What are We Occupying Now?
An article, written by Samantha Gross, appearing on Yahoo News Sat, March 17, 2012 stated “Protesters marking the six-month anniversary since the start of the Occupy movement were taken into custody by police officers.” The protest was organized Saturday, 17 March, 2012. The article went on to say 73 people were arrested on that Saturday. The next evening, Channel 7 Eyewitness News reported on the same event, stating that the demonstrators had locked arms and sat in the middle of Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street, after police announced on a bullhorn at around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night that the park was closed. The police formed a human ring around the park to keep more protesters from entering, then arrested all those who were inside the park. The activities of that Saturday seem to indicate that the O.W.S. movement is alive again after an involuntary hiatus they when the protestors were evicted from Zuccotti Park on November 15, 2011. From mid-September to mid-November, 2011, the world was looking at the O.W.S. demonstrators through the eyes of the media. Many questions occupied the public minds about the origins of the movement, such as what is their agenda and who is sponsoring them?
According to the website OccupyWallst.org, the official start of the movement began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States. It states that there are coordinated activities in over 1,500 cities globally. Adbusters Media Foundation, a Canadian activist group that prints a magazine Adbusters coined the slogan “We are the 99%”, organized and led the initial O.W.S. march. In his article Michael Greenberg stated that the protests are against economic and social inequality, greed, corruption and undue influence of corporations on government, especially the financial services. “We are the 99%,” is the headline that is used to indicate the widening chasm between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population in the United States. Their sign reads, “This is not a protest. This is an affirmation of the vitality and idealism erupting from underneath the AMERICAN NIGHTMARE.” Other signs read “Jobs, Justice, Education”, “End Student Debt”, “Reinstate Glass-Steagall, Make Corporate Lobbying Illegal.” They also chanted, “We need to overthrow the investors, not the government. Wall Street is the enemy of humanity.”
Protesters of the movement are mostly young, because of the social networks that are used to promote protests. As the group grew older protesters also became involved. The Baruch College School of Public Affairs published a demographic study of the diversity of age, gender, profession, race and religion. It found that one third were older than 35, half were employed full-time, and 13% were unemployed. Various religious faiths that have been represented at protests include Christians, Muslims, Jews. A small percent are atheists. Professions include schoolteachers, professors, sculptors, ex-servicemen, musicians, writers etc. The Ethnic breakdown from the survey was Whites 75%, Hispanic 6.5%, Asian 3%, African Americans 2% and others (5).
The initial location for the protest organized by Adbuster was 1 Chase Plaza, site of the Wall Street iconic Charging Bull statue. Police learned of this and fenced off the location to prevent anyone from assembling. The protesters then decided to move to Zuccotti Park. The park was private property so police could only force protesters to leave when requested to do so by the property owners. The park itself became a symbol of the protest and also the central location for protestors in New York. Sleeping tents, a soup kitchen, a library, and a medical station were erected. Having so many people from different backgrounds living together is a recipe for disaster. Soon after, several major problems appeared such as allegations of sexual assault, a rape, a few robberies, stolen personal properties, fire hazards, and a major problem with sanitation. The park owners involved the police and court, and on 15 November, 2011 they were able to evict the protestors.
Since the loss of the park, Occupy Wall Street has lost its momentum. I’d rarely read or viewed any news about the protest until my professor, Nancy Agabian, informed me that on 29 February, 2012 there was to be a symposium on Occupy Wall Street at the Rosenthal Library on Queens College campus. The location was changed to the Science Building room 206. I entered the lecture hall and was greeted by my classmate Andrea and directed to help myself to the free pizza. I was just in time for the opening remarks by Dr Grace, who introduced the first presenter, Mr. Lany Castle, who is leading Occupy Bronx. Mr. Castle is one of the original Occupy Wall Street organizers and is still actively participating in protests. He explained that his current focus is on Occupy Bronx and their activities. Occupy Bronx focuses mostly on the youths and building a relationship with the police in order to take back crime ridden areas of the Bronx. They also focus on working with community organizations in areas that they can be of assistance. He mentioned areas that they are exploring, such as poverty, homelessness, youth programs, etc. He closed by reiterating that Occupy Bronx is a branch of Occupy Wall Street and the struggle goes on.
The second presenter was Mr. Mombus Suliki. He and explained that he is a community activist and works with various organizations: Occupy Bronx, Occupy Queens, Occupy Wall Street and a few other smaller community based organizations. His overall objective is to help these organizations become relevant so that eventually they can make a difference. He believes that protests should be organized from the community outwards so they can have legitimacy. This way, the message can be coordinated to highlight the main issues. He spoke about the sacrifices that are needed to change our situation and, in effect, change the world, so that our children can have a future.
The third presenter, Mr. Michael Primo, is a full time community activist who is one of the original organizers of Occupy Wall Street. He spoke about his entry into the protest movement and how he became involved in Occupy Wall Street. He explained some misconceptions about Occupy Wall Street and why they don’t have a fixed goal. He said that at the core, the Occupy movement is a value based proposition. He used the octopus as an analogy, explaining that the head represents Occupy Wall Street and the tentacles are the different issues involved but still connected to the whole. The symposium ended with a question and answer session about the current status of Occupy Wall Street. Mr. Primo explained that the Occupy movement is currently regrouping, and is actively debating their next moves. From what I read and learned at the symposium, I think the heart of the movement was removed when it was evicted from Zuccotti Park. The fact that the original representatives are stating at this symposium that they have moved on to other projects supports this theory. The lack of finance and not having a structure with clearly defined objectives works against luring supporters which the movement greatly needs in order to move forward.
On Saturday, 17 March, 2012 protesters gathered and marched through the financial district of lower Manhattan, chanting and waving flags. They marched to the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial which is very close to the New York Stock Exchange and stopped at the statue of George Washington they danced and chanted, “We are unstoppable.” In the evening they ended their march at Zuccotti Park. A protestor Stacy Hessler carried a sign that reads, “Spring is coming.” She said it refers to the Arab Spring and to the spring season in general. She said, “I believe that now spring is here, the crowds will return to carry on the Occupy Wall Street protests. I firmly believe in the movement because it has highlighted many issues that people are talking about, which is the start of change.” This recent march by the movement was an effort to revitalize life in what was a vibrant effort witnessed by the world maybe too little, too late. The thunderous voices that called the world’s attention to the oppression of the masses by the few are just a whisper now. Many are hoping that they can reorganize and present a structured, united and cohesive front, with a list of issues to exert pressure on the politicians who will in turn have to respond. Such responses might be the catalyst for change.
Channel 7 Eyewitness News. 18 March. 2012. 7 p.m. newscast.
Gross, Samantha. Occupy Wall Street Celebrates 6 Months. Samantha Gross, 2012. Web. 18
Greenberg, Michael. “Zuccotti Park: What Future.” The New York Review of Books. December 8,