'Children's Brigade' Joins Occupy Wall Street On Two-Month Anniversary
NEW YORK -- As college students took center stage at a Tuesday afternoon Union Square rally on Occupy Wall Street's two-month anniversary, a smaller but equally loud group of younger protesters refused to miss out on the action.
"We have power, we have friends, nothing will stop us, we fight till the end!" hollered Patrick Inosanto, a 10-year-old fifth grader at Brooklyn's P.S. 261. Inosanto was dwarfed by the throngs of protesters he marched with -- but they repeated his chants and amplified his cheers through the people's mic.
Inosanto's group calls itself the "children's brigade," after a similar protest action in Oakland, Calif. It is part of the 99% School, according to the group's spokeswoman Rivka Gewirtz Little, a movement started on Oct. 3 by parents in East Harlem that works in support of Occupy Wall Street by holding teach-ins for children and families.
After an afternoon of speeches in Union Square that focused on educational freedom for college students, the 99% School conducted its own march to Foley Square. "We're here to show that college isn't separate from K-12 education, it's all connected," said Marissa Torres, a fifth-grade teacher at Brooklyn's P.S. 261 and an organizer of the march. According to Torres, teachers and students from at least 15 schools participated.
As the group marched down a chilly Broadway, they were led by a sprinkling of children banging on small drums surrounded by adults. They were almost matched in number by cops on motorcycles and on foot. Some parents brought strollers and carried babies. "The parents are unstoppable, another world is possible," they yelled.
Torres and her colleague Brian Jones brought several students on the march, about a mile-long stretch.
"Creativity has been blocked, cutting the arts needs to be stopped!" 10-year-old Leah Moogan, a student of Torres, yelled into the people's mic.
"I'm for the arts," Moogan told HuffPost. "I'm a singer and I'm an actress. In my school, we've been hit by the economy. Our parents have to pay out of their own pockets for dance, music and theater. That's not right."
Moogan said she spent time in class crafting chants. "People are protesting for what they want and what they need," she said. "We've been planning this since the first day. We have a whole chantbook."
Jones and Torres said they used Occupy Wall Street as a teachable moment, related to broader lessons about democracy. Jones said he has a regular current events component to his class, and students started bringing in Occupy Wall Street-related articles. "They have big questions," Jones said. "They read an article about police arresting journalists. They wanted to know why that was happening."
Torres said Inosanto is known for being quiet in class. "I'm not really used to speaking up, but today is different," Inosanto told HuffPost. "Today is something after everything will never be the same. We're making new friends here, and I'm fighting for better schools."
"The economy has hit us," he continued. "I want more freedom in my school."
The 99% School advertised the march in advance, disseminating an email that expressed support from school parents.
Did you think evacuating Zuccotti would scare families away from Occupy Wall Street? NO WAY! The 99% School and Families for the Occupation will lead a children's brigade Thursday at 4:30 p.m. starting on the west side of Union Square. We will march directly to Foley Square to join fellow occupiers and union members in solidarity and protest.
But the larger group of college students and unions didn't necessarily know why the group was there. "That's great if there are kids here, the bigger picture is everyone united by our revolution," said Stephanie Sawyer, who created the Occupy Wall Street environmental group.
The children's brigade initially planned to meet with Occupy Wall Street's other education arm, known as "Occupy the DoE," outside Tweed Hall, home of the city's Department of Education -- only a few blocks from Foley Square.
Before the two groups were supposed to meet, however, the white steps of Tweed were fenced off and bare, save for a group of cops. Education officials were spotted earlier in the afternoon leaving through a heavily-secured side entrance.
Video courtesy of Christopher Mathias.