Photographs and especially videos of the NYPD’s actions during the occupation of Wall Street have sparked outrage and media attention regarding the protests, which have now spanned ten days. Accordingly, witnesses, including our own photographer, tell us that the NYPD has been specifically targeting photographers and videographers for arrest. Two protestors who were maintaining the live video feed of the protests were arrested on Saturday, the first claiming that she was detained solely because she was holding a camera. “Those are the first people the police go after,” protest organizer Patrick Bruner tells us. “They’re always the first to get held up.”
While it is well within a protestor’s right to film a demonstration or an arrest, NYCLU spokesperson Jennifer Carnig tells us, “You cannot interfere with police action, i.e. get in the middle of an arrest to take a photo or make a video.” It may be a stretch to say that those operating the protest’s live stream would be able to physically “interfere” with an arrest while holding a laptop. Times’ Up! photographer Barbara Ross tells us that as she was filming Saturday’s march down Broadway to Union Square, a white-shirted NYPD officer repeatedly warned her that she would be arrested unless she started marching with the demonstrators. “I was standing off to the side so I could document what was going on—you couldn’t really see much from within the group,” Ross says, “And he kept saying, ‘You either join them or I’ll arrest you.’ I wasn’t blocking traffic or harming anything, it was obvious it was because I was holding a camera.”
Jim Kiernan, who was shooting Saturday’s protests for Gothamist, said that NYPD officers were “definitely” zeroing in on anyone with a camera. At around 12th Street and Fifth Avenue, Kiernan saw a large black SUV pull up next to a few police supervisors. “It was Ray Kelly. He rolled down his window and I had a perfect shot but I knew if I pointed my camera at him I’d get arrested on the spot.” Moments later, “a videographer who I had seen all day, who didn’t seem to be part of the protest was arrested. One officer took her camera, another cuffed her,” Kiernan said. “A few seconds later, another photographer next to her gets arrested—no provocation whatsoever. That’s when I decided I was done for the day.” “The NYPD has been known to aggressively videotape people,” Carnig says. Indeed, a police officer can be seen filming in this arrest video, presumably protecting them from any accusations of mistreatment. “We encourage people to let us know if they’ve been harassed by the cops for taking a photo or making a video.” We’ve yet to receive comment from the NYPD.
Surrounded by the headquarters of some of the world’s most powerful financial players, over two thousand protesters converged on Wall Street this Saturday. By the end of the second day, those occupying Liberty Park, formerly known as Zuccotti Park on Broadway and Liberty St., had settled in, partially helped by pizza, hot chocolate and blankets paid for and delivered by their supporters in New York City and across the country. The Wall Street occupation began on Sept. 17 after months of planning and encouragement by Adbusters, who originally called for the occupation in response to a corporate-controlled political system that is no longer serving the needs of the majority of its people. They were soon joined by the hacktivist organization Anonymous in calling for a general people’s assembly. While the meetings leading up to the protest focused on dozens of smaller goals, Saturday morning, in the dozen or so people’s assemblies that broke down in Zuccotti Park now renamed Liberty Square, the protesters identified their key goals as liberating America from the death-grip of finance and creating a sustainable, just future for every member of the country. Specifics ranged from a progressive tax system, ending the wars and creating universal healthcare to more localized solutions like supporting and participating in a variety of worker owned cooperatives.
The protest began around noon in Bowling Green Park with approximately 3,000 people filing in from various ad hoc rallies across the Financial District — including a crowd that swarmed around the Wall Street Bull earlier in the day. The crowd then began marching towards 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza. While the group’s original goal had been to occupy the sidewalk in front of the building, the area was cordoned off and surrounded by more than 40 police cars and 80 police officers. Instead, the crowd, which had decreased to less than 2,000 by 3 p.m., marched to Zuccotti Park on the Corner of Liberty St. and Broadway. Once they were assembled, dozens of organizers stood on park benches and tables urging the general assembly, now numbering around 2,000, to break down into smaller assemblies. Within about ten minutes, a dozen or so general assemblies had broken out — but not without the drowning sound of a brass band, hired by an unknown group to disrupt the protesters. The brass band ended its performance within a half-hour, by which time most of the general assemblies had already progressed with their agenda.
The general assemblies, who began their meetings in circles, sitting on the concrete, broke down discussions into three general areas — problems, solutions and strategies. Most discussions began with an open session for assembly participants to vocalize what they viewed as the biggest challenges the country faces in freeing itself from the power of finance. While much discussion focused on the corruption and collusion between Wall Street and Washington, many assembly members also noted that general apathy was also a problem of education. The second part of the general assemblies focused on developing general solutions for the problems just identified. Regulation, transparency and again education became the hot talking points for this session. By the third session, assemblies were working on exchanging strategies for local, national and international action.
And in fact, those occupying Wall Street were not alone. News flooded in throughout the weekend of sister-rallies across the United States, including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The international presence was heavy at the rally itself. Not only had protesters driven in from across the country, but activists we spoke to also arrived from as far as Mexico and Tunisia. “This is my first protest, my first movement,” explained Kyle from Buffalo, New York, donning the Guy Fawkes mask symbolic of the Anon hacktivist collective. “A system that’s only focuses on rewarding greed should be challenged,” he said on Saturday, echoing the feelings of many protesters at the occupation who confessed the enormity of the problem requires an equally enormous series of solutions.
On Saturday 17 September, many of us watched in awe as 5,000 Americans descended on to the financial district of lower Manhattan, waved signs, unfurled banners, beat drums, chanted slogans and proceeded to walk towards the “financial Gomorrah” of the nation. They vowed to “occupy Wall Street” and to “bring justice to the bankers”, but the New York police thwarted their efforts temporarily, locking down the symbolic street with barricades and checkpoints. Undeterred, protesters walked laps around the area before holding a people’s assembly and setting up a semi-permanent protest encampment in a park on Liberty Street, a stone’s throw from Wall Street and a block from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Three hundred spent the night, several hundred reinforcements arrived the next day and as we write this article, the encampment is rolling out sleeping bags once again. When they tweeted to the world that they were hungry, a nearby pizzeria received $2,800 in orders for delivery in a single hour. Emboldened by an outpouring of international solidarity, these American indignados said they’d be there to greet the bankers when the stock market opened on Monday. It looks like, for now, the police don’t think they can stop them. ABC News reports that “even though the demonstrators don’t have a permit for the protest, [the New York police department says that] they have no plans to remove those protesters who seem determined to stay on the streets.” Organisers on the ground say, “we’re digging in for a long-term occupation”.
#OCCUPYWALLSTREET was inspired by the people’s assemblies of Spain and floated as a concept by a double-page poster in the 97th issue of Adbusters magazine, but it was spearheaded, orchestrated and accomplished by independent activists. It all started when Adbusters asked its network of culture jammers to flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens and peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. The idea caught on immediately on social networks and unaffiliated activists seized the meme and built an open-source organising site. A few days later, a general assembly was held in New York City and 150 people showed up. These activists became the core organisers of the occupation. The mystique of Anonymous pushed the meme into the mainstream media. Their video communique endorsing the action garnered 100,000 views and a warning from the Department of Homeland Security addressed to the nation’s bankers. When, in August, the indignados of Spain sent word that they would be holding a solidarity event in Madrid’s financial district, activists in Milan, Valencia, London, Lisbon, Athens, San Francisco, Madison, Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Israel and beyond vowed to do the same.
There is a shared feeling on the streets around the world that the global economy is a Ponzi scheme run by and for Big Finance. People everywhere are waking up to the realisation that there is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which speculative financial transactions add up, each day, to $1.3tn (50 times more than the sum of all the commercial transactions). Meanwhile, according to a United Nations report, “in the 35 countries for which data exist, nearly 40% of jobseekers have been without work for more than one year”.
Yesterday on the Occupy Wall Street web site, an article suggested that an occupation protest inspired by the demonstration on Wall Street had begun in San Francisco, with 6 participants so far, and yet more to come in future days. I can find no confirmation of this report in any news article or activist blog. There was a protest in San Francisco that was reported on by the San Francisco Examiner yesterday. That protest was indeed linked to the Occupy Wall Street protest, as both are associated with the online activist group Anonymous. However, the San Francisco protest was not inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protest. Rather, it was inspired by a series of five earlier protests in San Francisco. Furthermore, the numbers of protesters in this series of demonstrations is not growing, as the Occupy Wall Street site claims. Instead, these protests have been shrinking in size.
It is a common practice for protest organizers to exaggerate the size of their protests and the impact of their efforts. In the short term, such exaggeration helps by getting first-time protesters excited. Those who are more experienced protesters, however, interpret such inflated claims as a reason for distrust. They’ve heard protest organizers make wild claims of “global revolution” before. Protest organizers would do better to give realistic and honest assessments of their successes and failures, so that they can adapt effectively to the real political situation. It’s this kind of realism that has acknowledged, at long last, that protests in the style of International ANSWER’s centralized, coreographed marches never provided much political benefit.
The Occupy Wall Street protest itself does not appear to be spreading. However, the style of protest used effectively by the Occupy Wall Street group is spreading, and providing a new and stimulating kind of ritual of political demonstration for American liberals. I spoke yesterday to a few of the state coordinators for the upcoming October 6, 2011 occupation of Freedom Plaza. An idea that many of them expressed is that the participation in the protest was more decentralized than it had been for demonstrations that they had previously attended. Thousands of people have pledged to be in Freedom Plaza, but there are few, if any, buses scheduled to take people down and then take them back home. To go back home, after all, isn’t the point.
In the newly-renamed Liberty Plaza, the place that hundreds of protesters have come to call home for the last three days, nothing is quite predictable. At around 6:15 in the morning, those of us sleeping on the plaza’s hard, cold surface got the call to wake up, and someone called for a General Assembly meeting at 7. After people groggily packed up their bedding and lined up for dumpster-dived bagels, the meeting began. Its purpose was a run-down of the day’s events. Committees that were meeting the night before had decided to have marches to Wall Street at 9, 11:30, and 3:30. But then somebody came to the front and announced through the “people’s microphone”—those around him echoed one phrase at a time so others could hear—that he was heading off to march now. Wall Street bankers were walking to work as we were sitting there! He ran off and, immediately, one or two hundred others followed. They marched around the plaza, chanting “Occupy Wall Street! / All Day! All Week!” and then set off heading south on Broadway. The first weekday demonstration of the occupation had begun.
Upon arriving at Wall Street, they found that the blocks around the New York Stock Exchange, which had been barricaded completely throughout the weekend, now had open sidewalks. (The roadways themselves were still barricaded, allowing the police to move around easily.) After briefly massing at the entrance to the sidewalk, they proceeded down it, still chanting, and banging on the barricades, making a mighty noise. They were intermingled, inevitably, with those trying to get to work in that area and mainly clogged the way—which was the point. “We! Are! The 99 Percent!” they chanted. Speaking to the police, they’d sometimes replace “We” with “You.”
For almost two hours the march continued, continually evading attempts by the police to pin them in or guide them out of the area by making sudden turns and course reversals. Just as the barricades on Broad Street were opened to let them out and keep them out, they turned around and headed back up toward the Stock Exchange and along Wall Street. (This was when Democracy Now! called me for a report.) Then, after marching around the Exchange on all sides, the crowd turned into a long, two-directional picket line along Wall Street, going back and forth and back and forth as the opening bell was rung. “Ring! The! Bell!” they cried. With so many occupiers out, scouts made sure to check that there were still enough in Liberty Plaza to hold it.