Friday, November 18, 2011

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on Occupy's Birthday

Foley Square last night; the Federal Courthouse is in the center, and the Municipal Building is to the right

After attending a day full of meetings, I went to the biggest meeting of the day, the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Foley Square put on by various labor unions in support of the movement, and as a "family friendly" event for those who didn't want to go mano a mano with New York's Finest. Some people did take on the cops anyway. There were about 2 dozen arrests at this event, most near the Brooklyn Bridge where people tried to jump police barricades.

I met 2 friends there, Weiben Wang, an old hand at events like this going back to Anti-Apartheid demonstrations in the 80s, and another artist, James Middleton. I was very naughty and skipped my third meeting for the day to attend this to its finish. James left the rally early and went in my place, bless him.

Both Weiben and I brought cameras. Most of these are mine. Some are his.

Weiben's picture of me as the march across the Brooklyn Bridge gets started.

Here is dangerous incendiary Weiben Wang in a picture I took with his camera. Actually, maybe James took this picture.

Here is my picture of Weiben taken with my camera.

Here is Weiben's picture of me taking his picture. James is on the right.

Foley Square about a half hour before the rally started. People were already gathering. There was a huge police presence in the square and in the surrounding streets. The cops seemed determined to keep the whole thing penned in the middle of the square. In minutes, the crowd filled the square from wall to wall, and the barricades came down.

The rally begins.

I didn't get to move much during the rally. People were packed in tightly.


Fond memories of MLK and JFK who were there in spirit.

A passage from the Magnificat in Foley Square

The USA seems to be one of the few countries where it is relatively safe to bring small children to political rallies. I saw a lot at this one, and in all the anti-war rallies when the Iraq War started.

Lots of people gathered on the African American Memorial.

Signs from my union, PSC-CUNY (Professional Staff Congress, City University of New York); The SEIU, Unite!, the UAW, and other unions were heavily represented.

The march to the Brooklyn Bridge begins, and it takes forever to get these thousands of people through the bottle-neck on Centre Street in front of the Municipal Building.

Lots of Guy Fawkes masks, thank you Anonymous.

Occupy that ledge on the City Records Building!

The Woolworth Building at night with protesters.

A big reason for the bottleneck, police were determined to keep traffic moving on this street, a main artery for traffic off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Some of the unions like Unite sent parade marshals to put themselves between the marchers and the cops to prevent trouble, a tactic that seemed to work.

Finally, we're starting across the Brooklyn Bridge. My camera's battery died soon after this shot, so the rest of the pictures will be Weiben's.
The marchers crossed over the boardwalk above the traffic lanes. A lot of cars honked in solidarity with drivers waving us and giving us V signs. One woman in an apartment building on the Brooklyn side flashed her room lights and waved at us.

Someone somewhere had a Powerpoint projector and did an impromptu projection on the side of the Verizon Building where everyone could see it from the bridge. You can see it on the lower right of the building. Weiben's picture.

Here's part of that giant Powerpoint show on the Verizon building. Weiben's picture.

Weiben's picture of the crowds coming out on the other end of the Bridge. The mood of the marchers was festive, jubilant, and triumphant with vivid memories of an earlier attempt by Occupy demonstrators to cross this same bridge.

Here's a lot more of Weiben's pictures from last night.

Weiben characterized this march, and this movement, as "genteel." I'm not quite entirely sure what he meant by that. The crowd struck me as very middle class (James noted the remarkably correct spelling and grammar on so many of the signs). Even though minorities were substantially represented, the crowd remained far whiter than the proportional makeup of the city. Weiben is right about that. All ages attended, but most of the crowd was young, 20s to late 30s.

The press so far ignored last night's huge protest march in today's papers, but then they ignored the big marches against the Iraq War and at the 2004 GOP Convention that each drew around a million participants.

The press coverage since the beginning of Occupy is hostile, patronizing, or indifferent. And yet the movement continues to expand rapidly despite that hostility. I very much wonder how different press coverage would be if Occupy was a far-right movement demanding no regulations on the financial industry, and demanding further punishments on "undeserving" poor people, especially if they are black, brown, or young. I would imagine Fox News would give them prime-time live coverage praising as heroes and patriots those mostly white, elderly, and affluent people who would man such an occupation in heated prefab huts supplied by some corporate PAC (that 84 year old protester in Seattle who got a face full of pepper spray would be officially designated as either amusingly odd or senile). Fox News would write the panegyrics and the rest of the press would sing the choruses. It's not necessary to resort to conspiracy theories to explain this. It's simply a matter of "who pays the fiddler calls the tune."

As you can see from the photos, these folks are not the dirty drug crazed hippies described by Fox News and parroted by everyone else who's had little or no direct experience with the protesters. A lot of the ones around us last night were professional people. Indeed, the core of Occupy seems to be very well educated professionals who found themselves marginalized, or who voluntarily left what they saw as a corrupt mainstream (recent veterans are disproportionately represented in the Occupy movements). The creativity and resourcefulness of this whole movement continues to astonish me. Occupy emerged out of those very middle class virtues of initiative and independence to fight those very middle class vices of conformity and hypocrisy in order to take on a serious threat to democracy.

One of the very few reporters to actually talk to and get to know some of the protesters in Zuccotti Park before it was cleared was Michael Greenberg in his article in the current New York Review of Books. One of the protesters he talked to was a young documentary film maker originally from Tomball, Texas who left behind politically right wing and fundamentalist Christian parents to pursue her own path (sounds familiar). Another protester Greenberg got to know was a doctor newly minted from medical school and residency who put his career on hold to work full time for this movement. A now famous casualty of the police raid on Zuccotti Park is the Occupy Wall Street Library run by an all volunteer professional library staff complete with their own website including a complete online catalog of their titles. Until its recent destruction, this was the only public library below Canal Street. Since Borders closed, there aren't even any bookstores in the neighborhood, the fastest growing in New York, and one of the fastest growing in the USA.

It remains to be seen what the future will be. Who knows if this movement will survive the loss of their permanent settlements, or if this is really a blessing in disguise. There certainly are divisions within over the direction to go. Part of it is a reawakened left (which attracts the support of unions; for them, the kids in tents are a godsend breathing new life into a movement long on the defensive), and a middle class newly wakened from its 30 year long political slumber. Professionals woke up to find that they are now reduced to the status of wage-earners. Students woke up to the prospect of finding themselves indentured as debtors for the rest of their lives. While the movement attracts a lot of minority support, it still needs to make a more serious effort to incorporate minority populations (who also have found themselves on the defensive fighting the erosion of hard-fought gains over the last 3 decades).

My role in all this is only as a cheer-leading spectator. I'm not really a participant. I've attended a couple of "General Assemblies," but only to watch. I have no idea where all of this will ultimately lead, but I continue to have high hopes. After 30 years of bitter resignation, that in itself is a major accomplishment.


Here's an interview with the folks responsible for the Verizon Building "Bat Signal." No, it wasn't Powerpoint. Thanks to Frank Episale for sending this.


Matt Taibibi's essay in Rolling Stone is the best I've read yet on OWS. Here's a sample:
That's what I was thinking during the first few weeks of the protests. But I'm beginning to see another angle. Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It's about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one's own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it's flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.


Counterlight said...

I need to figure out how to make the shutter speed faster. I was fumbling around with my camera in the dark and couldn't see a thing, even with glasses on.

it's margaret said...

This is wonderful --shutter speed or not. Thank you.

Mary Clara said...

Thanks so much for this report, Doug. The pix are GREAT. You are my eyes and ears on the OWS scene.

I just came back from a week in Dallas, where I thought of you!

JCF said...

And today, at *my alma mater*, UC Davis:



What seemed like hyperbole even 24 hours ago is becoming a simple FACT, USAmerika 2011:

"This is what a Police State looks like!"

June Butler said...

Doug, thanks for a wonderful eyewitness account with photos, and thanks for being there.