The inside story of an action that changed America
by Writers for the 99%
All profits from this book donated to Occupy Wall Street
I was at Occupy Liverpool's camp just after New Year when I met Colin
Robinson the publisher of this book. He moved from West Kirby 25 years
ago to live in New York City and told me how he and others had the original
idea for this book before the camp was set up. On the first day Occupy
Wall Street had started he picked up a piece of brown cardboard in Zuccotti
Park and wrote on it 'Occupying Wall Street'. The result is the cover
of this book. As someone who has previously published Noam Chomsky he
was quite serious about what he was doing.
Inside Liberty Street, Cedar Street,Trinity and Broadway is Zuccotti
Park formerly known as Liberty Plaza, near the World Trade Centre site
and Wall Street. On July 13th Adbusters Magazine put out the request to
occupy Wall Street on September 17th and at a meeting held by an education
and empowerment group for the occupation came the idea for this book.
Occupy groups would meet regularly in the huge atrium at 60 Wall Street
a regular committee and public meeting place. Originally the idea for
the book was rejected but some people wanted to go ahead with it. There
were to be dozens of interviews in and around the occupation.
Occupy Wall Street is part of a global movement which recognizes the
urgent need for worldwide change in aspects including banking, environment,
unemployment, housing, avoidance of tax and other issues. People have
had enough of corruption, corporate greed and deceitful Governments. Protests
originally started in the Middle East - Arab Spring - this then spread
to the rest of Africa, Latin America , Asia and Europe. The encampments
in Spain 'Los Indignados' had a huge impact on members of OWS. They used
the ideas of the Spanish camps which were centres of information, protest
and revolutionary life. There was free food and teach ins, everything
was shared, improvised and magical. Willy Osterweil an OWS planner and
activist said "A truly massive storm could take the whole thing down
- but can't the same be said of the Status Quo. This camp if joined by
enough like it around the world could be that storm." Organisers
communicated and shared ideas all over the world.
There had been a previous 2 and a half week long occupation 'Bloombergville'
near the City Hall against Mayor Bloomberg's proposed budget cuts. This
took place June 16th-29th and consisted of people sleeping in the open
with no tents, sleeping bags only. At a budget cut Council meeting 13
protesters were zip tied together and this did get a small result of less
lay-offs. In New York City it was hoped a 20,000 strong crowd would stay
for a few months. The first General Assembly, meetings with no leaders
where everyone gets a chance to speak and consensual decisions are made,
was on August 2nd at the Charging Bull statue, a symbol of financial power
in Wall Steet. Weekly meetings were then held in Alphabet City's Tompkins
Park planning for September 17th. It was known that Police informers had
infiltrated from the start at these meetings.
On September 17th at noon 400 people had converged on the Charging Bull
statue and blockaded the barriers there by sitting down until 2pm. Many
police were arriving by now so they moved away. At 2.30pm 200 photocopies
of maps were given out to people who were told to go in 20 minutes time
to location 2 - Zuccotti Park, which has a history of being used for political
actions. There were plenty of Freedom Tower construction workers, tourists,
retail and financial workers around. By 3pm 1,000 people were at the Chase
Plaza nearby including Rev Billy Talen (Church of Stop Shopping) and the
actor Rosanne Barr who both talked to the crowd through a megaphone. Bread
with peanut butter and fruit were given away for free. There were banners
around saying 'Wall Street is our street' and 'Power to the people not
the banks' and people were in small groups discussing stuff. There were
not many people with sleeping bags. At 3pm the first GA was held at Zuccotti
Park and 40 -50 people gathered around for an Occupy discussion on how
to set it up.
The 'peoples' mic' had been used before at the World Trade Organisation's
1999 protest in Seattle. The megaphone 'wasn't really doing it' and the
crowd repeating what someone had just said was seen as 'something useful
on the streets for communicating info'. Marina Sitrin was in the OWS facilitators
group and was one of the first speakers after having practised it 2 nights
before at a meeting. 300 people spent the night in Zuccotti Park and 'it
was cold and it hurt' said Alexandra de Carvalho, a member of the Arts
and Culture group since the planning. Early occupy discussions were about
relating with the police and how to organise discussions.
At the first GA on the second day at 10am they discussed whether they
should remove the signs taped to trees. Some bored people started messing
around and disrupted the meeting by marching off. The GA disbanded but
resumed again at 3pm when the others came back and it continued until
10.30pm! They decided to have no official police liason and other locations
were also sought. People asked for pizzas when they were hungry and a
local pizza parlour sent out vast amounts paid for by people from all
over the world with credit cards who had seen the requests on twitter
After 3 nights the police came in with 'bullhorns' saying the tarpaulins
were illegal. To get round this at an emergency GA they decided to hold
the tarps up themselves. People did get arrested as this wasn't being
allowed. So now there was a makeshift village with daily marches to Wall
Street and GA's at 1pm and 7pm. There were also medics, a kitchen, artists
and drummers. In the 'Principles of Solidarity' statement online someone
said it was "One of the most beautiful examples of a true democracy
I have ever seen." OWS began to build support and solidarity for
other causes and organisations such as the Sotheby Art Handlers.
There was a pepper spray incident after a week during a march with 80
arrests and the video went viral. Some evenings the GA had 1000's and
food, legal, medical, sanitation and security were discussed and direct
actions arranged. Hand signals originally used by the Quakers were used
at the meetings and the most frequent hand gesture was a 'twinkling' where
the fingers were moved around. This sign originally meant applause in
American sign language.
'Progressive stack' was used to stop assemblies being dominated by white
males, and women and the black community were encouraged to speak. OWS
was sensitive to the iniquities that exist in society and also utilised
the 'step up/step back’ process to give unrepresented people the
chance to speak. Then there would be a soapbox at the end where there
would be a queue of people wishing to speak. These GA's didn't always
go smoothly and people arriving at the park with large bags were denied
entry by the police so couldn't attend meetings.
There were also internet livestreams to watch and chat in. Global Revolution
showed International livestreams and there were tweets sent out for the
GA's by @DiceyTroop on twitter. In the atrium of 60 Wall Street hundreds
would pass through daily for meetings and they were constantly harassed
with fire drills and equipment tests by the authorities.
Students and workers began to become more involved with OWS and Trade
Unionists had been active since the planning days in August. This all
raised awareness of the occupy movement.
The first copy of 'The Occupied Wall Street Journal' came out on October 1st the same day as
the 3pm march on Brooklyn Bridge. People shouted stuff like 'Banks got
bailed out! We got sold out' and more than 700 got arrested. One cop said
to a van of those arrested "I'm right there with you. I totally know
where you're coming from."
By early November the park was really crowded with tents and the camp
seemed to divide into two. The middle class reform oriented in the west
end and the working class politically uncompromising radicals in the 'ghetto'
in the east. The south west area was "all black and latino"
said a young latino David "the divisions were just like NYC".
By now the camp was seen by some as a 'Spiritual Insurrection'. It was
almost a sacred moment when you went to the kitchen to collect your meal.
Kitchen worker Heather Squire and the team got out 1,500 meals daily and
3,000 on weekends. Sustainability committee member Brennan Cavanagh said
"the kitchen waste compost is taken away by bicycles, 14 pick ups a week for
the bike brigade activists". This was taken to local community gardens.
The kitchen was also visited by 'Earth Matters' from Staten Island who
came on their own bikes twice a week to take away waste. The Energy bike,
pedal powered, was used to provide electricity for the the kitchen. Another
occupier Keegan said " We pedal to power laptops, cell phones and
A library was started up by a NYC University librarian called Jed and
4,000 books were donated all rubber stamped with 'OWS'. A librarian called
Betsy Fagin ran it with some volunteers and said "At this time, organising
books is a revolutionary act". Betsy had also had a prophetic dream
that Occupy would happen! Unfortunately 3,000 of those books disappeared
into garbage trucks when the police came and evicted the camp after 3
Occupy Wall Street reassembled a couple of times but the police had finally
cleared it on New Years day 2012. There are still ongoing camps all over
the world inspired by OWS. As the weather has got colder other Occupy
camps have moved indoors by taking over abandoned buildings and running
them as community centres which police are desperately trying to close.
Occupy is about civil disobedience and how it has claimed space for itself
in a world dominated by global corporations. Just this weekend Occupy
Oakland protesters in California were shot at with tear gas and rubber
bullets while attempting to move into an empty building. 300 people were
arrested and some protesters were injured.
I have written here about the very early days of Occupy Wall Street, read
this book to find out more about how the Occupy movement is growing and
how "you really can't stop an idea."