Zucotti Park, New York City, October 18:
I only visited the Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park six times, so maybe I missed something. I didn’t see the dirt or sex, or the protestor defecating on the police car that talk radio pushed around the nation. I didn’t hear anarchists yell “Hate America,” or “Destroy Capitalism.” I met a lot of 40 to 70-year-olds ringing the park with signs ranging from “End the Fed” to “Stop Goldman Sachs Before They Steal Again.” Steal? I asked 62-year-old Michael Ansel from Denver. “Nobody was charged. Goldman created securities to blow up in investors’ faces so they could collect on default insurance. Call it what you want,” he told me.
The people I met from the New York suburbs and places like Harrisburg (Pennsylvania), Seattle, Oakland and Honolulu, were well-informed. They wanted a national conversation about Wall Street values. “If they can justify their pay and what they do, fine” said Morris Egert. “Right now they’re sacrificing my grandchildren.”
You see what you want to see at the park, I guess. Andy Haraldson, a trucker, wrote to a Florida newspaper about a comfortable student he heard on a conservative radio station lying about his parents losing their house. There surely are phonies in the movement, and talk radio is out to find them.
But there are also are dozens of middle-aged folks carrying lemon-colored signs that proclaim: “We are the 99%” and call the economy unfair. Their message argues that 1% of the rich control the world’s wealth. Its value is that it can fit on a bumper sticker, observes Jessica Mitchell, a volunteer.
Occupy, with some 1,534 demonstrations underway globally, is only a month old. It came out of nowhere on September 17 when a handful of protestors pitched tents at the closest place to Wall Street, a block away. It’s America’s first encounter with an amorphous social network that ebbs and flows like a full moon tide and squishes like silly putty.
At one moment there are guys sweeping the polished granite Park trying to deflect charges that the place is dirty – it’s far cleaner than your kids’ room. The next they’re joining a 5 PM Occupy meeting that will use Facebook to create a “Flash Mob” the next day. “Locusts swarm” a sign reminds. Union workers chanting “They Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out” add volume, but no one calls them brothers. While President Obama winks at the protesters, “Obama, Stop Coddling the Banks” is their reply. They know Washington helped cause the economic collapse. The Government is not their friend.
Because the protestors don’t follow any particular playbook, mainstream media is thoroughly confused. “Molding stuff is everywhere” sniffed New York Times columnist Gail Collins, after viewing protestors lolling in fatigue jackets and laced-up boots on sea-of-blue tarps, missing the dozens of sign-carrying older folks who ring the park each day. “Warmed-over anarchism” offered New York Times writer Bill Keller. If the tools of today’s anarchists are Mac laptops, smart phones and orderly kiosks for legal and medical schedules and a library, maybe Keller’s right. One afternoon Ben and Jerry, the ice cream guys from Vermont, planted a blue umbrella and handed out free cones till the tub was bare. Ice cream revolutionaries, anyone?
America’s right wing is simply foaming. Their effort to tar the protesters as Marxists isn’t sticking either. The more suburbanites that join in, the more the right looks foolish and robotic. It started when Gregg Kelly, the Fox New York morning anchor, called the protesters “anti-capitalist and anti-American” on October 5. His dad, New York Police Chief Ray Kelly, did it the next day, then Herman Cain, a leading Republican Presidential contender mouthed the same words. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he’d clear the park, and then he didn’t.
The main stream press isn’t so important now because we work by the social network, says Mitchell. Even so, establishment voices are divided over Occupy’s meaning. Larry Fink, Chairman of Blackrock, Vikrim Pandit, CEO of Citibank, Bill Gross, Chairman of the giant bond fund PIMCO and investor Warren Buffett say the protests are legitimate. “These are not lazy people. We have people losing hope,” says Fink.
The public is watching. Polls show that 82% of Americans know about Occupy. An October 18 poll says 67% blame the government while 30% blame the banks for their economic woes. Two weeks ago the Mayor of New York said cold weather would drive out the protesters. But as money and support come in, so does the will to stick it out. “Haven’t they heard of winter tents and sleeping bags?” asks Gabe Rodeko of Northern Michigan.
The Mayor might have to reconsider.
Zuccotti Park, New York City, Oct 14, 2011: Today was the morning New York police were set to clear the Occupy Wall Street protestors out of this small granite-walled encampment where they have been lodged since September 17.
Police lined up at 6 am for a confrontation that never happened. Watching were 4,000 supporters and numerous TV crews, plus a global audience hooked up live. “You could tell this was serious because they had the white-shirted commanders up front and the guys with riot gear just behind them,” said John Collins, a Columbia University philosophy professor. “Somebody must have made a phone call, maybe even Obama, to call this off,” he speculated.
As the police line ebbed by 6.30 am, newly-summoned supporters flooded into the park. They’d been alerted by Facebook and other social networking links about the eviction. As the day progressed, these new faces packed the park tighter than it had been in weeks.
While there were muted cries of victory, those on the line for several weeks said they expected New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg to try an unannounced eviction later. “He’s said this place is dirty and that we’re here to destroy jobs for New Yorkers. Do you see any dirt?” asked Alfonso Pastor, a 53-year-old from Brooklyn who was sweeping the granite with a broom and long-handled dust pan. In fact there hasn’t been any visible dirt for weeks, but commentators not on the scene have citied grimy, unsanitary conditions for days as what seems political spin against the movement.
Evicted or not, the protestors, starting with just a handful last month have gained a following around the world. Reuters published a poll showing that some 82% of Americans were aware of the protest and its dominant slogan “We are the 99%” – meaning the number of Americans under the richest 1% of the nation. The protesters claim that 1% control both political parties and Washington policies through their lobbyists and campaign donations.
Occupy Together, a website that tracks Occupy protests around the world, said more than 1,568 protests were underway or planned. They have spread from larger cities and university towns to much smaller venues in the U.S., and are moving around the world. “There’s an Occupy march here right now in Steamboat (Colorado), ” said Peter Kenney, speaking from the Rocky Mountain ski resort where a number of millionaires have vacation homes. Besides prominent U.S. cities like Boston, Chicago, Seattle and Oakland, Occupy Today said protests are underway in Sydney, Paris and Buenos Aires. A march on the London Stock Exchange took place Friday.
Because there are no hard demands for negotiating with the protestors, observers say the movement is still in a public awareness stage. They seek to show that the
majority of the nation has been sold out to financial interests and prominent bankers like Jamie Dimon of J P Morgan Chase, a leading opponent of banking reform regulations, and Bank of America, which is imposing a $5 monthly fee on debit cards to offset a 21% cap on charges to merchants.
The New York protesters marched on Dimon’s mid-town headquarters this week and have scheduled their largest rally yet for Saturday Oct. 15, calling for “Flash” protests against Wall Street banks, then moving to Times Square for a mass “Resistance Against Banks” rally at 5 p.m. They are also calling for a “run” on Bank of America for imposing the card fee, which they regard as the bank’s retaliation for government efforts to reform hidden bank charges.
The protest is beginning to divide Wall Street itself. Some leading U.S. financial names have begun sympathizing with the protestors without openly endorsing their campaign Citibank CEO Vikram Pandit said on Wednesday the protests were “completely understandable…. trust has been broken, it’s Wall Street’s job to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust,” he told Fortune magazine. Others expressing support are Bill Gross, head of PIMCO, the world’s largest bond fund, and financier George Soros, who is said to help fund the cause.
The mainstream media has highlighted the college age group staging a sit-in with bedrolls and blue tarps in the park. They are the first protestors, but their number is now outweighed by seniors and middle-aged sympathizers hosting signs and marching during the day. “This is my first time at a demonstration,” says Gabe Radeko, a 40-year-old teacher from Travere City, Michigan, displaying a satirical banner that says: “Amnesty for Mortgage Pushers: The World Needs More Homeless Children and Organized Crime.”
Next to her, 62-year old Michael Ansel of Denver, Colorado is with a “Stop Goldman Sachs Before They Steal Everything” sign.
Mark Blatterfein, a 29-year-old economist from Somerset, New Jersey, is advocating a gold-backed dollar. He thinks the Federal Reserve is a “private capital monopoly, it prints all the money it wants, the banks get bailed out, the value of our dollar erodes. Keynesism has failed. We need a hard asset currency.”
“You sound like a Ron Paul supporter” says a listener, referring to the gold-backed dollar Presidential candidate from Texas.
“I am,” says Blatterfein. “I went from Obama to conservative principles after I saw the failure of his policies.”
Christia Ortiz, 34, a lawyer from Hoboken, New Jersey, is protesting against lawyers who “rig the rules for the banks. They and the accountants” should be viewed as equally culpable by Occupy, she says.
Jacob Josefs of New York wants to separate banks and investment banks. “Bill Clinton, Why Did You Remove the Glass-Stegall Act of 1933?” says his sign, referring to the Depression-era rule that Clinton’s Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin eliminated before he became an executive of Citibank.
“There’s a lot of impressive street knowledge here,” says Collins, the Columbia professor. “These people are not shock-troops for the left like the Democrats expect. The press, sent down to find the radical hippie kook, enforces that image. I came because I feared violence this morning and because I once believed Obama was the last hope for people making changes in a normal political way. He caved to the bankers and I feel abandoned. Now we are at an extreme degree.”
October 12, 2011 – Zuccotti Park, New York City. America’s Eastern Establishment developed its first significant crack today over the staying power and importance of the spreading protests against Wall Street, even as the movement itself seems to be devolving into a counter-culture forum rather than a focused campaign against outsized financial power.
In an article in Foreign Affairs, the publication of the influential Council of Foreign Relations, George Packer, a well known U.S. journalist, said the confrontation over the financial and economic wealth of America’s elites is the outcome of decades of neglect. Now “Perhaps, out of a well-founded fear that the country is coming apart at the seams, the wealthy and their political allies will finally have to rein themselves in,” he suggests, starting with paying more taxes and perhaps seeking to act above their self interest.
While Packer’s article did not mention the Occupy Wall Street movement by name, the press release with his story said the piece exposes the forces behind the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Because the Council is heavily funded by Wall Streeters, the article appeared to be recognizing Occupy Wall Street as a permanent campaign – akin to Vietnam protests – that could trigger a debate about U.S. wealth concentration and the very value of Wall Street itself.
The campaign is now on in some 20 cities. Patrick Bruner, a sometimes spokesman for the group, said some 150 places are targeted, with rollouts in smaller cities like New Haven, Connecticut, home of Yale University, and New London, Connecticut, where the U.S. submarine base is located.
On a drizzly day in Zuccotti Park, where the protestors are camped a block from the New York Stock Exchange, the mood remained upbeat, though more diverse interests, from Indian rights advocates to a protestor targeting Israel and global Jewish financial power were prominent.
But newcomers to the park were impressed and welcomed the Foreign Affairs story. “This is big news,” said Dr.Stephen A. Tarek, who had just arrived at the park from Hawaii. “They’re talking about hosting one of these in Honolulu. Having an established voice underscoring the value of this protest will make it easier to appeal to middle class voters.”
“There are protests underway in Lexington, Massachusetts, and a permanent one in Boston,” notes Rosina Grignitte, a 52-year-old health aid from Lexington. “It reminds me of the Vietnam protests my parents took me to when I was young,” she said, sheltering her face from a wet wind blowing off the Hudson River and over the blue tarps and the hippie blankets of some veterans who have been huddled in the park for three weeks now. The New York protest is into its 26th day.
The Foreign Affairs piece argued that America’s once powerful elites lost their nerve after the Vietnam War and presided over the “atomization” of their authority into warring self-interested blocks. The upheaval came during the end of the President Carter era and reached force with Ronald Reagan’s anti government campaign. Television became the great communicator for politicians, and because TV ads cost a lot of money, there was an open door for lobbyists to gain power through corporate and financial campaign donations. While the analysis is hardly new, its timing coincides with the anti-Wall Street backlash and enormous fund-raising goals for next year’s Presidential campaign. President Obama and his yet-to-be nominated Republican opponent are each expected to spend $1 billion on their campaigns. As the protest techs up, more graphs and charts are showing up in the park. One says Americans think the richest top 20% control 80% of the nation’s wealth. Another says if you make less than $1,137,684 a year, you are part of the U.S. 99% of earners, while the remaining 1% make that much or more.
AMORPHOUS AND HORIZONTAL
Because they generate excitement on the political left, unions, Democratic lawmakers and Obama aides would like to brand the protest as partially theirs. But th
e social networked organizers have staved off being locked into a union or a political party and have no laundry-list of demands. This amorphous horizontal campaign thoroughly confuses the mainstream media, which has presented the movement as one dominated by 20-something college-educated white kids. But here there are many 50-70 year olds visiting the park – often saying they’ll transfer the campaign tactics to their own cities. “We have this started in Oakland (California) but now see how to give it longevity by not taking a hard negotiating stance,” says Anaya Rose, a 53-year-old therapist. Others could be Tea Party activists.
David Walker, a 53-year-old black protestor from Troy, New York, holds a sign on the prominent north east corner of the park that reads: “Google: Zioinists Control Wall Street.”
“Obama is our first black Jewish president,” he tells a group. “His Jewish advisers made sure no one went to jail. I want the International Court in the Hague to issue arrest warrants for the heads of Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, and Citibank. The charge is white collar crimes against the world.”
At the back of the park, someone is leading a pro-Israel rally. “I love this,” says Darren Baker, 50, a painter. “You got a Zion-baiter here, the Israelis on the other end, an Indian rights guy in the center, a big crowed of Buddhists chanting behind me. It feels like the 60’s.”
Off to the left, a digital sign is flashing 566,346 – the number of people around the world who have signed a pledge to support the protesters over a network hosted by AVAAZ.org. A laptop next to the sign is linked up globally to send through its camera, messages from individuals on the scene.
“This is why the mainstream media isn’t so important,” says Mark Bray. “We have a global audience without them.”
Zucotti Park, Near Wall Street, New York City, October 6: I got back from the Occupy Wall Street demonstration at Zucotti Park in lower New New York City after 11 p.m. last night to find that Steve Job had died. When he resigned from Apple on August 24, the handwriting was ominous. Jobs seemed to be capitulating to his cancer. His liver transplant in 2009 would have mandated the use of powerful anti-rejection drugs to suppress his immune system. His body would have had little ability to survive a new regimen of toxic chemo treatment. He was out of bullets.
This morning, everyone wants a piece of Jobs. His products are ubiquitous, his wan, grey bearded face, jeans and black pullover exclaim billionaire rebel. He fought the system and won. Mainstream media gets that. But they’re deeply confused about Wall Street protestors who use Job’s iPhones and Macs while they sleep under blue tarps and espouse vague goals for reform while smoking a joint. Jobs, a hippie who launched his career in high school with a device to make free calls by hacking the phone system, might be amused. He once said using LSD was one of the best experiences of his life. .
Would Jobs have endorsed the Occupy Wall Streeters, now spreading their sit-in movement to Boston, Chicago and many other cities like some mainstream U.S. politicians are doing? Hard to say. Apple, with $78 billion in cash stashed in a small town in Nevada to avoid California taxes, is larger than most American banks. By share price, it is the nation’s second most valuable corporation. Jobs’s personal worth is $8.3 billion, made as much by gambling on Pixar, the film animation company no one else wanted, as by building Apple. Never let someone else determine your life, he told Stanford students in 2005, a year after his cancer become known.
The protesters have no product and vague goals about reforming government, the economy and the banks. But as Jobs did with his challenge to Microsoft, they are stirring up broad interest. “My son called me from Vermont, he urged me to set up a Wall Street rally in Stuart, Florida,” Louise Cohn, a Democratic organizer told me today. Office-bound bloggers are urging the protesters to send out marchers in casual work clothes to appeal to middle class folks like themselves.
Will the sit-ins capture America? The protesters have drawn a bead on the twisted logic behind America’s political and economic system in a way no established commentator has been able to do in four years. They’ve exposed the Obama Administration as being as hollow as its opposition. J.P Morgan Chase’s top bank lobbyist, William Daley, is now Obama’s chief of staff, his business economic adviser is Jeffrey Immelt of G.E., a company that paid no U.S. taxes in 2010. “How more inside our government can they get?” exclaimed protestor Cynthia Winthrop.
“I thought Wall Street guys were smart,” says Johnny Rabuse, a steelworker who’s been at the protest for 12 days. “I didn’t go to college but I know if I was called one of the top 1% richest guys while everyone is losing jobs, I’d be trying to hide in the top 5% or 10% as fast as I could”.
Steve Jobs, college dropout, might be smiling.
Zucotti Park, Lower New York City, October 5, 2011: The union professionals arrived today, pumping up the ranks of the Occupy Wall Street movement by as much as 10,000, but risking losing its grassroots, everyman appeal. Labor leaders in red and green T-shirts with bullhorns and walkie-talkies jacked into their ears marched their workers six-abreast up Broadway to City Hall chanting: “Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out”
Their cookie-cutter red-and-white printed signs were slickly professional against the ripped, hand-lettered cardboard placards carried yesterday and earlier by students, suburbanites and seniors, making the union marchers look like they’d been painted with a giant corporate brush. They march to save their jobs while politicians across the nation are cutting public workers. But they have limited public support. Voters know government bus drivers, teachers and nurses often have better salaries and benefits than they do.
The risk is that if Occupy looks like a labor campaign, Wall Street is home free. The organizers so far have spotlighted the banks as the nation’s villains while leaving their reform plans vague. The banks stumbled right into it. Bank of America said it will impose $60 annually in fees for payment cards while a new and massive $2 billion trading loss at UBS was a reminder that casino banks are still out there. Voters, who want a broad reform of politics and finance, are the supporters Occupy wants and needs.
So I asked Jessica Mitchell, an activist from Washington who has been planning the Occupy Campaign for two months, whether the arrival of public unions might undercut her grassroots appeal. “We welcome anyone who wants to help us, but we’re here to represent the 99% of the country, not the unions. Everyone has been hurt by the banks. This is a horizontal movement run by social networks that can’t be captured,” she said.
Ellis Roberts Allentown, Pa
nbsp; Time will tell. What’s obvious is that the campaign is bulking up and bringing in more causes–Greens, corporate critics and organizers who want a fundamental reform of the U.S. political system, these are all showing up.
So are bankers.
Marc Armstrong, who runs the Public Banking Institute, a group that wants at least one taxpayer-funded bank in each State, called the movement “my horse to ride.” He’d been searching for a way to start a national debate on public banks–using as a model the large and successful public bank in his home state of South Dakota. Based on North Dakota banks’ history, the record shows these public banks are far safer than private lenders. He’s now got his chance.
Wall Streeters Chris Dewey and Marc Goldwasser (L to R)
Two Democratic Congressmen endorsed the campaign on Wednesday and several other Washington politicians said they were close to doing so. Representative Bernie Saunders of Vermont, who had forced the Federal Reserve to disclose that it had lent $3 trillion in short term loans to banks around the world during the crisis, was the first Washington backer.
The mainstream media, which had earlier downplayed the movement, – a National Public Radio host called it “ragtag” – have expanded ranks with a heavy cast of international press now present. A Chinese TV reporter was having trouble with a sign that said Wall Street needed an “enema,” or flushing out. “What is enema,” he kept asking Michael Stasky, now living in New York after an Afghan military tour. Stansky whipped out a phone with a Chinese dictionary and read him the word.
Mike Stansky, Afghan veteran
After 700 arrests last weekend, the movement now has a legal desk and a small emergency medical team. Comics, and even a few reviled Wall Streeters, are showing up. Artist David Case and 3 friends arrived dressed as the 1% of America’s richest billionaires flashing a sign that said: “It’s a class war and we’re winning.” Wall Streeters Chris Downey and Marc Goldwasser promoted drilling for oil with the crowd for half an hour, telling a radio reporter, “If you want American jobs, drill baby drill and lay off Exxon.” They were serious.
David Case and his friends dressed as the “Billionaires”
Sit-in protests are now underway in Boston and Chicago, with a large demonstration planned for Washington, D.C. this weekend. Occupy has raised the number of target cities to 147 from the previous 63 – meaning full coverage of the U.S. in the days ahead.
Wall Street – 2 p.m. Oct 4, 2011. The elite media has thus far seen the marchers as young leftist kooks, at most naively backing President Barack Obama in his new campaign to tax the rich. Gregg Smith, an anchor on the conservative network Fox News, suggested this morning that they must be un-American and against capitalism.
But through the afternoon, the protests seem to be much more than just this. It is a gathering of middle aged voters and seniors, campers who plan to sleep in a local park for weeks, people against bailouts, bonuses, Washington, the Federal Reserve, free trade and what 31-year-old Mary Hitchcock called the “business and government system of legalized corruption.” To a person they said, it is just starting.
Mary Hitchcock, 31
America’s right-wing Tea Party, which helped rally independent voters enough to hand president President Obama’s party a stinging defeat last November, started the same way. Even their red, white and blue hats looked like the garb on the Wall Street protestors.
The Tea Partiers and the Occupy Wall Streeters are as far apart on the social spectrum as you can get. But in their antipathy to Big Business and Big Government, they suddenly seemed remarkably alike. Right meets Left.
You wonder: what if they joined up?
Three feet from Jack Juzeus of Brooklyn, New York, is a map of the United States with 63 blue stars on it. The stars target cities where “Occupy Wall Street’ expects to stage public rallies over the next few weeks. A number are already underway. The stars cover all major U.S. cities.
The 63 city map
Juzeus’s sign reads:
“Mr. Politician. Bring Back Our Jobs From China….Tax Wall Street.” He tells me he’s in favor of a 65% tax on any loan that goes to finance jobs in China because there are thousands of Americans who will do those jobs right here.
Juzeus was standing in Zucotti Park – just a few blocks from the Twin Towers memorial where President Obama and hundreds of national leaders flew in to honor the dead from the 9/11 attacks three weeks ago.
Jack Juzeus, 55
Now, there are almost as many police as protestors flanked around the park where a quiet calm envelops strange looking people with bed rolls and makeshift food tables holding signs with demands to fix the nation and rein in the financial elite.
Because the people look funny and the demands are woefully general, the press has resorted to ridicule, as it did with the Tea Party kooks a year ago.
To introduce a collection of protesters who float out into the streets like jelly fish in the deal-making epicenter of the world – around the corner from the New York Stock Exchange – is beyond comprehension for politicians and the money guys who fund them.
And that may be the genius of this nascent movement. If a month from now you hear the occupation called Wall Street Winter, it will be a peaceful version of the violent people’s movements of 2011 that rearranged the world, from the anti-corruption protests in India to the Arab Spring across the Middle East. “This
is a movement born out of extreme frustration with our leaders and their almost total dependence on Wall Street to support them” says Terry Bishop, 52, of Red Bank New Jersey, who came in with 56-year-old Tom Nystrom, a neighbour and postal worker. “They don’t work for us and we know it.”
Next to Bishop, Miriam Siegman, 70, from New York City holds a sign that reads:
“Congress, Bag men for Wall Street.
Dept of Justice – No meaningful prosecutions.
Courts, ‘OK’ to go after Wall St victims –
leave ‘perps’ alone – to enjoy spoils”
Johnny Rabuse, a 50-year-old steel worker holds a sign that says: “End the Wars and End the Fed.”
Johnny Rabuse, 50
Sloganeering, bed rolls and conviction by themselves do not make a movement. But they set the stage for one. Two trade unions are now backing the protests and sending money. Leftist causes such as George Soros’s MoveOn.org are said to have stumped up cash. There’s an effort to get other unions and workers involved.
The Tea Party’s economic base is small business suffering from lack of credit. The big money aiding the party is said to come from conservative givers. The goals of both are to take on Washington and Big Business by enlisting the key to winning elections – America’s independent voters. The Wall Street protestors are planning large marches in New York through the week. They vow to stay, but who knows.
The only thing certain is that something has shifted in the North American political strata toward popular control. It is coming from the right and the left, and is aimed at a political, financial, business and academic elite, who organizers believe have fundamentally failed. There is no third party political candidate in sight who excites them. But you sense in their restlessness and frustration that if one emerges, there will be committed backing.
Bob Dowling is an independent international journalist and editorial advisor to Gateway House.
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