Protest Like an Egyptian: An Occupation of Wall Street
Sam Lewis and John Farley | September 19, 2011 6:23 PM | Updated: October 3, 2011 10:26 AM
On Oct. 1, Occupy Wall Street protesters marched onto the Brooklyn Bridge. The protesters, along with several of the country's largest worker's unions, are planning an even larger march on Oct. 5. AP/Stephanie Keith.
“Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested,” said Paul Browne, chief spokesperson for the NYPD.
While some videos show NYPD officials warning those marching over the roadway they would be arrested, the police have come under criticism for making no apparent effort to stop the protesters from taking the bridge. Photos reveal police officers walking in front of the protesters as they entered the vehicular lane, reported the New York Times.
Over the weekend, it was widely reported that JP Morgan recently made a $4.6 million donation to the NYPD — the largest donation in the department’s history. The bank is one of the targets of the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
Their newspaper, The Occupied Wall Street Journal, describes Zucotti Park as a place where “thousands gather every day to debate, discuss and organize what to do about our failed system that has allowed the 400 Americans at the top to hoard more wealth than the 180 million Americans at the bottom.” While this is the process of the protest, it’s also the central point – to bring together the Americans who feel like they lack a voice within the current political system.
On Oct. 1, the protesters voted on and released their first official list of grievances, titled the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City. At their nightly general assembly on Oct. 2, the park swelled to nearly standing-room-only capacity.
The protesters moved their nightly general assembly at police headquarters on Sept. 30. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis.
On Sept. 29, following celebrity appearances at Zucotti Park from the likes of Cornell West, Russell Simmons, Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon, Occupy Wall Street received its most powerful new supporters to date: the 38,000 members of the Tranport Worker’s Local Union 100, who will be offering financial backing to the protest movement, reported WNYC.
On Oct. 5, more labor unions, including the Communications Workers of America and the United Federation of Teachers, will march with the protesters from City Hall to Zucotti Park.
On Sept. 24, the NYPD arrested about 80 people in the area where Occupy Wall Street protesters were marching. Among those arrested was MetroFocus web editor John Farley, who was working on a story. Since then, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gained significant international media attention.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstration is different from most American political protests. Despite what some media outlets have reported, it was not organized by any single group. It wasn’t “led” by anyone, although it began when the magazine Adbusters put out a call for people to occupy Wall Street. It’s not a march. No one sought official permission. (The police found out through Twitter that the event was happening.)
Instead, the protest evolved organically, modeled after the social media-fueled Egyptian Revolution that began with the occupation of Tahrir Square. At the present, the protesters intention is to create a space for inclusive, often painstakingly slow, democratic discussion, rather than to create a set list of demands — to the confusion of several news anchors which MetroFocus has observed at Zucotti Park. You can watch the 24-hour live stream of their activities.
MetroFocus was down by Wall Street on Sept. 17, the first day of the protest, to talk with the demonstrators and capture photos of the action.
A crowd gathered on the morning of Sept. 17 in front of the National Museum of the American Indian, before marching to nearby Zuccotti Park at the intersection of Liberty Street and Broadway.
Alexander Holmes, 26, from Oakland, Calif. is looking for work.
Q:What brings you here today?
A: I came out here from Oakland, California to be part of what I see as the most important issue -- a group of issues encompassing everything -- and to voice our dissent and express our concern with the injustice that our country is experiencing.
Q: If you weren't here today what would you be doing?
A: I would be looking for a job and hoping the country would give me some kind of public healthcare option.
Q:What do you hope to accomplish?
A: What I hope is that people continually grow in numbers, occupy wall street, we'll face many arrests but then those people will be replaced by new people.
Protesters carried signs referencing themselves as 99 percent of Americans denied 75 percent of the nation's wealth.
Isham Lakatos, 26, is a graduate student from Brooklyn.
Q: You helped organize this. Tell us how the protest come together?
A: The call was made in late July by the magazine Adbusters to occupy Wall Street, inspired by Tahrir Square and the encampment movements in Spain, Greece, etc. We have like $2,500 for our food committee money,and people from all over the nation came.
But there's no organizational support for this, except for Anonymous, which is a loosely based collective, which is loosely organized collective, and the New York general assembly movement, which is not a real organization, and U.S. Days of Rage, so it's been completely horizontal, decentralized organizing.
Ethar El-Katatney, 24, is a well-known journalist From Cairo, Egypt.
Q: Why are you here and what do you think about the protest?
A: I have a master's in television journalism and I'm here with World Press Institute. It's cool that it's very decentralized. I was in Tahrir Square in Egypt and that's why we succeeded in our revolution, because there was nothing.
But there are no demands. Everyone I talked to was like, 'oh we just don't like the corporate consumerism.' But what does that translate as? Are you going to work through the system? Why are you deciding to go outside the system? So I think it'll be really interesting to see if this just fizzles out? Because curiosity is a huge motivating factor for a lot of people.
The occupiers at Liberty Plaza quickly formed what they called "general assemblies" --inclusive gatherings where people discussed what what they hoped to accomplish and how to do it. Opinions varied widely.
One participant said, "I think we're all in agreement on a lot of these issues....but what I would hope to get from this general assembly right here is actually what specifically we have in mind. I read an article in Adbusters magazine and it was sort of a spoof article about after the revolution happened and people didn't know what to do. I'm not saying we don't know what to do but I think we're dependent on people telling us what to do and how to gather. But where are we going to go from here and what would be an end result. What's the plan?"
Another said, "We should call our representatives and annoy the s**t out of them until they start listening."
Lige English, 25, from New York.
Q:What brought you down here?
A: What brought me down here is an unquenchable desire for economic justice and economic democracy. Fact is the corporations, represented especially by Wall Street, have a stranglehold on our political system that is precisely anathemic to democracy.
Q: How do think it's going?
A: It's off to a good start. Obviously the idea was that we were going to occupy Wall Street and so far the police have made that difficult. But all we can really do is regroup and see if this builds into something larger than it is right now.
Protester holds a sign calling for an end to corporate personhood, a reference to the 1886 Supreme Court Case Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad, which gave corporations the same rights guaranteed to humans under the Fourteenth Amendment.
Yaz, age not given, is an artist from Canada.
Q: What are you doing here today?
A: I'm an artist and I'd like to replace the Wall Street bull with an American Bison. I think we live in a new age and a new age requires a new symbol. It's a real American animal. It has a great inspirational story of reslience. It was nearly extinct and then it came back. It sends a signal to all naysayers that the American economy is over. The bull on Wall Street literally looks like a bull in a china shop.
Q: What kind of tie is that?
A: Well, it's just a tie.
Kira, 22, is a dancer from Brooklyn.
Q: Some people have complained that there are no set demands. What do you think?
A: I think just being here and raising awareness is good enough. Just exercising your right is important.
Sofia, 62, from Colorado is retired.
Q: What brought you here?
A: I was interested in seeing if what appears to be an uprising is actually happening. I've thought that we were having a momentous revolution in the 60's and I keep looking for the threads of that to come back together.
MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Josh and Judy Weston, Jody and John Arnhold, The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, Jean and Ralph Baruch, and The Nissan Foundation. Corporate funding is provided by Mutual of America.