The Word from the Street: Wall Street

This article was written by Erica Carlino, the summer intern for Loretto’s UN office. Along with her new position working with Girls Learn International, she has been actively organizing with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win” – Ghandi

Activists formed the idea to Occupy Wall Street a little over 4 months ago. It was organized by way of the Internet and social media tools like Facebook and Twitter. Currently, the movement is growing in popularity and has been spreading across the globe. With a little over 100 occupations to date and counting, OWS’s have sprung up in locations from Hong Kong to London, and even as far off as Alaska. The occupation, which began officially on Saturday morning, September 17th, consisted of just a few hundred people. Many thought because of its strange timing that it did not stand a chance. “They’ll have you out before Monday,” was the most common response. But for those of us who stood our ground we held out past Monday. In fact, despite police barricades and the re-routing of the occupation to Liberty Park, I’m proud to say we have been occupying now for 33 days.

As the movement has grown, we have seen a dramatic increase in occupiers, ranging from the young and old, and the homeless and famous. We even had celebrities make an appearance: Michael Moore and Roseanne Barr, to name a couple. Celebrities aside though, at Occupy Wall Street I have been fortunate to meet incredible people from near and far. One such person was a young man who flew in from Durango, Colorado, because he was tired of just getting by. He was not alone in his journey from a remote location to come here and protest. I met many like him. Two girls from Wisconsin, a middle aged man from the Navajo reservation, a young man from Ohio. All of whom were tired of their minimum wage dead end jobs. And, not only are people flying in from all over the country, there are many locals right here in NY who appreciate our occupation as a chance for them to finally vocalize their frustration and engage in civil disobedience. One man who works as a cleaner in one of the expensive hotels surrounding Liberty Park told me how the owner had threatened his workers, in fear that they might join our movement. “The owner”, he continued, “is a man who owns five hotels and rides each day in a limousine,” while “I work every day for many hours and can’t save a thing”. He then asked me for 100 of my stickers with the image of a fist, that read Occupy Wall Street. “I’m going to stick these on every elevator,” he said. The next day I saw him come down with a sign of his own. Stories like these are common.

And just as we have seen an increase in occupiers, we have also seen an increase in donations. Food and money from individuals, organizations and even some local merchants have helped to support us. What has been developing over the past month is incredible and I pray that it will be sustained. Currently the occupation has many different working stations, such as a press center, a food center, a rest center, and art center. Every day numerous workshops and teach-ins take place. The occupation has become a site for social activity, political discussion, and networking. Most important, however, is the sharing of knowledge that takes place here. Groups like the New York City Permaculture group come and educate about sustainable practices in an urban environment, like starting a CSA or urban bee-keeping. Professors and teachers speak out against Corporatism and Inequality. Activists like Code Pink educate on US foreign policy and war. And each night we practice true democracy by organizing, discussing and deciding on a collective set of demands at our General Assembly.

A recent poll found that 54% of the American people are in support of Occupy Wall Street. I pray this support will be sustained, especially as the weather gets colder and the residents of the financial district grow increasingly more anxious. What is now being called the American Autumn may have to find a way to exist through the winter. This can only be done through organization, collective trust and outside support. As I see it, the most important things we can do are 1) Keeping occupiers warm and fed. 2) Keeping a presence 3) Maintaining activities, workshops, and marches 4) Maintaining orderly grounds, 5) Maintaining support against scare tactics, such as Mayor Bloomberg’s recent attempt to remove protestors in order to clean the park.

In closing, I will say that the successes of the Occupy Wall Street movement have been many, but two days have stuck out the most for me. To date I have never seen more people protest in NYC as I did on October 5th, the day of the Labour March, when 50,000 people descended on Chambers Street in front of the Courts to show a collective presence. Furthermore, on October 15th, 7,000 of us descended on Time Square in the name of a Global Day of Action, spurring solidarity protests globally in cities such as London, Rome, Sydney, Chicago, and Hong Kong. Looking back, these two days stuck out for me the most, because looking around at my fellow protestors, I no longer felt that we were small. And in a city that barricades it’s dissidents to keep us separate, it was incredible to see how large we actually were.

Although its true that we have been called a leaderless movement, chaotic and anarchistic — it is precisely because of this I believe we have a chance. It’s very difficult for hierarchical institutions to defuse a movement like ours, because it is much easier to fight one person (a leader), than many. And make no mistake, we the 99%, we are the many.