In front of Wall Street on September 19. Photo by Alex Féthière.
As the United States struggles to get its derailed economy back on track, a New York-based protest movement called “Occupy Wall Street” has sprouted in the country’s financial capital. One week after its formation, the group grabbed headlines after police arrested at least 80 people at a rally this weekend.
The movement began on September 17 when a group of more than 1,000 protesters heeded a call sent out on the Internet to “occupy Wall Street”. Since that day, lower Manhatten’s Zuccotti Park – a popular lunchtime hangout for Wall Street’s financial elite, known as the “golden boys” – has been rebaptised Liberty Square, an abbreviated version of its original name, Liberty Plaza Park.
Each morning the protesters hold a meeting to discuss various issues and concerns as they arise, so as to avoid any one person speaking on behalf of the group. Important decisions, such as what to do in the case of a police intervention, are made by vote. Although the “Occupy Wall Street” movement has thus far been generally tolerated, this weekend’s events have shown that the group is no stranger to arrests.
In this video, a group of protesters near Union Square are herded by police with a large orange net before being sprayed with teargas. Several people were arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and resisting arrest.
Cardboard signs littering the ground near the Liberty Square encampment. One sign reads "Palestine" in Arabic.
“Our camp is a laboratory that explores ideas from all sectors of society”
In addition to completing a doctorate in sociology, Harrison Schultz works as an analyst with a New York-based marketing firm. He is one of the original organisers of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
"We didn’t understand Saturday’s wave of arrests. It’s true there were a lot of people there. Those who had been camped out at Liberty Square for the last week were joined by hundreds of others. I was waiting for a food delivery there when a friend called me to tell me that things were starting to turn ugly. So I ran down there to see what was going on. The police were being extremely aggressive. They were using this new technique to herd people together by surrounding us with nets. They also seized a camera somebody was using to film our movement since it began. When you watch the video showing one of our protesters getting teargased, it’s obvious it was used inappropriately.
"According to my information, there were 96 arrests made [media reports put the number of arrests at 80]. I think the majority of them were released later. By Sunday, things were calm again. Our encampment at Liberty Square is still there and just as full as it was before, and we’re hoping that even more people will come out.
Demonstration on New York's Broadway Ave., September 24. Video posted on YouTube.
"I’ve spent several nights there over the past week or so. It’s hard to know how many we are out there, because there are a lot of people passing through at all different hours. It’s not only the unemployed – many of the protesters have full-time jobs and come in their spare time. Of course there are students, but lots of artists as well.
"We’re having a lot of fun and we’re not in a rush"
"The whole idea took off after Adbusters, an online activist group, published a call to action in August under the hashtag #OccupyWallStreet. They wanted to inspire an Arab Spring-like resistance movement by occupying a symbolic place. I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, but I personally want everything to change. I no longer support our archaic political institutions nor our education system, which dates from the last century. We need new social protections and to organise a complete overhaul of the financial system.
"As you can see, many of the people participating in Occupy Wall Street are people with radical ideas. There are some anarchists, unions and communists. If our demands seem scattered, it’s because the revolution should be a total revolution. On Wall Street we exchange, we explore – it’s like a laboratory of ideas. More than that, we have a good time and we’re in no rush.
"I consider many of my compatriots too passive. If we want social justice, you can’t wait for someone to just give it to you, you have to go out and find it yourself. Everyone in the world is affected by this issue. I was interviewed by a radio station in Wisconsin and the listeners called to thank us. Even my boss at my marketing firm encourages what I’m doing.
For the group “Occupy Wall Street”, everyday is a new adventure”.
Protesters jot down how much they owe in personal debt.
Liberty Square, September 25. Photo published on Flickr by Mattron.
“People don’t understand that Wall Street has been the hardest hit industry in the crisis”
Steve Guilsoyle, 47, works on the trading floor as a US economist with Meridian Equity Inc. Guilsoyle has been on Wall Street since the last financial crisis hit in 1987.
"The 'Occupy Wall Street' guys are definitely making it hard to get around. Not in the sense that they’re disrupting trading or our daily lives, but more in the sense that they’ve become a physical obstacle. I think that they’re a little misguided. Wall Street has been the hardest hit industry in the crisis. More people lost their jobs here than anywhere else.
"It’s easy to generalise when it comes to traders. Wall Street is a hard thing to understand because it’s always evolving, particularly in the last five years. I still understand it, but it’s definitely not what it was in the old days."
"I’m still proud to say what I do for a living"
"The biggest misconception is that people who work on Wall Street are highly paid. We make what we make, but the reality of it is that we are all solidly middle class. The public doesn’t see that. Instead they see what the newspapers tell them – that the average bonus on Wall Street is exorbitantly high. Sure, there are a small handful of people who earn a ridiculous amount of money, but that’s not representative of the vast majority of Wall Street. Most of us didn’t get bonuses last year. The reality of it is that Wall Street has higher unemployment and wage reduction than anywhere on ‘Main Street’ [according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in the financial and insurance sectors was at 5.8 percent in August 2011, whereas the national average for unemployment was reported at 9.1 percent in September].
"I see those guys holding up their signs saying ‘Shame on Wall Street’, and do I know what they’re worried about? I’m just a guy who goes to work everyday and I work very hard, so I don’t necessarily have the time to know what they’re worried about. If you’re asking did the economy get hurt five years ago by Wall Street? Yes it did. But I don’t think they know that they’re protesting regular guys who are earning much less than $100,000 per year.
"I’m right in there with every other guy – with the fireman, the policeman, the guy down the block. I don’t feel as though there’s anything separating me from anyone else.
"Even though Wall Street and the people who work on it have been demonised since the crisis hit, I’m still proud to say what I do for a living. You’ve got to put in a lot of hours on this job, and the few of us left here are guys with a lot of work ethic. I’m not ashamed of that”.
"Occupation Wall Street". Photos published on Flickr by Alex Féthière.