COLUMN: Wall Street brutality legitimizes protesters
Ten days ago, hundreds of people gathered in New York City’s Wall Street district in protest against corporate exploitation. Since then, their numbers have swelled to an estimated 1,200 to 1,500, organizers said. The demonstration has been subjected to police attacks and a blackout by the U.S. journalistic establishment.
“When I first arrived and looked at the camp, a maze of sleeping bags, floor mats, signs and topless protesters dancing and shouting, I was a little apprehensive,” said Daniel Julier, a photographer who recently moved to Brooklyn from the United Kingdom. “However, the second I stepped inside the area I was made to feel welcome. Everyone smiled as you passed them. The area was remarkably clean for the number of people around.”
Protesters have coordinated their activities through a democratic decision-making body dubbed the General Assembly.
“We’ve been called disorganized, and we have to laugh at that,” said demonstrator Patrick Bruner, who serves on the General Assembly’s public relations committee. “We’re quite well-organized, particularly considering that our system of government has only existed for a week.”
The Wall Street occupation is consciously modeled after protests that began in Egypt’s Tahrir Square this January. The Tahrir Square demonstrators — through labor strikes, online agitation and direct confrontation with police — forced the removal of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak and the dissolution of many organs of state oppression.
The Wall Street protesters have issued a varied and not-always-coherent list of demands, ranging from the abolition of capital punishment to the end of imperialistic foreign policy. Perhaps the most common point of concern shared by protesters is the growing degree of economic inequality in the U.S. Protesters have taken to referring to the working class as “the 99 percent” and the ruling class as “the 1 percent,” in reference to the fact that in the U.S., the richest 1 percent of the population controls more than one-third of society’s economic wealth, according to a report from the University of California at Santa Cruz.
Though, by all accounts, the demonstrators have conducted themselves peacefully, police behavior has been erratic and aggressive. On Saturday, following two days of relative calm, a force of hundreds of police attacked demonstrators near Union Square. Police tased and pepper-sprayed protesters and arrested more than 80 people, The New York Times reported. A member of the Industrial Workers of the World, who was among the arrested, said at least one person sustained a “possibly life threatening” head injury in the attack.
One video from the protests shows a police supervisor approaching a group of female protesters held behind a net, spraying them point-blank in the eyes with pepper spray and then walking away nonchalantly.
“They targeted anyone with cameras, especially those with video equipment,” Julier said.
In response to the attack, protesters issued a demand for the resignation of NYC Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, but stipulated they wanted no blue-collar police punished for crimes committed by higher-ranking officers.
“In almost every instance of police brutality, the perpetrators aren’t the rank and file police, but the supervising officers,” Bruner said. “The rank and file police completely understand why we’re here. They have children who aren’t going to have a future. They have mortgages that they’re not going to be able to pay. But these supervising officers, they’re not part of the one percent, but they fancy themselves to be, so they see us as the enemy.”
As well as employing physical violence, the governing class has attempted to smother the protests by refusing them press coverage.
“Whenever you meet a reporter, they always have some foreign accent,” said demonstrator Gil Rozenblatt, founder of the Wall Street occupation’s Facebook page. “I’ve given interviews to news companies from Brazil to Australia. Most of the world knows what’s going on, but people here in this country are left in the dark ... The problem is, the owners of these media companies are among the people that we’re protesting against ... They like things as they are because they’re making billions of dollars. They don’t want things changed. Why would someone you’re trying to topple help you to topple them?”
However, there is evidence of a broad base of public support for the protests. Donations have so far amounted to over $10,000, which could allow the occupation to continue for months, Rozenblatt said. People from all regions of the country have bussed and carpooled to New York in order to participate, and international solidarity protests are being coordinated from Tokyo to Tel Aviv.
Even workers employed by the very organizations that seek to suppress the protests have expressed some sympathy.
“I overheard one cop talking to another cop, saying, ‘Shit, we should be with these guys. We should be protesting alongside them,’” Rozenblatt said. “Some of these bankers even ... stop and say, ‘Hey, what you’re doing is awesome!’ They agree with what we’re doing, a lot of them, even though I’d bet their bosses don’t.”
The Wall Street occupation has shown us that, here in “the land of the free,” a few days’ peaceful protest is all it takes to provoke hysterical violence from the capitalist class. Wealth inequality is a topic that the wealthy are apparently determined to prevent being discussed.
Of course, brutalizing the protesters has only helped to further legitimize them.
“They have made us considerably more powerful and considerably more determined,” said Bruner following the attacks. “We are the dispossessed majority, and we refuse to have our future stolen from us.”
Zac Smith is a journalism junior.