A friend and I decided to go to the Occupy Wall Street protest the first Sunday in October. We made the plans after the infamous pepper spraying incident but before the 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge. We didn’t know what to expect.
The last time I participated in a group protest was in August 2004 against the RNC Convention in New York. It was a family affair – my then husband and our two eye-rolling kids who were in high school. (The family that protests together . . .) It was a very festive and diverse atmosphere, with babies being pushed in strollers and grandmas being pushed in wheelchairs. Multi-generations of families and people of all races and colors marched together.
As we marched up 7th Avenue, we were penned in by police barricades. It was hot in the sun and no one was allowed to climb under or over the barricades to buy water in any of the stores along the route. Only at certain cross streets were people allowed to enter or leave the procession. There was a major police presence with few incidents during the march. As we passed Madison Square Garden (the site of the convention) and the Fox News studio, we were met counter-protesters and the volume “words were exchanged”, but the police forced the marchers to keep moving. Funny, but the pro-Bush protesters were allowed to stake out their positions and not coerced to move.
Although the march appeared very orderly and it was far-removed from 1968 style demonstrations, it was later revealed that over 1,800 people were arrested that weekend and held in a pen on the West Side nicknamed “Guantanamo on the Hudson”. Although the NYC Police Department lost millions in civil suits overs the arrests, they were not required to release data used in leading up to those arrests. Surveillance and intelligence gathering methods were kept secret “in the interests of national security”. (http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/11/nypd-can-keep-its-secrets-2004-convention-arrests-remain-mysterious/)
Well, the Occupy Wall Street protests sure need some invigorating. It looked more like a tourist attraction last weekend, with out-of-towners gawking at a patchwork of humanity temporarily living in Zuccotti Park. Where are the major media outlets? Where are the thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of actual participants? Where is the outrage? Are we so beaten down and defeated that we have no fight left?
There was certainly no absence of police presence. The number of police vans filled with cops just sitting there, squad cars, unmarked cars (so obvious), uniformed police, inspectors, detectives and undercover officers was astounding to the point of being laughable. Who was protecting the rest of the city? Police barricades were set up everywhere, making walking in the area difficult. No one was allowed to use a bullhorn. Taking pictures made the police very nervous. I overheard a few of them talking among each other (if he takes a picture of me . . .). Terrorism threats and national security are the buzzwords used to keep from upsetting the status quo.
Unions such as the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United, and Transport Workers Union Local 100 and well known people (Michael Moore, Joseph Stiglitz) and organizations (MoveOn) are joining in support of the protests against the greed and corruption that are causing the collapse of our economy and destruction of the middle class. This will help to legitimize and publicize the movement. Isn’t it time to speak out?
Mary Casey is a student in the MS in Business Leadership and Management program at CUNY School of Professional Studies and is an alumna of Lehman College. She is an administrator for a university in NYC. She loves to travel and wants to see as much of the world as possible. Mary almost has more comments on the SPS blog than she received on the community/political blog that she created and maintained from 2002 to 2004.