Quiet Riot: A Dispatch from Occupy Wall Street NYC

by Dax-Devlon Ross

I won’t romanticize what’s going on down here in Lower Manhattan; it’s simply not necessary. After a reported 5,000 demonstrators showed up to protest Wall Street on Saturday,  a couple of hundred protestors operating under the Occupy Wall Street  banner remain camped out in a small public park they’ve since renamed Liberty Plaza. Throughout the day they break into peaceful marches along Broadway then return to their base for speeches. Most Wall Street workers don’t have a clue what they’re protesting nor do they seem to care, which though a shame isn’t surprising. The protestors are scruffy and haggard. They look like hippies. In an area of town dominated by power suits, protestors in jeans and sneakers may as well be invisible.

If you look at these protest purely from a quantity/quality standpoint, they’re pretty sad, especially if you compare them to what we’ve seen emerge in Spain, Egypt, Tunisia, Colombia, and even Israel over the last few months. But that’s the thing: you really shouldn’t look at Occupy Wall Street through the lens of other protests throughout the world. The protests are incomparably distinct in part because the adversary is bigger, broader and in some ways less tangible. But also because the injustice the protestors are addressing isn’t nearly as visible, articulable or, for lack of a better term, fixable.

Based on reports I’ve read their ranks are populated by young, educated people who are fed up with the greed that has left their generation with diminished prospects. In fact, that’s a rather shallow reading of the “occupation.”

 

From what I’ve seen most of the protestors are young and therefore probably inexperienced in their organizing and demonstration tactics. But their youth shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of sophistication. They grasp the gravity of the crisis we’re mired in and are connecting what’s happening in America to the rest of the world. Like many Americans, myself included, who’ve complained about the corporate and financial elite running roughshod over the principles of democracy, they’re tired of waiting for solutions from Washington. They know the best we can hope for is a tweak here and a tweak there. They want significant change and they want it now. In perhaps the only respectable analysis of the occupation, The Guardian’s Micah White and Kalle Lasn wrote the following about the protestors:

There is also a sense that the standard solutions to the economic crisis proposed by our politicians and mainstream economists – stimulus, cuts, debt, low interest rates, encouraging consumption – are false options that will not work. Deeper changes are needed …

Their sparse numbers should not be equated to a dismissal of their cause either. A day ago OccupyWallStreetNYC had just over 5,000 Twitter followers. Now it has nearly 7,000, the venerable Cornel West among them who, three hours ago, wrote:

Furthermore, as of the writing of this post, they’ve reportedly raised more than $10,000 for food and and nearly $1,500 for a power generator.  That money is coming from somewhere and my sense is that the longer these people stay in solidarity, the more support they’re going to begin receiving. After all, that is the nature of an occupation.

What’s also important to note has been the city’s response. As paltry as this group appears to be, NYPD has turned lower Manhattan into something that resembles a police state. Cops are everywhere, on every corner, on scooters, in vans, and on foot, and they’ve erected barricades to protect institutions like the Chase building and the Stock Exchange from the occupiers. Meanwhile, pedestrians are blocked into narrow, jammed pathways. The entire neighborhood has taken on a gloomy, dispirited, oppressive langour. There’s also no telling how many overtime hours city taxpayers will have to foot the bill for, let alone which parts of the city have been left understaffed and under- protected in order to safeguard Wall Street interests from a few hundred conscientious objectors with drums, bullhorns and cardboard signs.

 

Interestingly enough the city’s intense reaction comes on the heels of a radio interview by Mayor Bloomberg during which he drew a causal link between joblessness and threat of rioting in the city. Three days after the interview the New York Times published a piece that captured the substance of the Mayor’s statements:

“You have a lot of kids graduating college can’t find jobs,” he said in response to a question about the poverty rate. “That’s what happened in Cairo. That’s what happened in Madrid,” he continued, referring to the uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the more recent protests against the Spanish government’s austerity measures. “You don’t want those kinds of riots here.”

Let it be known that this sparse group poses little to no threat of rioting. It is their presence — their visibility for all who pass through Wall Street to see — that poses the greatest threat.

Earlier this evening I attended an impromptu rally for condemned death row prisoner Troy Davis on the corner of Park Row and Broadway. Led by the Occupy Wall Street organizers, the rally attracted more than a couple of hundred onlookers and supporters. Many of them were wearing “I am Troy Davis” shirts. Given Georgia’s decision to deny Davis clemency today, it was a noble, necessary gesture of solidarity. But it was also something more–a recognition that these grievances are inextricably linked to one another. The prison industry operates within the same socio-political landscape as the financial system. Both have become unresponsive and indifferent to the plight and pleas of the people they are supposed to protect and serve. Both have become puppets of the few at the expense of the many. Both are part and parcel of a crisis of democracy that left to its own devices will only continue to perpetuate massive inequality and egregious injustice.

Like Dr. West, I stand in solidarity with the occupiers.

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