As I mentioned on Facebook, after work I headed downtown to the ongoing Occupy Wall St. protest. My mental notes:
At 6:45pm, I’d guesstimate 400-500 people in Liberty Plaza on a chilly, rainy Monday evening. About 100 of them might have been in the line for donated free dinners. (Lots of pasta, probably mostly vegetarian, given the audience.) The crowd was impressive for a protest in its third week, in poor weather.
I should have realized this from Google Maps beforehand, but since I’m rarely that far downtown, I was surprised that the plaza is diagonally across the street from the WTC complex. If you walk to the west end and look right, there’s the under-construction “Freedom Tower.”
I didn’t know anyone there, and I didn’t have a sign, so I honestly felt more like a tourist than a protester. The real heavy lifting is being done by the people who are there full time.
There were a lot of people interviewing each other on camera, which seems narcissistic until you remember most of these devices are probably internet-capable, and this is how you get the word out when you don’t have your own cable news network.
For all the complaints that OWS lacks focus in its demands, the signs I saw were pretty narrowly targeted at banks and the rich. Granted, after the 700 arrests on Saturday, there were quite a few jabs at the NYPD, but most of the ire was still directed at Wall St. Lots of sentiment for taxing the rich. One sign protested B of A’s $5 debit surcharges. There was also a “Debt = Slavery” sign, and while I’m not sure of the sign holder’s politics, it’s a libertarian sentiment and gives hope to my belief that there is common ground between the two ideologies.
Code Pink was there (sigh) in the form of a dude draped in a NY Yankees blanket and a half dozen US flags, occasionally chanting gibberish. So, uh, thanks for helping, Code Pink.
There was a library of donated books inside plastic bins to protect them from the rain. Most of the books were politically charged, some relevant and some not. There were also a few bins that might have been there to alleviate the boredom of camping out in a city park for weeks at a time — I saw the final Harry Potter volume among a pile of SF/fantasy books.
The OWS movement is famously leaderless. I gravitated to a drum group that was the biggest attraction not involving food, and at one quiet point, a girl shouted her plan to lead an occupation of the subway in 15 minutes. The drums started up as she and her group walked away, to a handful of cheers. A couple of minutes later, the drums stopped again and someone warned the crowd NOT to occupy the subway, and that there were undercover cops in the crowd, so treat everything skeptically.
Then the drums started again and all that was in the past.
The drum group went to the other side of the plaza when it was time for the General Assembly, which I was curious about. But I couldn’t get close enough to hear anything — and it was probably meant for the permanent protesters instead of me anyway — so I left, having spent about 45 minutes there. If you want to donate to the cause, a weatherproof mic/amp set would be helpful. (UPDATE: Turns out the city requires a permit for “amplified sound.”)
The genius to this protest, if any, it is its tenacity. Had it been only over a weekend, or a day, it would have been completely ignored. But permanently taking up residence, in tarps and sleeping bags? Even for someone like me who has been railing against Wall Street for what seems like eons, that’s an insane level of commitment. And I appreciate it.