2011-09-22 – Demonstrators Take To Wall St – Villager

Demonstrators take to the [Wall] street

By Jefferson Siegel


Hundreds took to the streets of Downtown last Saturday for an action dubbed “Occupy Wall Street.” Organizers called for political and economic reforms to recognize that 95 percent of the population is struggling in a bad economy.

Over the course of several days, participants marched throughout the Financial District under the watchful eyes of police and set up an encampment in Zuccotti Park, a privately owned public space across from the World Trade Center site.

By Tuesday night, hundreds of people had already spent several nights in the park. A Twitter post asking for online donations for food led to thousands of dollars in contributions. A local pizzeria was the main beneficiary, as deliverymen made several trips a day to the park, pushing carts piled high with hot pies.

In the weeks leading up to the occupation, organizers had held a series of public “General Assembly” meetings in Tompkins Square Park where participants were encouraged to voice their suggestions for the occupation.

The collective atmosphere was reminiscent of a 1960’s commune. Open discussions were frequent among the diverse group. Piles of food awaited anyone who was hungry.

Many likened the occupation to the “Spanish Revolution” last May when protesters rallied against the country’s financial crisis, as well as to Egypt’s Tahrir Square revolution, where tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators gathered.

On a Monday morning march, police arrested a man whom they claimed had jumped a barricade. However, a reporter and photographer for The New York Times documented the incident and showed the man was not near the metal barrier. Later in the afternoon, police changed their story, saying the man had instead been charged with disorderly conduct. During the day, several others were arrested for wearing masks and writing chalked messages on the ground.

Andrea Osborne, 19 from Brooklyn, was one of those arrested. “I asked a policeman if it was okay to chalk on Broadway,” she recounted as she sat among friends several hours later. Charged with damaging a sidewalk, she was issued a summons and released.

“They are terrified of us and what we’re able to do,” she said.

Early Monday evening the gathering again left the park and began another march down Broadway. Near Battery Park, they turned east into the narrow streets, escorted by rows of police on foot and motor scooters. Finding their way to Wall Street blocked at every turn, they returned to their encampment.

Anna Kathryn Sluka, 24, travelled from her home in Muskegon, Michigan, for the occupation. She was arrested earlier Monday for refusing a lawful order and spent several hours in a holding cell before being given a summons and released. “It was not my plan at all,” she said that evening.

“I’m from a town that has the highest unemployment in America. I came for the car workers, ship workers, steel workers who are trying to feed their families,” Sluka, a vegetable farmer, explained.

Late Monday night, a portable generator hummed away, powering laptops, cell phones and video cameras, providing a live Internet feed of the scene. At one point, police and firemen had entered the park to remove a red container filled with gasoline used to power the generator.

Barbara Ross, a volunteer with the environmental advocacy group Time’s Up!, sat nearby editing video clips for posting on the Web. She spent Sunday and Monday nights in the park, subsisting on vegan pizza and tea. During her days there, Ross observed the crowd to be “100 percent peaceful.”

“Corporations have too much power over society,” Ross observed. “This is a way for the people to have a voice in the course of where America goes.”

At 7 a.m. on Tuesday morning, police entered the park and began asking that the tents and tarps be removed. As the crowd stood watching, several police commanders started grabbing people. The crowd shouted, “The whole world is watching,” a chant dating back to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where police violence was so prevalent, a subsequent report called the response a “police riot.”

As police formed a line in front of the encampment, the group yelled, “Courtesy, professionalism and respect!” Three were arrested. Charges ranged from disorderly conduct to resisting arrest. The crowd again marched down Broadway, edging closer to Wall Street before returning.