Wall Street protesters just want to be heard
Updated Oct. 5
By Matthew Goldstein and Jennifer Ablan
There’s been a lot of talk that other than rallying against bankers and corporate greed, the message coming from Occupy Wall Street isn’t a clear one. And many of the college students, artists, unemployed, transients who’ve set-up camp in a concrete plaza in lower Manhattan wouldn’t disagree with that assessment.
In fact, many of the young protesters–mostly in their 20s–seem to embrace the notion that it’s hard to define just what Occupy Wall Street is all about and what it hopes to achieve. For many, sleeping on the streets and staging a “Zombie March,” or getting arrested for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge is enough to bring attention to the fact that too many Americans are still suffering from the financial crisis.
“I’m here because in this recession, the rich have become richer — and it ties in to the bank bailouts,” says Dylan Bozlee, a college student from Hilo, Hawaii, who booked a one-way ticket to New York to join the protest. “Think about it? Wall Street got us into this huge mess, enabled by our government, and we are in the same state of affairs–recession.”
Spend some time with the protesters camping out in Zuccotti Park and it’s clear violent revolution of the social order isn’t what this rag-tag movement is all about. Sure, there are some signs that say, “Abolish the IRS,” or “Cripple Wall Street.” But many more are personal statements about not having a job , or having too much student loan debt, or feeling voiceless in their own country.
“Over the last several years, I have noticed that things in our banking system have been going in the wrong direction,” says Richard Machado, 20, a college student. “Wall Street is highly exclusionary and they have been given many, many handouts to save our economy, but that has not translated into a stronger economy?”
Frustration with the way things are, yes. But the anger, somewhat surprisingly, is muted. Some demonstrators even seem reluctant to personalize the blame for the nation’s economic mess.
Natasha Jacobs, a local artist, seemed uncomfortable when asked if she hates Wall Street and bankers. She says she doesn’t like to use the word “hate” and she certainly has nothing against the of the lesser well-paid people who work for Wall Street banks.
Older protesters are impressed by what they are seeing from the youngsters.
“The people here don’t have access to the media,” says Chris Cobb, 41, a Brooklyn, NY designer, who walks around Zuccotti Park dressed as a fake FoxNews camera man, doing fake interviews with other demonstrators. “You don’t see signs of revolution here.”
Cobb, who says he is veteran of other protest movements, says Occupy Wall Street feels much more grassroots to him.
Indeed, most of the signs protesters walk around with are handwritten. The protesters largely rely on private donations to buy food at local stores to serve meals. Demonstrators say they welcome any kind of support they get from local or national unions, but it’s not going to dictate how long they stay in the park.
“About 2 to 3 percent of our population controls everything and Wall Street is one symbol of that,” says Gary Olson, the chairman of the political science department at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Penn.
Olson, who says he protested against the Vietnam War in the 1960s, came to lower Manhattan, because he wanted to get a firsthand view of what this newest protest is all about. Olson says he is “encouraged by all of this.”
The spirit of Occupy Wall Street is spreading to other cities, with similar protests sprouting up in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Hawaii and Boston. Some have wondered why it took this long for demonstrators to make their voices heard, given that the collapse of Lehman Brothers occurred three years ago.
On Wednesday, thousands of union workers were expected to join with the Occupy Wall Street die-hards camping out in Zuccotti Park to take part in a big protest march. It’s a big show of support for Occupy Wall Street and sure sign the somewhat unfocused message of discontent expressed by the demonstrators is gaining momentum.
The AFL-CIO, a large federation of labor unions which had been monitoring the protest, on Wednesday threw its formal support behind Occupy Wall Street.
If that were to occur it would be a big shot in the arm for Occupy Wall Street. The loyal band of demonstrators who have been sleeping out each night in lower Manhattan know there is power in numbers. And big numbers get more media attention.
But no matter what comes of today’s march, Occupy Wall Street is serving as something of a wake-up call to the fact that the U.S. economy remains broken and is hobbled by some $11 trillion in consumer debt. And while the financial system may been patched together, too many average citizens are still falling through the cracks.