2 MONTHS IN WALL STREET
The Occupy Wall Street movement celebrated its two month anniversary on November 17th with a Day of Action. I join them around 3pm at Union Square, where a fraction of the occupiers is merging with New York students to protest against university fees. The initial plan was to "occupy the subway" but people around me explain it makes more sense to come and support the students. In any case, most here support both causes.
The occupiers aren't allowed to use megaphones – hence their trademark "human megaphone," which consists in having crowds repeat the speaker's sentences, so his voice can travel further in an amplified echo. But as the students of NYU and CUNY talk about university fees and how "America has privatized education," another party is taking shape close-by. A guy dressed as a fireman and a few others are playing the drums and cowbells as a group of dancers, young and old, forms around them. A few 99% phrases are heard here and there, but most are chatting and dancing to the drums.
After a few minutes, the recurring "Mic check?" and "Mic check!!!" interrupts the party. The march is starting, and the crowd filters from the square into 16th street, where taxis and buses taken by surprise have no choice but to wait, stranded. "OUT OF THE SIDEWALKS," scream the protesters. The whole point is to literally be walking in the streets.
The crowd is so diverse, it's hard to describe. One woman summarizes the protest with a nice touch of irony: "Yes we do have specific demands, they're just too big to write on this banner." On my left is a Spanish couple pushing a stroller, on my right, a group of rude boys. In front of me is a young guy with long hair who keeps telling everyone to cover their faces if they can, because the police are taking pictures of protesters. Behind me are two teenage girls, who are debating whether they should skip classes all day and whether it's "actually possible to fail the course." I hear a guy saying he quit his job as a welder to be here.
We turn left on 5th avenue, heading south towards Foley Square and City Hall. The mood is festive and I don't see many cops around. As we get close to 14th street, all heads turn right. On the floor above the TD Bank, people are pressing signs against the windows. OCCUPIED. I'm not sure how they managed to get up there but it boosts the march, the music gets louder as people start chanting "We are... the 99%!"
It doesn't last long, as the cops have barricaded 5th avenue and are telling people to turn left onto Broadway. Some guys try to push the barricade, but all of the sudden, there's about 100 cops in riot gear and it looks like the protesters don't have much choice. One guy yells: "Is 40,000 a year enough to betray New York City?" whilst another tells the crowd to turn left, thanking an officer for "being courteous." There are minor altercations, but it goes pretty smoothly overall and we are suddenly on Broadway and the night has fallen.
The crowd must be impressive, because people are standing at their windows, waving and doing the peace sign. One guy is turning his lights off and on, in solidarity. “Out of the shops and into the streets!” screams one guy, as confused tourists exit Uni Qlo, which is having a sale. Hundreds of police officers have formed an interminable queue that borders the parade, pushing the protest onto the sidewalk and anyone who disobeys will have to deal with the law.
The girl right next to me though doesn't give a shit and is walking on her own on the street, smoking a cigarette. An officer orders her to get back on the sidewalk, and as she says no, violently pushes her in line with the rest of the protesters. She retaliates by pushing back, the cigarette flies and he cuffs her right then and there, as others scream 'All the world is watching you' and photographers battle to take a picture of the scene.
The night has completely fallen and it's freezing outside but the spirits are high when the occupiers enter Foley Square. I leave them at that point and jump into the closest subway. As I sit down, I notice two women in their 60s or 70s in front of me. They have boots and red lipstick on and they're talking politics. They are both holding purple signs with bubbly letters that read "We are the 99%."
Words and pictures by PAULINE EIFERMAN
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