It began as a moment with only a few hundred US citizens demonstrating as close as they could get to Wall Street. The NYPD had fortified the financial district with structures transforming the area into a kind of Green Zone so no protesters would be allowed to demonstrate in front of the New York Stock Exchange or any other buildings in the financial district. This didn’t stop Occupy Wall Street. The people found a park nearby—Liberty Park, owned by Brookfield Properties—and they obtained “consent” from the owner to remain in the park.
Then, Joanne Michele, an occupier that has become well-known on Twitter under her handle @SabzBrach, tweeted, “It really does feel like a mini Tahrir Square.” People like The Nation’s Allison Kilkenny pointed out the protest had received a scant amount of media coverage and if the demonstration had been right wing it would have been given much more attention. And, labor journalist Mike Elk, staff writer for In These Times, noted, “For those decrying the size” of the occupation, the Wisconsin union “protests grew as the occupation of the capitol continued.”
One month later, the world is seeing how the movement that is becoming more and more powerful by the day has moved hundreds of Americans across the country to engage in civil disobedience in parks as they struggle to setup occupations similar to the one in New York. In the past couple of days, 175 Occupy Chicago participants were arrested. In Raleigh, North Carolina, 20 people were arrested on the steps of the State Capitol. In Arizona, nearly 100 were arrested—53 in Tucson and 46 in Phoenix. And, in Denver, 49 were arrested, after Denver riot police used pepper spray on Occupy Denver participants, who set up a “tent kitchen.”
So far, the movement has managed to withstand the “carrot” and “stick” approach of the powerful that is often used to squeeze the life force out of social movements. The “stick”—repression—has been employed by NYPD by white-shirted officers who threw occupiers around and violently arrested a handful in the first week for putting up tarps in Liberty Park, by Officer Antony Bologna who pepper-sprayed female protesters on September 24, by police who led 700 demonstrators onto the Brooklyn Bridge to unknowingly commit one of the largest acts of civil disobedience in recent history.
The Democrats have dangled the “carrot” of representation and increasingly indicated their “intention” to “support” the growing “Occupy” movement. The occupiers have been savvy, however, and opted to not meet with Democratic lawmakers. The occupiers have shown they understand the system is rigged by both of the two major US political parties, not just by Republicans. They have demonstrated that they are aware that the same Democrats that have offered their support are the same Democrats that have allowed and enabled Wall Street to protect itself from accountability for the 2008 economic collapse and the handling of taxpayer bailouts Congress granted to Wall Street banks. And, they have challenged the attempt by liberal pundits and Democratic Party politicians to cast the “Occupy” movement as a liberal or left-leaning Tea Party.
The media has also been part of trying to control and steer the “Occupy” movement. Members of the press have displayed scorn for the movement by constantly suggesting Liberty Park has become a place for stinky and smelly hippies to play bongos and drums and have sex and smoke pot and do drugs. They have gravitated toward topless women, who have been in the park using their bodies to express themselves politically, and tried to marginalize the occupation with images of topless women. This has not worked.
They have expressed their concern with the fact that Occupy Wall Street has no demands or message unifying them. They have suggested the occupiers do not know what they are protesting and that the leaderless movement cannot possibly go far. This has helped confuse the public, but it has not turned the public against the movement.
Criticism of Occupy Wall Street has been a way for the establishment media to defend their ideology on how politics is supposed to work. It is their way of affirming their conviction that at some point the children need to leave the streets and the grown-ups must be allowed to work in peace. Their criticism is part of the culture; expressing support for “hippies” or a “plurality of voices” preaching against capitalism, to them, can never win friends and influence people in the Beltway. So, they make criticisms whether there is evidence to support what is said or written.
Now, they write articles that open with the suggestion that the movement is aimless and unable to figure out where to go next. The reality is journalists, who open their stories on Occupy Wall Street with this concern, do not know where this will go next. They are projecting their anxiety onto the occupiers. They are expressing their angst over the pace of the occupation because they are lazy or tired of covering the “Occupy” movement already. They wish to tune out and move on to the next fad in journalism.
The truth is the occupiers have been very clear about where they stand. Any member of the press could easily understand where the occupiers stand by browsing through a copy of the Occupied Wall Street Journal. In the second edition of the occupation’s newspaper, they published their “Principles of Solidarity”:
On September 17, 2011, people from all across the United States of America and the world came to protest the blatant injustices of our times perpetuated by the economic and political elites. On the 17th we as individuals rose up against political disenfranchisement and social and economic injustice. We spoke out, resisted, and successfully occupied Wall Street. Today, we proudly remain in Liberty Square constituting ourselves as autonomous political beings engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and building solidarity based on mutual respect, acceptance, and love. It is from these reclaimed grounds that we say to all Americans and to the world, Enough! How many crises does it take? We are the 99% and we have moved to reclaim our mortgaged future.
The occupation has also addressed the media’s (and power elite’s) frustration with the fact that Occupy Wall Street has no “list of demands”:
Tens of thousands of New Yorkers streamed into Foley Square on Wednesday (October 4)—labor unions rolled out, students walked out. The occupation of Wall Street grew to resemble the city we live in.
What race, age, religion, occupation did we represent? None of them. All of them.
Barricaded in by steel pens, surrounded by a thousand cops and NYPD helicopters above, we saw our power reflected in their need to control us. But just as this is our movement, it is our narrative too.
The exhausted political machines and their PR slicks are already seeking leaders to elevate, messages to claim, talking points to move on. They are racing to reach the front of the line.
But how can they run out in front of something that is in front of them? They cannot.
For Wall Street and Washington, the demand is not on them to give us something that isn’t theirs to give. It’s ours. It’s on us. We aren’t going anywhere. We just got here.
The movement has succeeded where numerous liberal nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have failed. They have changed the dynamics in a way that electing better progressive Democrats has not. So, cynics, skeptics and naysayers, who have tried to “predict” where the movement will go next or why it is likely to fail or how it will be virtually useless if it does not make getting out the vote in 2012 a top priority, should admit they have been wrong with all their observations and predictions and quit trying to pretend they understand what has been happening.
They now are able to win standoffs with the police and the city. The police were prepared to force the occupiers to leave Liberty Park for a “forced cleaning.” Brookfield Properties wanted to impose more rules and restrictions on what could be brought into the park. But, the occupiers were able to get the park owner to back off.
A day later, during a convergence in Times Square, an obscene amount of police were prepared to make a mass arrest. They had already rammed horses into the crowd and pushed barricades into demonstrators to move them out of the road. They had already yanked people over barricades and made arbitrary arrests of demonstrators. They had riot police in position, along with horses, and the white-shirted officers ordered the protesters to disperse or face arrest. But, they held their position and this time the police backed down. A high-ranking officer called off the dogs and, as Amy Goodman said on Democracy Now!, responded civilly to civil disobedience.
Occupy Wall Street has struck a nerve and there are no signs that it will be petering out soon. The powerful cling to the hope that the weather will turn cold and snowy during winter and bring an end to the uprisings developing all over the country. They don’t want their police forces to constantly be dealing with and arresting citizens engaged in civil disobedience because this is a populist movement that has tapped into broad-based anger in the country. Also, they do not want to take on the challenge or have to do the arduous work necessary to change the way they conduct business as usual.
But, too many people in this country have had their consciences awakened. Too many have been energized and inspired by the slogan, “We are the 99%,” that has reset the debate on income inequality and economic injustice in this country. In the words of Howard Zinn, “a power that governments cannot suppress” is rising up. This power is a worldwide movement and it will not go away without achieving some sort of economic justice for all.