NEW YORK -- On Saturday afternoon, nearly a thousand people gathered by the bull statue in Manhattan's financial district, marched up Broadway, and poured into the plaza at Broadway and Liberty Street, holding up signs and shouting slogans like, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out." They were protesting what could perhaps be summed up as the corporate takeover of everything. By 9:30 p.m. or so, their numbers had dwindled, but of the hundred or so people who remained, many were there for the long haul, having come prepared with sleeping bags and mats and plenty of loose tobacco.
The call for 20,000 people to "flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months" was originally put out in July by the magazine Adbusters. Over the past few weeks, protesters had met in Tompkins Square Park to make plans. They set up a website: occupywallst.org. They talked and tweeted of a Tahrir Square moment for America.
Well, it wasn't that. It wasn't Athens or Madrid or London either. It wasn't even the San Gennaro street fair, which at that moment was separating hundreds of tourists from their dollars a mile or so away in Little Italy. Still, if the turnout didn't quite meet everyone's hopes, it didn't defeat them either. "This is great!" one young woman proclaimed defiantly, standing on a granite bench and shouting into a megaphone. "It's the first step!"
What would have to happen for people to amass in the streets of New York as they amassed in the Middle East or in Greece and Spain? How angry would you have to get before you packed a toothbrush and a blanket and took to the streets?
Sam Payne, a 15-year-old from Boston, said he was "unhappy with laws that grant corporations personhood and favor the corporations over the well-being of people." His father, John, was marching alongside him, a bedroll strapped to his back. "I'm here as his chaperone," John said, "not that I don't agree with everything they're saying."
Libor Von Schonau, 33, a native of the Czech Republic, said he just came back from Athens, where he spent the summer organizing protests in Syntagma Square. He said he was unhappy with what's happening "not just in the U.S. but globally."
"There's too many issues, from health care to war, to the way the U.S. is meddling in other countries -- what they do in Egypt, what they do in Palestine," he said.
Jake, an 18-year-old from New Jersey who would reveal only his first name, said, "I don’t think anyone is happy anymore." He was wearing one of those grinning masks favored by people who identify themselves as members of Anonymous, which is either a protest movement or an Internet subculture or something else, depending on whom you ask. One website claiming the mantle of Anonymous had thrown its weight behind the protest, and Jake had heeded its call. "The banks should have no involvement in government," he said.
His friend, Matt Parica, had a World War I-style gas mask hanging around his neck. "Corporations have more rights than people," he said.
Jake's mask was getting hot so he took it off.
"My family -- we had a small business. A cafe shop," said Jake. "And then around the time of 9/11, Starbucks started popping up everywhere and we got shut out of business."
He went on: "My sister just took out a student loan to go to college, and she told me she's going to be paying it off until her kids go to college."
He wasn't grinning.
"I see people wasting their lives working jobs they hate," Jake said. "I'm tired of it."
(Correction: An earlier version of the story said that a few hundred people attended the protest. According to The Nation and The Intnational Business Times, about a thousand people attended.)
A video of the protest from Eric Brown. See appearances from Jimmy "The Rent Is Too Damn High" McMillan and Anonymous: