Saturday, 8 October 2011

"This is Patriotic": marching on Wall Street

My third report from Occupy Wall Street, from yesterday's Independent.


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They said it could never happen in America. At the foot of Wall Street, in the belly of the beast of aggressive market finance, two thousand mostly young protesters demonstrating against corporate greed are attempting to push through a police barrier and occupy the iconic street. The NYPD are beating them back with mace and batons, one white-shirted officer lashing into the crowd indiscriminately with his nightstick.

The air tastes of pepper spray, and there are screams from the crowd. “Who the fuck are you protecting?” they chant. The Obama generation is beginning to receive an ugly answer to that most basic of political inquiries.

These protesters are part of a breakout march from the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Manhattan’s Liberty Plaza, which has now been in place for almost three weeks. Copycat demonstrations against economic injustice are springing up in cities across the United States, and many thousands are involved. Two hours ago, under the glowing windows of Wall Street's palaces of finance, I’m standing in the middle of a crowd of twenty thousand students, labour members, activists and angry citizens chanting as one, over the sound of drums: 'the people, united, will never be defeated!' 'Thank god for unions, man,' says Lauri Faggoni, a filmmaker, standing next to me in the crush.
Labour unions, enthused by the energy of the protest, have been swift to come out in support of the occupiers, and have joined them for amarch and rally in Foley Square, taking up their mantra: “We are the 99 per cent” –the majority of the American people who have been cheated out of their share in the nation’s wealth by the remaining “1 per cent”.

As night falls, drums beat on the steps of Liberty Plaza, where it’s standing room only. 'We are here to thank you!" a worker involved in the strike against Verizon tells the excited crowd. 'We have to take back this city, we have to take back this state, and most important of all, we have to take back our democracy.”

The process of taking back democracy, however, is rarely painless. As the cry goes up to “march on Wall Street” and a group breaks away to do just that, the cops begin to move in. To date, twenty-three arrests of peaceful protesters have been recorded in New York. On Broadway, at the intersection of Wall Street, demonstrators are dragged out of the crowd or off the pavements, roughly cuffed and taken away by the police.

One of them is a young white woman on her own, who I see being hustled along the road by a number of police officers. “I was just standing on the sidewalk. Apparently that’s illegal now, just standing on the sidewalk,” she says, as the cops twist her hands behind her back and shove her into a car. I ask what her name is. “Troy Davis,” she says, naming the man who was controversially executed by the state of Georgia last week. “Troy Davis. Emmett Till. Medgar Evers. Martin Luther King.”

Republican Presidential Candidate Herman Cain has denounced the protests as “un-American,” but in the crowd, a cardboard sign reads “this is patriotic”. As I watch the crowd of mostly young people pushed back from Wall Street by lines of police, an extraordinary thing happens. A young man begins to shout the text of the First Amendment of the constitution. ”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” he begins. Instantly, using the ‘human mic’ technique that the occupiers have developed to carry their voices, a thousand others chant it back to him, condemning the NYPD for “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

As protesters take to the streets in cities across the United States, they are right to understand themselves part of a global movement – but there is something curiously American about it.

12 comments:

  1. I think stocks/stock markets should be outlawed.
    The people who is interested in investing in businesses could still do so. But they would have a vested interest in the REAL value of a business instead of speculating on a value of it that only makes sense if you are a stock-market speculator.
    This is really one place where cutting the middle man makes perfect sense.

    -Also: Thanks for your reports. You are doing an awesome job.

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  2. I remember when you came back from vacation, and wondered what this thing on Wall Street was...then you showed up to find out for yourself. All the way from England, no less...wow!

    I am the 99%...and I yearn to be there right now...marching with my fellow Americans. Family obligations prevent the 5 hour trip...for now. But I wanted to thank you for your insight...and your courage...there is hope still in the world when I see young people standing up against injustice and corruption...POWER TO THE PEOPLE! Blessings and a peaceful day of revolution to you and everyone there!

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  3. "If something can't go on forever, it won't"

    Trite advice, but no less true for all that: how long can our elected representatives ignore our interests on their campaign donors' orders? How long can bankers indulge in economically-damaging gambling and pay governments to bail them out? How long can the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few continue?

    If it can't go on forever, what's the end-point?

    I think we're in the 'end-game' phase, and the emergence of mass protests is part of that, but I cannot imagine the end state and that frightens me.

    Mob rule and the chaotic destruction of London's riots, writ large?

    Or perhaps the rich will win: it looks as if they're winning right now, with a passive population consuming bland media and shuffling quietly into poverty, peonage, illiteracy, disease and political oblivion.

    If that's true - the one percent as victors - 'Occupy Wall Street' will be airbrushed out of history, just like it's being airbrushed out of mainstream media today.

    Where does that leave Penny Red?

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  4. Heading to New York in two weeks with my camcorder, will be checking in and joining the protesters.

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  5. Thanks for your coverage. Your Twitter output was some of the most compelling to emerge that night.

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  6. I'm glad that you're here. Thank you for your reporting.

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  7. Thanks for the appearance on Democracy Now. It was good to see you after reading In The Red in New Statesman for some time.

    Slightly off topic is the fact that Marat/Sade is being presented by the Royal Shakespeare Company on the 50th anniversary of the play. Comments at Penny Red would be appreciated.

    The film of Marat Sade made in the late 60's is available through internet sources.

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