by B.A. Manning
For months, New Yorkers have been treated to the odd spectacle of the nonviolent protesters of the Occupy Wall Street movement being barred from public areas around the New York Stock Exchange as foreign tourists strolled through them at their leisure. That all changed Friday, when more than 300 protesters made their way into the area in small groups and gathered at the foot of the statue of George Washington before bursting into song, dance and protest.
The resulting spectacle was half flash mob and half political protest. It succeeded in communicating the frustrations of the faltering middle class to the self-proclaimed masters of the universe on Wall Street as financial professionals scurried for their offices.
The world did not come to an end.
“We’re here to stop the spreading economic and environmental collapse,” said Occupier Paul Moore, 25, of Blacksburg, Va.”This is the first time we’ve really been able to get to the statue of George Washington.”
Washington, who is universally regarded as the father of the United States, was also an agent for societal change. A former officer in the British Army, he took command of the Continental Army in response to tyranny and led it to victory in the American Revolutionary War.
His statue stands on the steps of Federal Hall, catty corner from the stock exchange. Afterward, marchers made their way along the front of the exchange before returning to Zuccotti Park. There were no apparent arrests or conflicts.
Friday’s protest was marked by a visible decrease in the physical tactics that have marked the New York City Police Department’s response to the Occupy movement since it returned to New York City a few weeks ago and began holding weekly Protest Friday marches in Lower Manhattan. Those tactics include driving groups of police scooters at protesters.
A diverse crowd of more than 600 people participated in the various stages of Friday’s protest, which featured both old and young, black and white, native New Yorkers and people from around the nation.
Occupy Wall Street, which began Sept. 17, is the first political movement to succeed in putting large numbers of middle-class Americans into the streets to fight for democracy since the Vietnam War. It has focused public attention on societal imbalances that have concentrated the nation’s wealth in the hands of its richest citizens since 1980, diluted the political influence of its faltering middle class, and allowed the banking sector to engage in predatory behavior.
“Personally, I think the future of our generation is at stake,” said Michael Pellagatti (right), 25, of Jersey City, New Jersey. “We have to pay for all the bailouts, the wars, the police state, corporate subsidies and the environmental catastrophies created by this slide into plutocracy.”
The financial sector is far and away the largest source of campaign contributions to federal candidates and parties, with insurance companies, securities and investment firms, real estate interests and commercial banks providing the bulk of that money, according to the OpenSecrets.org website. The sector has donated $207 million since Jan. 1, 2011 to a U.S. Congress in which 47% of senators and representatives are millionaires.
By contrast, only 1% of the U.S. population are millionaires. The dearth of financially representative elected leaders is reminiscent of the cry of “no taxation without representation” that transformed a nation of colonists into rebels.
Protesters drew the attention of workers on Wall Street and passerby Friday. Some responded favorably. Some were opposed. One agitated young man in a suit held up the ID badge hanging around his neck as he made his way through a crowded Zuccotti Park afterward, saying “it’s OK, I work on Wall Street” as police and protesters looked on quizzically.
Police spokesman Paul Browne and Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser did not respond to inquiries from The Cynical Times for comment, preserving a perfect streak that now dates back to June. New York City’s mayor, the richest elected official in U.S. history, spent the day lobbying against the use of Gracie Mansion as a mayoral residence.
The 70-year-old’s silence about Occupy was a far cry from the challenge he issued on March 19, when he warned protesters if “you want to get arrested, we’ll accommodate you.”
The remark doesn’t appear to have had quite the initmidating impact on working-class New Yorkers the Boston Billionaire anticipated.
Instead of acknowledging the obvious conflict of interest and sitting out the class warfare dustup between Occupy and Wall Street, Bloomberg has used his control of the New York City Police Department to become an active participant in it. The term-limited mayor, who leaves office at the end of 2013, described the department as his “own army” during a Nov. 29 speech.
Bloomberg is the 11th wealthiest man in the U.S. with a personal fortune of $20 billion, according to Forbes. The vast majority was amassed from Wall Street subscribers to his Bloomberg LP financial information network.
“I expect more, not less, political activism over the next five years,” DePauw University Journalism Professor Mark Tatge told The Huffington Post. “Most of this is because of the widening split between the haves and have-nots in this country.”
“The system has to change before it collapses,” warned a 30 year-old protester who identified himself as Kephous. “It’s rife with inequalities and people are suffering because of it.”
One of those inequalities is the role of political donations – essentially legal bribes – in the pay-to-play system of government that now exists in Washington, D.C., where career politicians routinely shuttle back and forth between elected office and lobbying careers. Their arrogance was on display in 2011, when efforts to rein in a for-profit college sector pilfering the federal treasury via Pell Grants and student loans were thwarted by lawmakers who had accepted generous donations from the sector.
The focus of the latest Protest Friday was teaching people how to lead a march, handle law enforcement, and conduct themselves properly as nonviolent protesters, according to organizers.
Meanwhile, Occupiers in the nation’s capital marched on the Environmental Protection Agency on Friday and the 99% held a general strike in Spain on Thursday. It’s one of several nations around the world where hardworking people have been tagged with austerity measures to help pay off bad stock market bets made by predatory banking interests.
The New York contingent of the Occupy movement put more than 1,200 people into the streets last weekend in a trio of protests against police brutality, pollution and the unequal division of societal burdens and benefits. They also gave thousands of commuters a free ride to work on Wednesday as Occupy activists worked with members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 and the Amalgamated Transit Union to open up more than 20 subway stations across the city for free entry, according to The Huffington Post.
Relations between police and protesters reached a low-point on March 17 when 73 Occupiers were arrested during a nonviolent protest in Zuccotti Park by more than 600 people to mark the group’s six-month anniversary. The crackdown was so violent that some demonstrators described it as a “police riot.”
One protester suffered a seizure during the March 17 chaos, according to The Huffington Post. One man had his head smashed into a window and another woman was thrown onto the hood of a car by her neck. When the incident was over, a handful of protesters were charged with assaulting police officers.
Occupiers in New York City plan to gather simultaneously on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan and at 1 Hanson Place in Brooklyn for a march to Cadman Plaza.
Occupy Wall Street is also preparing for a nationwide general strike on May 1.
“Everything’s at stake,” said one 30-year-old woman from Queens, who declined to give her name. “The world is at stake. Our humanity is at stake. Fighting injustice like this reminds us of our humanity and brings us closer together.”
The Cynical Times is devoted to covering issues that matter to the faltering middle class and welcomes stories, photos and videos from members of The Occupy Wall Street movement. Please direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org