Demonstrators gathered in downtown Manhattan on Saturday to protest the influence of Wall St. and corporate interests in our nation's politics. The assembly, which has occupied a park in the financial district for the last two days, has yet to disperse, and protesters say they're in it for the long haul.
Protests are, of course, not an unusual occurrence in lower Manhattan. This year, there have already been a number of demonstrations in which people gathered by the tens of thousands in opposition to the cozy relationship between Wall St. and Washington.
At the very least, however, this protest is different because it is still ongoing. Since their initial rally and march from Bowling Green to Zuccotti Park on Saturday, demonstrators have continuously occupied the site, which they have begun to refer to by its original name, Liberty Plaza, leaving in large numbers only for impromptu or planned marches snaking through the financial district. Hundreds have been camped out in the park for the last two nights. Their numbers have swelled into the thousands during the day.
The spark for the action was provided by an article published in Adbusters on July 13th entitled "#OCCUPYWALLSTREET." It stated:
"On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices. . . . It's time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we're doomed without it."
People have been organizing via social networking sites ever since. Just who has been participating in the protests? There are many young people in their 20's and and 30's, but there are also a fair number of baby boomers and veteran activists. There are students, professionals, workers, and unemployed among them. In the crowd, one can find disillusioned Democrats, Ron Paul Republicans, third party and Independent political activists, anarchists and members of the hacktivist collective Anonymous, among others.
The protests do not have a top-down organizational structure. No permits have been acquired for any of their marches and rallies. There is no mass-produced signage. Protesters have been holding regular general assemblies to facilitate consensus and take decisions, and a number of voluntary working groups were formed over the weekend to deal with organizational, strategic and tactical planning.
Patrick Bruner, a Brooklyn resident from Tucson, Arizona, said he thinks the protest is providing a voice and presence for the millions of Americans who go unrepresented by the Democratic and Republican parties. "80% of Americans disapprove of the track the country is on. We are the voice of the silent majority," he said. "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out," chanted protesters during an impromptu march yesterday evening, articulating a grievance shared by a great many Americans.
The sentiment is likely global in scope. Tourists strolled through the park throughout the day yesterday, inquiring about the demonstration. Many agreed with the protesters' message. "The financial industry has messed up not only their own country," said Miriam Dervan, visiting New York City from Ireland, "but also ours and the rest of the world."
Some protesters see the occupation of Wall St. as a step toward ending Wall St.'s occupation of their own communities. "We need to take our communities . . . familes . . . and the earth back from the grasp of Wall St.," said Lacy MacAuley, who traveled to New York from Washington DC for the demonstrations.
Her point was echoed by Carl Person, the Libertarian Party's candidate for Attorney General of New York in 2010.
"We need to be defending people against foreclosure," he said, "towns should get behind people whose homes are in foreclosure."
Person spent a number of hours on Sunday talking with protesters and observing the afternoon general assembly while promoting his candidacy for the Libertarian Party's nomination for President in 2012.
Though the action has not yet attracted the 20,000 participants originally envisioned by organizers, a number of their other goals have already been met. Wall St., for example, has been shut down for the last two days. Ironically, however, it is the NYPD who set up the barricades. Since Saturday morning, ahead of the protests, the streets in the immediate vicinity of the New York Stock Exchange and Federal Hall have been closed to all traffic except for official vehicles and individuals who live or work there. Reports indicate that this policy may continue today.
Food and supplies have been donated from supporters across the country and around the globe. Liberatos Pizza, located a few blocks from the park occupied by protesters, reported yesterday that their phones had been ringing off the hook. People had been calling in from all over the world placing orders for pizza to be sent to the park encampment.
It remains to be seen how the protest will develop in the coming days and whether it will be able to sustain itself going forward. The protesters appear adamant, however. Asked how long he was going to stay on Wall St., Eric Gersbacher, a student from Buffalo, New York, said: "I'm planning to stay as long as it takes."