Occupying Wall Street

Submitted by Matthew on 5 October, 2011 - 1:12

A New York public sector worker and member of the US socialist group Solidarity reports on the round-the-clock protests at New York’s financial centre.

For the past week most of my coworkers and activist networks have been talking about “Occupy Wall St” (OWS) constantly. There’s definitely a buzz, and it extends beyond the “usual suspects” of New York’s progressive/left scene.

I went down to OWS on Thursday [29 September] (while the “grievances” were being debated) and again on Saturday [1 October], towards the end of the attempt to march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

With the arrests of more than 700, according to the New York Times, it seems like the City is taking a gamble that this will be enough to drive away the protest. With the way this has been growing in the past week, it seems like this may actually back-fire.

Ten days ago it was still relatively small, and even more white and young and male than it is now. My impression was that the Ad Busters folks that were so central to initiating OWS hadn’t done much outreach to the NY activist community, and very little — if any — to organisations of people of colour here in the City, whose communities have of course been hardest hit by the recession, compounding already dire situations.

On Saturday 24 September, the NYPD arrested — and pepper sprayed —- about 85 people, and OWS grew significantly since.

The rally on Friday 30 September was perhaps bigger than some of the larger rallies organised against budget cuts back in June — at least several thousand. And those June rallies were organised by the major unions , having been planned months ahead of time.

In addition to growing in numbers and racial diversity, it seems that the protest is developing some more political clarity in both what it identifies as problems and the objectives it hopes to achieve.

However, it also appears that these efforts to solidify some common “grievances”, demands or strategies are very inconsistent.

For example, the initial proposed “grievances” being debated on Thursday evening began with, “As one people, formerly divided by race, gender, sexuality....” The intent was to envision ourselves in a post-racial (and perhaps post-revolutionary) society, but this wasn’t well received.

A small group of women of colour objected to that language “As one people, despite divisions of race, gender, sexuality...”, and then the phrase was dropped altogether, replaced with, “As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members.”

There have also been some concerns raised about the lack of acknowledgment that the slogan “take back America” ignores the fact that it was stolen from indigenous people here to begin with.

One anecdotal report I heard was that when an older Black activist tried to approach some of the leaders about developing more specific demands, the response was somewhat dismissive, re-focusing on the “crimes of the banks” and away from the day-to-day needs of those struggling to survive the effects of those “crimes” (or more accurately, the larger crisis of capitalism).

It seems that if OWS is to continue to grow and engage the working class of New York, it will need to develop some more constructive ways to engage with the organisations of people of colour in the City... and there’s some reason for being hopeful.

A loose coalition of the city’s public sector unions, and the larger of the community groups, has created a “Strong For All Coalition” in support. They are planning a rally in solidarity.

John Samuelson, President of TWU Local 100 (representing most of the mass transit workers), appeared on [television] on Thursday night in support of OWS.

In addition to the unions, some of the most militant, base-building and direct-action focused community groups area are also participating.

Upping the ante in this struggle and achieving measurable wins will require more than crowds... it will require the focused activity of significant layers of the organised working classes, that have the roots and the experience to help leverage the power that is being built against the establishment here and nationally.

Even if we don’t get concrete wins, this will have been a hugely important protest for New York and the country, but there is a potential for it to be concretely effective as well, and I hope that we can help it get there.

• Reprinted from www.solidarity-us.org

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