Another day, another protest?
By Anya Schiffrin
The opinions expressed are her own.
Things have come to a pretty pass when the right to assembly is respected more in Egypt and Spain than it is in the US of A. I am of course referring to last week’s pepper spraying of a group of women who were enclosed in a police pen and the Saturday arrest of 700 people who strayed into traffic as police ushered them on to the Brooklyn Bridge. The police responded by saying they had warned the protestors away from traffic lanes.
The fact that it took the New York Times more than a week before they started treating the protestors seriously was also shameful.
Having read the press reports my husband and I decided it was time to see the protests for ourselves so we went down to Wall Street yesterday and found about 1,000 slightly-drenched but enthusiastic people carrying signs, making music and being careful not to step on the flowers in the middle of the square. The protestors were clustered in groups listening to several speakers. One of the speakers was from the 15-M protest movement in Spain and another was Jeff Madrick, the lefty economist who has written extensively on the financial crisis.
Unlike the Madrid protests, electrical amplification is forbidden at the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, so the protestors formed a human microphone which had hilariously unintended results, making the 6pm teach-in on economics resemble children in a one-room schoolhouse dutifully repeating their lessons.
As Jeff Madrick was introduced, a group of about 100 people in the audience repeated the introduction and his speech so the conversation went something like this: “Jeff Madrick is an editor at Challenge Magazine” and the crowd chorused “Editor at Challenge Magazine.” “He was fired from NBC for his radical views” was repeated by this human amplification system. “The ban on bullhorns even on a quiet Sunday afternoon when Wall Street offices were empty was commented on by my husband, Joseph Stiglitz“:
The fact that that you are not allowed to use a bullhorn on Sunday is outrageous. There are too many regulations stopping Democracy and not enough regulations stopping bankers from misbehaving. You should have the right to walk down the street and express your views without being sprayed with pepper spray.
In many cities around the world, we’ve heard people say the protestors are young and have no proper plan for how to get us out of the world economic crisis. The coverage on September 25th by Gina Bellafante was an example of the dismissive way the protestors are regarded.
But the crowd yesterday was not particularly young and many there had reasonable concerns — about healthcare, economics, and social justice. They asked some flakey questions (abolishing the Federal Reserve and the use of the dollar) but for the most part they were thoughtful and engaged.
Given the high levels of unemployment in Europe and the US, the threats to government spending and planned cut backs on budgets for government health care and education while bankers and corporate executives continue to receive large bonuses and report record profits, it’s not surprising that regular people are outraged. It’s taken a while for angry citizens to take to the streets. But whether they are ignored by the mainstream media or not, the protests will surely grow and spread.