NYC: Occupy Wall St. Protest, a Day 1 Recap, #occupywallstreet

Thousands of people converged on the financial district in downtown Manhattan on Saturday to protest the influence of Wall St. on our nation's politics.  Billed as the US Day of Rage by organizers, the protesters' united being one single, simple demand: free and fair elections.  An excerpt from the original call to action:
Legitimate government is born of the self-interest and will of the people expressed by its citizens in free and fair elections. It does not spring from a tyranny of special interests, patronage, or a system or ideology that runs counter to the aims of life.

The institutions of government were designed to protect the principles of our democratic republic and to serve the will of citizens.

Corporations, even those owned by foreign shareholders, use money to act as the voices of millions, while individual citizens, the legitimate voters, are silenced and demoralized by the farce.
Free and fair elections inspire good citizenship and public service, because they engage the intelligence and genuine good will of the American people.
Protesters can be found on Wall St. on any given day of the week. And large demonstrations against the big banks and the undue influence of corporate interests take place in the financial district on a fairly regular basis.  The Occupy Wall St. protests are different, however.  The protesters have not gone home.  In fact, they are still there right now.  They are streaming their assemblies live if you want to check in.  Here are some of my pics from the day. 

Their immediate tactical goal is to occupy a space in the financial district and hold it.  None of their actions have been technically permitted, in the sense that no permits were obtained ahead of the protest action, as would normally be the case for a fairly large protest and demonstration.  But, aside from a couple tense moments over the course of the day, the NYPD appear to have been fairly accommodating to the protesters thus far, though they did shut down all the streets immediately surrounding the New York Stock Exchange to all traffic except for those who live or work in the area.

Around midday protesters gathered at Bowling Green for an impromptu rally with an open podium.  By 2pm, a few thousand people had assembled.  I happened to catch Rev. Billy, the Green Party's candidate for NYC mayor in 2009, speaking to a small group of independent media reporters who asked him about everything from the relationship between the major parties and the big banks, environmental policy, manufacturing and even the two-party duopoly.  I'm sure you can guess which question I asked:

At around 3pm, the assembled crowd marched from Bowling Green up Broadway to Zuccotti Park, also known as Liberty Plaza, in the shadow of the World Trade Center site.

Excelsior at the WTC site, from the NW corner of Liberty Plaza

At Liberty Plaza, folks milled about for a while, talking and chanting.  A quick general assembly was held, and people then broke up into smaller discussion groups.  So who was in the crowd? There were people from all over the country and, of course, New York City, which means that there were also people from all over the world.  There were no mass-produced signs, as one can often find at large demonstrations, a potential indicator that this was not a top-down organizational affair.  In terms of political ideology, there were anarchists, socialists, libertarians, Greens, Ron Paul supporters, Independents, and a fair number of folks from Anonymous in Guy Fawkes masks.  One Anon said he was a construction worker who helped dig out the Ground Zero site following 9/11, if I heard correctly.  He spoke about civil liberties and support for Ground Zero workers in one of the discussion groups at Liberty Plaza:

An Anon addresses a discussion group.

Discussion in the groups inevitably turned to the topic of what to do next.  Many decided to hold a spontaneous march back down to Wall St.  As Wall St. had already been walled off by the NYPD, the chaotic march snaked through the financial district.  The most tense moments of the march took place when protesters were blocked from heading up toward the stock exchange at the corner of Wall St. and William St.  That also just happens to be where Cipriani Wall St. is located.  Partiers at the posh restaurant headed to the balcony to see what all the ruckus down on the street was.  In formal attire, with more than a couple holding martini glasses, they were greeted with boos and chants from the crowd.  Eventually, the march made its way back up to Liberty Plaza.  People hung out until about 7pm, when another general assembly was called.  Hundreds of people remained in the park as darkness fell.

The assembly was very well-run, especially given the fact that there were hundreds of people there, and no amplification was allowed since there were no permits.  A handful of organizers moderated and facilitated the discussion within the large crowd using a consensus-based discussion and decision-making model.  People were fairly disciplined, maintaining both order and high spirits.  They discussed everything from organizational strategy to sleeping arrangements to NYC laws governing political protest on the streets, to media strategy, potential demands, strategy and tactics moving forward and so on.  I'm sure you can find it all on Twitter under #occupywallstreet, if you're so inclined. 

People gathered for the evening general assembly.
Two incidents in particular highlighted the discipline of the assembled crowd.  At one point, none other than Jimmy McMillan, former NY gubernatorial candidate for the Rent is Too Damn High Party, appeared at the edge of the assembly accompanied by two others.  Folks were initially excited about his appearance, but it quickly became apparent that he wanted to go "up on stage" and speak to the group.  What he didn't understand was that there was no "stage", that the people standing in the middle of the group were only facilitating the discussion for the rest.  People basically told McMillan to back off, yelling that if he wanted to address the group, he would have to follow the procedures that had been set out at the beginning.  He opted to leave instead, apparently.  A similar incident happened a bit later on when a local reporter from ABC News disrupted the proceedings by walking to the middle of the crowd with a camera and microphone.  They were shouted down and told to get in line if they wanted to talk.  They opted instead to leave the assembly and ended up interviewing a number of folks on the edge of the crowd.  

By the end of the general assembly, the group had decided to pursue a non-confrontational posture toward the police, and to march on Wall St. if they were ordered to disperse from Liberty Plaza before the night was through.  They plan on continuing their protests tomorrow and into the workweek on Monday.  Many state that they are prepared to maintain the protest for days, weeks and even months.  There were probably well over a thousand people still there Saturday night.  I'll head back down in the coming days to see what's up. Stay tuned.

I left the protest at around 10pm, shortly after the nearly three hour assembly broke up into smaller working working groups focused on practical and organizational concerns such as acquiring bedding and food, developing media and communications strategy, and so on.  You might be wondering what I did all day between the marches and assemblies.  I was handing out copies of the first and second issues of Third Party Independent, which you can find embedded below:

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