Occupy Takes NYC’s Times Square

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The Red Stairs in Times Square joined the growing list of New York City landmarks closed to those who threaten the corporate revenue of its billionaire mayor Tuesday, while local news outlets controlled by Michael Bloomberg’s fellow media tycoons continued to limit public awareness of his repressive actions.

Police blocked access to the Red Stairs to more than 1,200 peaceful protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement, who had hoped to exercise their freedoms of speech and assembly there during a global day of action. The iconic stairs rise above Times Square.

The ruling political machine and its business allies previously have prevented the nonviolent protesters from visiting the 9/11 Memorial and the area around the New York Stock Exchange. Bloomberg also evicted the Occupy tent camp in Zuccotti Park in a bloody crackdown on Nov. 15 that was emulated by big-city mayors across the country.

Occupiers still succeeded in bringing their cause into the public forum Tuesday, by demonstrating at the foot of the stairs and crisscrossing Gotham with marches.

“I grew up in a police state in Belfast, Ireland, and this is definitely what a police state looks like,” Mark Hamilton (left), 35, of Jersey City, N.J., said as he cradled his 3-year-old daughter in his lap. “We should be on those steps. They only roped them off to hinder Occupy Wall Street.”

Occupy has focused public attention on the increasing domination of American society by predatory financial interests, like those of the oil-trading Koch Brothers and of Bloomberg. The wealthiest elected official in U.S. history, who outspent his last mayoral opponent by a 10-to-1 margin, has built a $20 billion fortune serving the very Wall Street entities he’s now protecting.

Bloomberg’s repressive campaign to deny Occupy access to public areas has been the cornerstone of the battle he’s waged against the populist movement, which is fueled by opposition to the continued tilting of the American playing field toward the 1%. The 70-year-old’s obvious conflict of interest and use of his elected office to protect his business interests is one of the great under-reported stories of this class warfare dustup.

Bloomberg is routinely treated as a neutral third party in Occupy stories published by New York City’s mainstream news media, which is controlled entirely by wealthy interests. They include The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, and local Fox News affiliate, which are owned by Australian Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.; Bloomberg News and Businessweek, which are owned by the Boston-born Bloomberg; and The New York Daily News, which is owned by Canadian-born Mort Zuckerman.
Zuckerman is the 147th wealthiest person in the U.S., with a personal fortune estimated at $2 billion, Bloomberg ranks 11th, and Rupert Murdoch ranks 38th with a personal fortune estimated at $8.3 billion.

The Ochs-Sulzberger family, which is now in its fifth generation of control of The New York Times, has seen its fortunes wither under the leadership of scion Arthur Sulzberger. The silver spoon has been active in New York City real estate circles, serving as the first chairman of The Times Square Business Improvement District. That conflict of interest helped force Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Sydney Schanberg from the Times after he tried to apply the same aggressive reporting techniques to the city’s political-development machine that made him famous overseas.

“The American corporate structure, especially your banks, is especially reviled in Europe,” said Marrjolijn Kok (left), 42, of Rotterdam, Holland.

The archaeologist, who heads Occupy Netherlands, says the movement is enthusiastically supported by a European population that maintains a favorable view of U.S. residents despite their overwlemingly negative view of our pay-to-play government.

“There is a sense in Europe that the American people have lost control of their government,” she said.

There was virtually no substantive coverage of Tuesday’s protests in New York City by any local mainstream publications. Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser did not respond to a request for comment from The Cynical Times.

Small media access to press passes, press plates and city officials has been severely curtailed under Bloomberg. The Gothamist spent eight years seeking a press pass and several bloggers also had to sue the city to secure the bright yellow credential, which insulates working reporters from arrest. The plates insulate news vehicles from being towed. Without them, small media organizations have to compete alongside the mainstream corporate media at an even greater disadvantage.

The nonprofit Cynical Times has requested comment from Loeser on more than a dozen occasions since its founding in June without a single response.

Occupy employed the small group tactics Tuesday that its used in recent weeks to skirt the informal police checkpoints meant to hinder the movement of political protesters while allowing tourists and workers to travel without impediment. The practice has created the unlikely spectacle of foreign tourists moving freely through areas prohibited to U.S. citizens who do not parrot Bloomberg’s elitist values, including numerous military veterans who joined the armed services in reaction to the 9/11 terror attacks.

There were no Occupy-related arrests Tuesday, according to an NYPD spokeswoman.

The protest was marked by the return of 16-year-old Messiah Hamid (left), who has been recuperating at home in Oakland, Calif., since being chased, attacked and dragged through the streets of Tribeca by police March 24. The incident occurred after she refused to move out of the way of a police scooter heading the wrong way down a one-way street through a group of protesters. The popular young Occupier’s shirt was torn off and she was carried back to a paddy wagon in her bra.

“This is amazing,” Messiah said as she participated in the Occupy general assembly Tuesday beside the Red Stairs. “It’s so nice to be back with my Occupy family and to dance and share food with everybody.”

Messiah said she’s still suffering from the effects of a rotator cuff injury sustained when her arms were pinned behind her March 24 and from numbness in her fingers when she was cuffed for four hours during the Nov. 15 raid on the Zuccotti Park camp.

The news blackout being orchestrated by the 1% in New York City runs counter to long-established journalism practice. Potential conflicts are routinely disclosed in mainstream news articles about elected officials. For example, it’s common practice for John Corzine’s and Henry Paulson’s former status as CEOs at Goldman Sachs to be disclosed when they’re cited respectively as a former New Jersey governor and former U.S. Treasury Secretary.

Bloomberg, not so much. The more than $700 million his privately held media empire derives each month from the financial sector is almost never mentioned. Neither is his personal fortune nor his status as the wealthiest elected official in U.S. history.

The media suppression campaign follows a failed get-tough stance by Bloomberg in which he described the NYPD as “my own private army” and challenged Occupiers to try and protest outside the New York Stock Exchange, saying “you want to be arrested, we’ll accommodate you.” More than 80,000 people rose to the challenge May 1.

Joe Trippi, a political consultant who managed Howard Dean’s Internet-driven presidential campaign in 2004, said the Occupy movement has survived the loss of its camps, but is still struggling for political traction as it seeks to remain independent of the big political machines expected to dominate the November elections.

“Occupy Wall Street as a movement is very much alive,” Trippi said. “But because many Occupiers have rejected any focus on electing representatives to office – as the Tea Party has done – its goals lack a narrative that the media and pundits can understand.  (They) see OWS as a protest movement and not a political movement. Of course many in the OWS think that is great – but moving forward, numbers at the ballot box matter.”

Former House majority leader Dick Armey, who now heads a Republican lobbying firm called “Freedomworks,” and Republican lobbyist Sal Russo helped start the Tea Party.

Tuesday’s protest in Times Square initially looked to be a dud as heavy rains hindered turnout to about 400 people at 6 p.m. However, a pair of marches featuring more than 500 people each joined the throng from the south and north about an hour into the event, sending a surge of energy through the area as the crowd spilled over into surrounding streets

The combined group marched south and west to Bryant Park about 7:30 p.m.

The only thing missing for longtime Occupier Nelson Cruz was the black Occupy flag he’s known for within the American pro-democracy movement.

“The police have confiscated three of my flags so far, but that’s OK, I just ordered another 20,” said the 29-year-old Brooklyn resident. “It pisses me off, but I’m getting a better deal now because I’m buying in bulk. So, they kind of did me a favor.”