Occupy Wall Street
More voices for justice?
PVJ takes a look at the “Occupy Wall Street” movement
Sylvia Thorson-Smith, a member of the PVJ Coordinating Team, has gathered reports from Vicki Moss in New York, Bill Dummer in Milwau- kee, and Sarah McKasson in Tucson.
’Tis the season to re-imagine the 60s. For some of us who lived through those times, the Occupy W all Street movement brings back memories of social activism and solidarity of purpose that has little been seen since then. The movements are vastly different – now being less interested in “dropping out” of the establishment than dropping into a more egalitarian society with jobs and basic security for all.
Frank Rich, in the October 31 issue of New York magazine, http://nymag.com/ news/frank-rich/class-war-2011-10/ compares “the death throes of Herbert Hoover’s presidency in June 1932” with some of the events occurring today. In his article, “The Class War Has Begun,” he reminds readers that Congress bailed out “greedy bankers and financiers” while failing to pay a modest bonus promised to veterans of WWI. A “motley assemblage” of up to 20,000 middle-class men who couldn’ t find jobs staged a massive vigil on the lawn of the US capitol, keeping their “improvised hovels clean and maintain- ing small gardens.”
This is the stuff of social movements; we may rarely see them coming, but once they are upon us, there’s no turning back until society confronts the issues that have ignited collective protest. Several board members of Presbyterian Voices for Justice have submitted reports about the Occupy Wall Street movement that is spreading across America. We want to share them with you in the hope of making connections and forging links of solidarity that include a witness by Presbyterians and other people of faith.
Vicki Moss reports that she and her husband John Harris were in Zuccotti Park (in the Wall Street area) as the police kept people moving so the sidewalk wouldn’t be blocked. She writes “that there were so many different people there. A girl with pink hair, youngish people handing out Occupy W all Street newspapers, people in costumes (one as Uncle Sam), lots of signs, a guy with a mask dressed in a suit, a family with kids holding signs talking to the media about their concern for their hamsters if they run out of money or lose their house, people of all ages. The crowd was very low key and peaceful. I didn’t hear the human microphone but drumming was going on at the south end of the park. There were lots of police all over the financial district, not just around the park. Most of them seemed relaxed and casual about the whole situation.”
Bill Dummer, PVJ Moderator, writes of attending Occupy Milwaukee:
The first day of action of the movement in Milwaukee was scheduled for October 15. The e-mail information I received said to meet for a rally at Zeidler Union Square. It was not only strategically located but symbolic in its name. Frank Zeidler was the beloved socialist mayor of Milwaukee in the 40s and 50s. It is a small, half-block square park. The information said there would be a rally at 11:00 before a march. So I headed to the park about that time.
However, when I got there, I learned that the plans had changed. There were people of all ages there, some with signs, some without. One that caught my eye early read “Keep your corporate hands off my government.” There were a lot of younger people with signs about student loans. The media were there, interviewing some of the people who were gathering. I recognized some of the faces from previous anti- war rallies and such. But I found it curious that I did not see any of the regulars I see when I go to the Milwaukee County Democratic Party meetings. While we waited, little clusters of people would begin chants. The most popular one was from the protests in Madison in February and March, “This is what democracy looks like.”
A variety of interest groups had set up booths to provide information on their angle of the cause. The information sheet that was passed out to people indicated that the march would begin at noon. It would go to the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street, which is the location of several big banks, namely J P Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo and Associated. At each of these banks yellow crime scene tape would be put on the entrances. The rally would begin there with the first of the “We Are the 99%” speakers. Then the crowd would move a half block north to M & I Bank (which recently became part of Canadian BMO Bank). The same scenario would be repeated there. The march went back to Wisconsin & Water where a teach-in was conducted on the role of non- violent civil disobedience in movements for social change. The march then returned the five blocks to Zeidler Park.
The media reported that evening that the march included 3000 people.
The second action event of Occupy Wall Street Milwaukee took place in a different location on October 29. It was billed as Occupy the Hood, and its focus was the lack of jobs for people living in the inner city. The staging area was Lincoln Park on the north side of the city. The event began at Noon with a half hour performance of a “drum line,” which put on a good show of African style drumming. Then there was a series of speakers discussing the employment situation in Milwaukee, particularly as it relates to inner-city residents. Once again, there were people of all ages participating. This time, however, there were more African-American young people. Not everyone participated in the march as it would be about three miles to the empty factory shell of A O Smith, which at one time manufactured many things, including the chassis of almost all of the American-made cars.
It was good to get moving, in order to get warmed up. The escort of about 10 officers on motorcycles (Harleys, of course), plus another 10 on bicycles cleared the two thoroughfares that we walked on, creating quite the spectacle for the residents. Once again, there were a variety of signs, but it seemed
like the most were “Recall Scott W alker” (the Republican Governor). We got to our destination in about an hour. When we arrived at the first gate, the guard would not let us on the factory grounds, so the leaders asked us to sit down where we were (in a minor thoroughfare). Some more speeches were made, calling attention to the fact that this factory at one time employed a couple thousand people. Part of it is in operation, as a Spanish company is using it to make high-speed rail cars. However, it too will soon be moving, since the Governor rejected federal money for high-speed rail in Wisconsin. I left to hike back to my car in the park before the speeches were over. The news reported that only about 300 people participated in this march.
Sarah McKasson, a member of St. Mark’ s Presbyterian Church in Tucson (where Sylvia Thorson-Smith is also a member), writes of her participation in Occupy Tucson:
My sister Molly and I followed Occupy Wall Street online and in the papers. When we found out there was going to be an Occupy Tucson, we agreed that we would be there on opening day. Molly and I made our signs the night before – we were ready! The kick-off for Occupy Tucson was held in a city park near the downtown area. Newspapers estimated the crowd at 500 people. It was great to walk around and read all the signs, mostly hand made. Some were “laugh out loud” funny and many were very poignant. Molly and I stood with about thirty other protesters in a corner of the park and waved our signs at passing cars. Most of the drivers gave us thumbs up or peace signs. It was a really hot day in Tucson, so we moved to a shady area in the park and listened to some of the many speakers address the crowd.
All in all, it was a very peaceful protest, except for one person who walked through the crowd yelling “stop picnicking and get a job.” A few of the protestors attempted to engage him in some dialogue, but he just kept shouting and moving through the crowd. Some of the peacekeepers from Occupy Tucson surrounded him for his safety, even though no one was physically threatening him. That’s the great thing about our country: everyone has the right of free speech. Other than that one event, it was a very peaceful day. The protesters were a very diverse group of ages, background and ethnicity. The best part was the number of young people who were there. It was so heartening to see them step up and participate in democracy!
Frank Rich has some analysis that seems worth including in this story. “Politicians in either party, of course, never use the term ‘class warfare’ to describe what’ s going on in America, unless it’ s Republican leaders accusing Obama of waging it every time he even mildly asserts timeless liberal bromides about taxing the rich. Nor do most politicians want to talk about the depth of the crisis in present-day capitalism, since to acknowledge its scale would only dramatize how little they intended to do about it. The whole system is screwed up, and it’s not all Wall Street’s fault – or remotely in the financial sector’s power alone to solve.”
We Christians are committed to serve a just and loving God who strengthens us to confront the powers and principalities of injustice, trusting that nothing can separate us from God’s love and presence. As we watch and participate in these Occupation movements across the country, may we work to fashion the society that we pledge allegiance to in both church and nation, one that truly institutionalizes “liberty and justice for all.”