Gasoline, meet rocket fuel.
Organized labor joined with anti-Wall Street protesters Oct. 5 to produce one of the biggest demonstrations in more than 30 years in lower Manhattan and a volatile force for political change. Drawn together by shared frustration with corporate greed and a political system plagued by legalized bribes, older middle class Americans joined the younger generation to produce a boisterous crowd of more than 30,000 protesters.
Smaller protests were staged in cities and on college campuses across the country, from Seattle and Los Angeles, to Tampa and Portland, Maine. Ongoing protests also are underway in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Chicago, Denver, Raleigh and Boston.
“The middle class can’t afford to hire a lobbyist and that’s all they listen to in Washington now,” said Steve Lupo, 50, of Long Island, N,Y. “My hope is that we can grab onto the energy of these kids and reclaim our politicians from Wall Street and the rich. I really hope this doesn’t peter out – that’s why I’m here.”
Wednesday’s protest and march was the largest of the three-week-old campaign, which began Sept. 17. The Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) drew about 1,200 marchers a day before police were videotaped beating and pepper spraying its young members. Seven hundred marchers were arrested Oct. 1 and Bloomberg has threatened to drive the group out of a plaza near the World Trade Center where many of its members have been sleeping.
The Manhattan protesters object to rising economic inequality and the political influence of the multinational corporations that have been outsourcing American jobs to low-wage nations. They were joined Wednesday by members of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, National Nurses United, the Service Employees International Union, Communications Workers of America, Federation of Teachers, the Amalgamated Transit Union, and others.
“Our workers are excited about this movement,” United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the Reuters news service. “The country has been turned upside down.”
The ranks of the Manhattan marchers have been bolstered by police brutality and the political machinations of a wealthy mayor who has made himself an icon for corporate excess. Wednesday’s protesters had many different messages, but they were united in their contempt for corporate greed and the manner in which it has undermined the core American values of honor, integrity, fair play and shared sacrifice.
Jim Behrle, 38, of Brooklyn held up a sign that read "Overthrow Bloomberg." It was a reference to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who changed city electoral rules so he could secure a third term in 2009. The Wall Street tycoon became a millionaire as head of equities trading at the former Salomon Brothers investment bank and is now the billionaire founder and principal shareholder of the Bloomberg LP financial information network.
Bloomberg is the 13th richest person in the United States with a net worth that Forbes estimates at $19.5 billion. Behrle said the 69-year-old Boston-area native has over-stayed his welcome in The Big Apple.
“We just need a change,” Berhle said. “We need someone who is for people, not Wall Street. We don’t need a mayor that’s just for the corporate world.”
The U.S. has lost more than 3.5 million factory jobs since former president Bill Clinton signed the North American Free Trade Act in 1994, even as our population has expanded by roughly 20 million to 312 million.
More than 100 million Americans, ages 16 to 64, are without work, according to federal data. The percentage of that demographic without work has reached the highest level in more than 25 years. Most jobless Americans don’t show up in the monthly unemployment rate published by the federal government, which only measures active job seekers.
Nurses, teachers, communications workers, clergy, musicians, writers and others weaved between groups of young people Wednesday, smiling in the “American Autumn”as the energy for change that fueled the “Arab Spring” and has shaken Europe finally reached the streets of Manhattan in force. They joined in full-throated chants like “they got bailed out, we got sold out” and “hey, hey, ho, ho, corporate greed has got to go.”
Wall Street financial professionals, the self-proclaimed “masters of the universe,” moved quickly through the streets of lower Manhattan’s financial district. Some looked away from the protest signs in distress at the contempt being directed at them by Americans who don’t make zeroes for a living and don’t embrace their “greed is good” mantra.
“This is just the beginning and it’s long overdue,” said Rabbi Michael Feinberg, director of the Greater New York Labor-Religious Coalition. “People are finally getting angry about the injustices of the American economic system – who it works for and who it doesn’t.”
Organized labor bolstered the young protesters of Occupy Wall Street with tens of thousands of additional marchers and the wisdom of dozens of skilled union organizers. The plaza where Occupy makes its temporary home also experienced an influx of generators and hot meals.
In return, Occupy brought energy and legitimacy to a labor movement plagued by entrenched leadership groups, which have pilfered member treasuries for huge salaries, engaged in rampant nepotism, and insulated older workers from the pay cuts needed to prevent layoffs among their younger brethren. The unwillingness of many public employee union leaders to share in the suffering created by the deepest economic slowdown since The Great Depression had driven a wedge between the labor movement and the middle class they claim to represent.
Dan Cantor, head of the Working Families Party told The Daily Mail that unions were donating food blankets and office space to the protesters.
“They’re giving us more than we’re giving to them,” Cantor said of OWS. “They’re a shot in the arm to everybody.”
Victor Rivera, vice-president of Local 1199 of the Service Employees International Union, told The Daily Mail it had donated food for a week to Occupy. The nation’s largest union local also assigned liaisons from their political action committee to work with demonstrators.
“We are here to support this movement against Wall Street’s greed,” Rivera said. “We support the idea that the rich should pay their fair share.”
Local 1199 of the SEIU has 300,000 members.
The New York State Comptroller's Office placed the average cash bonus in New York City’s securities industry at $128,530 per person in 2010. That figure doesn’t even include their salaries.
Such misrepresentations have become the hallmark of the Bloomberg administration’s public reaction to criticism of Wall Street in recent weeks. Bloomberg derided fellow billionaire Warren Buffett as a “drama queen after the Oracle of Omaha called for the rich to be taxed on a par with those that work for them, noting that he paid 17 percent in taxes while his office staff paid 33 percent to 41 percent.
Between 1979 and 2005, the income of the Americans in the top basis point rose by 480 percent, compared to 21 percent for the nation. Those wage gains include the increased cost of employee health care – which companies count as wages.
There are 100 basis points in each percentage point.
“It’s not fair to say that wealthy people don’t pay their fare share,” said Bloomberg, who has a reputation for growing testy when confronted with the notion that he might be incorrect about anything.
Like Bloomberg, the New York City Police Department has seen its popularity plummet in reaction to its aggressive handling of the non-violent Occupy protests. The NYPD and NYFD hats and T-shirts that have peppered Manhattan streets for 10 years have been disappearing and were no where to be seen at Wednesday’s protests.
Police brass sought to discreetly hamper the protest during the day, before shoving and clubbing younger protesters trying to reach The New York Stock Exchange later in the evening, after most of the older marchers had left. Some tactics worked better than others.
Members of NYPD’s Technical Assistance Response Unit (above left) have been discreetly videotaping the Occupy Wall Street protesters, presumably to identify the ringleaders. Unfortunately for the police, most of the marchers don’t know who is in charge of the group, which describes itself as a “leaderless resistance movement.”
The decision by police to funnel protesters into a 12-foot-wide pathway made the procession seem even more numerous. It took more than 60 minutes for the marchers to leave Foley Square, three blocks north of City Hall, for the trek south to Wall Street through the narrow corridor.
Police at Broadway and Chambers Street succeeded in preventing protesters from heading south alongside City Hall. However, by forcing them to cross Broadway to head south they blocked the main road serving the financial district at rush hour, delaying tens of thousands of commuters and backing up the buses they ride home (right).
NYPD did succeed in preventing protesters from turning east on Wall Street and approaching the public areas around the New York Stock Exchange. Horse dung piled up outside the exchange as a unit of mounted police waited there in reserve (below left).
They were never called into play as a phalanx of scooter-borne cops was able to force protesters out of the street in front of the Wall Street turn, in combination with night-stick swinging supervisors on foot. Officers drove their scooters slowly into the crowd as white-shirted supervisors on foot singled out any protesters who stood their ground.
Neither NYPD Spokesman Paul Browne nor City Hall spokesman Stu Loeser have responded to requests from The Cynical Times for comment during the past week. They followed that policy again Wednesday, reserving their time for reporters employed by large corporate news organizations.
News organizations have no special legal status that entails them to different treatment than the general public in this country. There is no legal basis for public servants to confine their comments to representatives of media corporations traded on the exchange.
Browne told Reuters that a dozen people were arrested Wednesday, including one who was charged with assaulting a police officer. The NYPD spokesman revised that number to 23 Thursday morning.
Others were arrested for trying to break through a police barricade, Browne said, noting that protesters were pepper sprayed as they tried to approach the exchange by passing through a line of police officers at the intersection of Wall Street and Broadway.
Browne also told Bloomberg News that the protesters had a permit to demonstrate – a rarity for Occupy.
The New York Police Department has sought to marginalize some smaller media operations, including this nonprofit and nonpartisan new organization.
“Why should I talk to you,” Inspector Anthony Bologna shouted at one Cynical Times reporter with 30 years in the news industry the morning of Sept. 25. Contributors to The Cynical Times are primarily veteran journalists who have been displaced by the industry’s ongoing contraction.
Bologna has defined himself as the officer most likely to lose his temper during the 21 day protest. He has led the charge against nonviolent protesters of Occupy – particularly young female protesters – and is under investigation for pepper spraying a group of them on the afternoon of Sept. 25.
Bologna is also a co-defendant in an active lawsuit in New York Southern District Court that accuses him of false arrest and civil rights violations for his actions against demonstrations during the Republican National Convention in New York City in 2004.
Estimates for the number of participants in Wednesday’s march and the number of them arrested varied greatly, reflecting the growing divide between haves seeking to protect the status quo and have-nots seeking to upend it.
Occupy Wall Street estimated the crowd size at 50,000. Numerous mainstream media outlets estimated the crowd at 5,000 without citing any source for the figure, which seemed low given the depth and density of the throng.
The Cynical Times estimated the crowd at about 30,000 people, with a minimum of 20,000 and a maximum of 50,000. The wider range on the upside was simply due to the difficulty of counting the huge crowd, which spread far beyond any single vantage point. The portion of the crowd that could be seen from a single vantage point exceeded 20,000.
You can judge for yourself from the 360 degree montage of photos above, which were taken an hour into the rally in a series of consecutive shots that captured a portion of the protest. Thousands of additional marchers were spread out behind those in the pics.
Vietnam Veteran Tom Hagan, 60, and four of his friends ventured to the protest from their homes in Bayside, Queens. They said they were delighted by the sense of patriotism they encountered.
“I’m here to support the young people who have had their futures stolen,” Hagan said. “My work days are coming to an end, but their work days are just beginning. And I don’t see things changing for the better if we don’t change them – and we can.”
Tom McGrath, a plumber from Bayside, said he and his wife Nancy attended the rally because they’re frustrated by the high taxes working families are being socked with while corporations slip through the loopholes their lobbyists and accountants have torn in state and federal tax codes. The couple has raided their 401k retirement fund to make ends meet as work has fallen off.
McGrath, 52, said he has worked one day in the past six weeks and 15 months in the past 30 months.
“I didn’t work all last year and I still had a $2,950 state tax bill because I withdrew $15,000 from my 401k to pay our bills,” he said.
“I’ve been dying for something like this,” Nancy McGrath said of the protest. “We’re paying more taxes than the corporations and he’s unemployed. It’s ridiculous.”
Republican presidential candidates angling for donations from wealthy conservatives slammed the protests Wednesday, which frontrunner Mitt Romney described as “class warfare.” The former private equity fund CEO’s personal wealth is estimated at more than $190 million.
Herman Cain, another former CEO in the Republican field, called the activists “un-American.”
Most of the older protesters were gone as the sun set and the young people of Occupy Wall Street squared off with hundreds of police stripped from less affluent outer boroughs, like Brooklyn and the Bronx, to protect the New York Stock Exchange. The thin blue line held at the two Broadway intersections where marchers tried to turn east toward the exchange.
However, there was a pronounced decline in enthusiasm for the assignment between the ambitious white-shirted police supervisors like Bologna and the blue-shirted officers of the New York City Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the investment banking giant, sought to bolster its protectors Oct. 3, with a $4.6 million donation to the New York City Police Foundation – the largest in its history. Charitable foundations with ties to elected officials have recently become a popular way for corporations to purchase political influence via tax-deductible donations.
J.P. Morgan Chase reported profit of $5.4 billion in the second quarter of this year on revenue of $27.4 billion. The bank, which faces multiple legal claims tied to soured mortgage securities, also booked a $1.3 billion charge for additional litigation reserves.
The company is named for John Pierpont Morgan (left), a railroad magnate and financier who was called to testify before the Congressional Pujo Commitee in 1912. The committee found that a cabal of financial leaders were abusing the public trust to consolidate control over many industries.
The J.P. Morgan Chase donation will help the NYPD fund new laptops in patrol cars and security monitoring software, according to the company.
Back at the plaza, hundreds of young people danced, ate and socialized as the protests continued Wednesday night. Helicopters hovered overhead as chants of “we are the 99 percent, police are the 99 percent” reverberated from a nearby flashpoint. The pungent smell of marijuana smoke was thick in the air.
Ethan Kindred, 26, and his friend Ross passed the time playing chess in the dark in Zuccotti Park and dissecting the day's tactics. They agreed that the huge crowd was a major step forward for Occupy. That said, the unwillingness of older marchers to force the issue was a disappointment to them.
“A lot of them still have jobs and are afraid of being arrested,”Ross said.
“For this to work everybody has to be willing to get arrested,” Kindred replied. “Now, everyone is just waiting for the next move.”