The mood at Occupy Wall Street has become as much anti-police as it had been anti-capitalism. On Friday, several thousand people left the movement’s base at Zuccotti Park in Downtown Manhattan, just a block from the Freedom Tower, and marched up the sidewalks of Broadway and Park Row to NYPD headquarters, bordered by a line of police and stopping traffic as they crossed the street. Three helicopters, presumably police, buzzed overhead.
Protestors chanted “racist, sexist, anti-gay! NYPD go away!” as they walked in a line led by three members of Grannies for Peace. At the rally outside 1 Police Plaza, speakers criticized recent and past actions of the police. (Last Monday, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna deployed pepper spray, apparently unprovoked, on several women and then, in a separate incident, on a news photographer.) The cops have prohibited the protestors from using sound amplifiers like megaphones, so demonstrators are employing a system called the People’s Microphone: a speaker says a few words, which are repeated in shouts by those nearby, which are repeated by those a little farther back, until it has passed in a wave through the whole crowd. (It’s charming but, ultimately, an exhausting way to communicate.) Speakers also asked the crowd to remain calm and peaceful, which it did—no one was arrested; much of the crowd marched back down to Zuccotti Park when the speeches ended shortly after 7 p.m. (Another march on Saturday across the Brooklyn Bridge resulted in the arrests of 700 people, the AP reported.)
Earlier in the day at the park, a crowd of hundreds grew over the afternoon into thousands. Many in the park said it was the largest attendance they’d seen since the protests began almost two weeks ago. Some were Radiohead fans responding to rumors earlier in the day that the band would play at 4 p.m. Some were press. (“There’s probably $25 million of camera equipment in here,” one reporter cracked to me.)
But most present seemed to be earnest supporters of the movement. (I saw more anti-Radiohead-fan signs like “If You Came Here Just for Radiohead GO HOME” than people wearing Radiohead buttons.) Along Broadway, protestors held signs in a neat row, posing for easy photographs and engaging passersby in conversation. (“You want to do a bailout? Give it to the community,” one bearded guy in a suit said. “The community will develop wealth.”) Along Liberty Street, participants had turned the perimeter into a kind of protest sign graveyard; many were in heaps, but dozens had also been taped to the pavement, with more being painted around them, often on the backs of flattened pizza boxes. Mostly, people were sitting around or strolling. This is, after all, an occupation—with permits, laminated and affixed to the lampposts along Liberty.
A halal-food vendor, a smoothie cart and several hot dog guys surrounded the park, but deeper into its heart there was a food station with milk crates full of canned goods, plastic tubs of apples, bowls of candy, pots of black beans and corn cobs, and of course several jars of peanut butter. Nearby are the camps of the few hundred people who are living in the park, the true occupiers with their messes of tarps, cardboard, blankets and mattresses. Many slept through the afternoon. A few of them looked like ordinary, non-revolutionary homeless people.
There were drummers at the west and east ends of the park, acoustic guitar players scattered throughout. There was a topless woman and several dogs. A truck bearing the WikiLeaks logo circled the site. Clumps of brightly colored flowers are scattered throughout. And it’s loud, of course, a mix of indecipherable shouting from the People’s Microphone, banged drums, strummed strings, the squeaks of breaking buses, revolutionary chatter, chopping helicopter blades, the honks of isolated horns.
So who are these people? Mostly they’re young people—college students, recent graduates—but there are also young parents and old revolutionaries; there are a few “end the Fed” types. Unions have turned out their members—the transit workers arrived in a memorable march, blowing whistles and moving into the thick of the crowds. There’s the curious, the outraged, the unemployed, the underemployed, and the victims of crashing late-stage capitalism, all expressing a lot of hitherto bottled up rage at economic disparity and the moneyed interests influence over our democracy, finding the voice they felt they lacked. They share an ethos easily distilled as “people over profits,” more specifically about investing our nation’s wealth in social programs—thus it’s anti-war, anti-bailout, anti-Wall Street. It’s a protest against capitalism itself. The common refrain there is “we are the 99 percent,” as opposed to the top one percent of earners. Protestors encourage everyone, even the police, to join them, because economically their interests should be the same.
Some are also urging the movement to broaden. Their new slogan? “Occupy Everything.”