “our national conscience,” and, over the last two months “the nation has finally awakened to a scandalous fact, and has sloughed off a paralyzing taboo: the fact that we’re becoming a banana republic — a nation with deep economic inequalities and a broken political system — and the taboo against noting this fact aloud.”

Bloomberg’s big mistake: He should never have uprooted Occupy Wall Street from their Zuccotti Park hub
By Robert Hockett, New York Daily News, November 18, 2011

Those arguing the legalities of this week’s developments at Zuccotti are missing what matters most. The question is not whether the city or other authorities constitutionally may place certain “time, place and manner” restrictions upon political speech. The question is whether they should. And the answer to that question comes easy: They shouldn’t — at least none that were not already in place and respected by the Occupiers themselves.

First Amendment law recognizes that public authorities must balance the core American freedom of political expression with public health and safety. The problem is that how this balance is best drawn varies with circumstances. What restrictions on speech are reasonable in a crowded theater are different from those that are reasonable in a city park. First Amendment litigation therefore tends to be what lawyers call “fact-intensive,” hence uncertain and expensive as well as risky to a core liberty. Wise authorities accordingly seek where possible to make pragmatic accommodations with those exercising the rights to speech and assembly, instead of resorting to courts.

Now consider what’s been underway at Zuccotti Park and elsewhere. First, in an idiom familiar to Wall Street, the “value” the Occupiers “add” to the city’s and nation’s political life. Then how easy it has been and can remain for authorities to preserve this value by maintaining workable accommodations with them.

The value they add: Over the past months the nation has finally awakened to a scandalous fact, and has sloughed off a paralyzing taboo: the fact that we’re becoming a banana republic — a nation with deep economic inequalities and a broken political system — and the taboo against noting this fact aloud. The Occupiers are those we must thank for this. They are our national conscience — our better and more honest selves who are identifying our problems for what they are. We need them there in the Park, till the wounds that we hide are well healed.

Wounds? Yes: Thanks to the Occupiers and those who report on them, we now know that real wealth and incomes everywhere but at the top of the ladder have stagnated for 30-plus years in our nation, resulting in skews we’ve not seen since the late 1920s. The fact that a financial crash and “great” recession followed that last skew just as they’ve followed the present one is no accident. It also is no accident that we find public corruption and political dysfunction run rampant where middle classes like ours disappear. Notwithstanding these glaring facts, people have feared to note them aloud. Hence it has fallen upon the Occupiers to act, like the child who finally noted the emperor’s nakedness, to name our national illness for what it is. Even their other name — “the 99%” — serves to focus the spotlight where it belongs. Evict them and you evict the spotlight.

That takes me to the “pragmatic accommodations” I mentioned: I have spent many a day and night in Zuccotti Park since September. Anyone else who has done so will tell you what I tell you now. The Occupiers, and the police who have worked with them, have been marvels of cooperation and mutual respect. The Occupiers themselves have lauded the bravery and restraint of the NYPD, repeatedly thanking them for risking their own lives in protecting not only the Occupiers, but also the citizenry at large. “Community alliance” members among the Occupiers, many of them Iraq and Afghan war veterans, in turn have worked closely with the NYPD in discharging their functions.

But the Occupiers do more than assist with police work. They have built their own little borough. Consider their “sanitation department”: brooms, dustpans, waste cans and recycling bins all employed on an as-needed basis by the Zuccotti citizens themselves. Turn next to the “comfort station,” where those needing warm clothing or blankets have found them, much of this knitted by elderly women who are themselves Occupiers. Note also the medical facilities: tents marked by red crosses of tape, manned by volunteer doctors and nurses who aid anyone in need. Consider also the kitchen, the large and well catalogued library, the water treatment and recycling facility, the art department, the inter-denominational worship space, and all else that’s gone into making the Park into a village that functions for all of its members. Is there not value in having this shining example of community health and solidarity in our midst?

But I have not yet mentioned the political process at Zuccotti — one in which everyone has, literally, not only a voice, but the voices of all. I allude to the vaunted “human microphone” mode of amplification that has become emblematic of the movement itself. There is something almost liturgical about the “call and response” character that political discourse takes on in the Park, as if politics and community decision-making were sacred activities. (Are they not?) And there is something magically mutual-respect-producing about having not only to listen to one who disagrees with you, but also to repeat what she says so that everyone can hear. Is it surprising that meetings like this produce group decisions to stop drumming when neighbors complain, or an ethos in which violence is labeled “uncool” and prevented?

We’ve heard much from those who complain that they don’t know what OWS “stands for,” what its “agenda” is, or the like. And we’ve heard now more recently, from Mayor Bloomberg, that the Occupiers pose some obscure threat to public “safety.” The best answers to these claims and complaints were quite recently right under our noses. Please restore, then, Mr. Mayor, what you are trying to destroy. Make of Manhattan that “shining city on a hill” that the Occupiers have handed you the opportunity to help make of it. Reopen Zuccotti fully. Open more parks. And remove your barricades. That’s right: Mr. Bloomberg, tear down this wall.

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.

4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    On Facebook, Adrienne Murphy wrote:

    The people of the world unite!!

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Adrienne. Yes, indeed. We are standing at a crossroads, I believe. One fork continues with business as usual for the deranged and all-devouring bankers, corporations and politicians who will, if unchecked, take us back to the middle ages, as their model no longer even pretends to care about workers, the middle classes, and even entire countries. And then there’s the other fork in the road, which was barely even visible a year ago, and is now a well-trodden path, taken by those who understand that unchecked greed and inequality are no longer acceptable.

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Zeke Smith wrote:

    i like adrienne’s comment one trillion times.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Zeke. Yes, agreed.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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