I marched and rallied last Wednesday afternoon at Foley Square in support of Occupy Wall Street. My friend Mel Grizer and I have been marching and rallying together for about four decades and we did not want to miss this one. Mel and I took the subway in from Brooklyn and started at Zuccotti Park (also known as Liberty Park) on Broadway and Liberty Street where the occupation is actually taking place. The park is a little more than a block away from the Wall Street Stock Exchange so the hundred or so young people camped out there are only symbolically occupying Wall Street.
The first thing that struck me at the park which was over-packed with occupiers and an even larger number of representatives of the "media," was a Buddhist prayer circle with a couple of dozen people sitting in variations of the lotus position and chanting. I felt like I was in a time machine being transported back to City College in the fall of 1968 when anti-war activists took over the Student Center creating a "sanctuary" for an AWOL soldier refusing to go to Vietnam. Allen Ginsburg, the Beat poet, stopped by and played a simple concertina while chanting "oooohmmmm."
The young people racing around the park with frenetic energy reinforced my sense of the past. They wore security labels, tried to herd us into a line for a march up to City Hall while constantly apologizing for telling us what to do, and were very enthusiastic, but it was not clear about what. They reminded me a lot of me when I was their age. It seemed that half of the young people were unemployed independent writers, reporters, and filmmakers and they were all taking turns interviewing each other.
Mel and I joined the line and finally made it up to Foley Square where we met about a dozen members of Brooklyn for Peace, mostly people over sixty. A striking feature of the rally was the "age gap." Everyone seemed to be under thirty recent activists or over sixty "sixties" veterans, with few people in the middle.
The spirit at Foley Square and the marches uptown and downtown was great but the range of demands was incredibly broad and proposed solutions were all over the political spectrum. On one end, young people shouted for "transparency" and an end to corruption, ideas that did not require any type of liberal pedigree and could just as well be endorsed by Tea Party members. The major slogans were "We are the 99%" and "Tax the Rich," ideas that could be endorsed by Obama and the Democrats. In fact, Moveon.org and the Working Families Party, which both work closely with the Democrats, were a major presence and had printed up many of the posters. I am a little suspicious of both groups, Moveon.org because it pulled out of active participation in the anti-war movement to support the Obama candidacy and presidency, and Working Families because in the end they shamelessly endorse whomever the Democrats nominate, including anti-union budgeting cutting Democrats like Andrew Cuomo.
In my experience as an activist, teacher, and historian, unfocused mass gatherings without a clear program or an organizational structure sooner or later fall apart or are usurped by people with their own agenda. The European nobility never had to worry about peasant uprisings because sooner or later all the peasants went home for planting or harvest or because the weather was getting cold. I think the best thing that can come out of Occupy Wall Street is that a new generation, like the generation of the sixties, will learn to organize people and at least some of them will develop a life long commitment to organizing for social change. My friends and I on the left are getting long-in-the tooth and thin on the top (at least the teeth and hair we still have). I don't think any of us would mind giving up our spot on the picket lines to enthusiastic younger people.
In that spirit, I want to share some messages I received from student activists at University Heights High School in the Bronx who have been down at Zuccotti park and participated in the march.
Josh: When I went to Occupy Wall Street, I saw so much. The energy of the people there was incredible. I spoke to many great people, chanted, and I want to go back again and protest. The people there are not just jumping on a bandwagon. They are there fighting for a cause and letting their voices be heard. One word kept going through my head as I walked through that park last night, that word was unity. These people are a united front and are from all kinds of different backgrounds and I loved it. This was an eye opener to me. I thought that the occupation wouldn't have an effect, but now I feel it has a chance to be successful. Even people who work in Wall Street came into the park. Sure they aren't "big wigs" or "head honchos" but some of them see that things have to change. I plan to go back as soon as possible and take pictures and make a video because we should not only occupy Wall Street but we need to occupy Washington DC, even if we have to march there from NYC.
Jordan: Today there was a lot going on. I interviewed different types of protesters to get a better understanding of what truly is happening to economy. It is like a Monopoly game and the wealthy own all the land, hotels, and companies. The poor keep landing on their property and they keep making us pay. I saw people marching and yelling "ALL DAY, ALL WEEK, OCCUPY WALL STREET." The slogan was catchy and many spectators joined in. I feel it is my job as a person to branch out, reach out to young and uninformed people, to convince them to join us to fight for our future.
Anthony: Zuccotti Park resembled a battlefield. Equipped with passion, anger, and frustration thousands of American people were fighting against corporate greed on Wall Street. Army Veterans, activists, unemployed Americans, union workers, and even people working for corporations flooded Zucotti Park expressing their concern for themselves, their families, and their country. This was democracy at its finest and I was amazed at how enthused and passionate these people were when it came to getting their voices heard. Army Veteran and student Gil Vasquez has been involved with Occupy Wall Street since the beginning. He says corporations are accountable and caused the economic downturn. He has been unemployed since 2008, unable to find work after graduating from college and serving his country. After hearing stories from several people I felt compelled to make a difference and join the fight. My eyes have been opened and I want to become more involved in politics as well as the decision making process. Experiencing firsthand what democracy is and what my country was built on has given me a positive outlook on the future and motivation to get my voice heard. I recommend all Americans young, old, rich, poor etc. go to Wall Street and experience something that is so powerful and enlightening.
Carolyn: It was a great experience to be there myself and I'm glad I took the time to do that. Occupy Wall Street is a contribution to the development of a truly democratic society, although I am concerned I did not see so many African American or Hispanic people. These were the middle class people who are no longer so middle class. Everyone at Liberty Park had mattresses to lay on. There were specific social clubs and committees like food, live stream, library, arts and crafts, and entertainment. The New York Police Department surrounded the protesters from every different angle, but like a photographer named Elan who came all the way from Florida said, "the NYPD will not stop us from creating a revolution." The media is trying to make it seem like everyone is angry and opposes the protest, but I am pretty sure if their jobs were at risk, they would have been marching too.
Efe: In your lifetime, there are certain situations you experience that you will never forget or might change your view on how you perceive things. For me, Occupy Wall Street will be one of these experiences. I heard about the protest occurring at Wall Street and how chaotic it is. It wasn't until I saw it with my own eyes, that I realized what my teacher has been saying this whole time. I interviewed people who were graduates and have masters and are having a hard time trying to even find a minimum wage job. It's saying you can go to college, acquire all the degrees you please but it won't guarantee you a successful life and you're even more likely, to end up in the same predicament as someone who didn't finish high school. These people have spent years of hard work in school and acquired the highest achievements in education and they can't get a piece of the American dream? My peers don't comprehend how much the economy is going to affect us. People in my community are walking around everyday not aware of what is going on like they've been blindfolded. This event has made me more politically aware of my surroundings. Whether the government likes it or not, they're not cheating (us) out of the American dream and that is without doubt -- I'm going to achieve it.