Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wall Street, September 17: Notes & Observations

At noon on Saturday, as one url headline announced, “Thousands to protest on Wall Street for US Day of Rage September 17, 2011.” There certainly were hundreds (and Bloomberg News estimated about a thousand), but hardly “thousands,” who made their way down to lower Manhattan. Since the event had been part of a floating discussion on the internet for some time, "New York’s Finest" had sufficient warning and were out in force, blocking access to Wall Street for all but those with legitimate reason for entry.

The activist group Adbusters had begun discussions of this event in early July and, harboring visions of an American Tahrir Square, had hoped that 20,000 people would “flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months.” No wonder the police were ready with barricades. In Tahrir Square, that many people might seem a drop-in-the-bucket; in the narrow confines of Wall Street, they would be sleeping three-deep on top of each other!

But the issue was moot, as one can see from the three photos below.

An Empty, Barricaded, Wall Street (seen from Broadway)

Wall Street with Police Redirecting People

Exchange Place, also Barricaded and Inaccessible

Once thwarted from entering Wall Street, everyone naturally gravitated south to the bottom of Broadway. However, one group seemed content to confine itself to the few blocks of Broadway around Wall Street, stopping to unfurl its banner promoting the Glass-Steagall Act and, on cue from its choral director, breaking into patriotic song.

As I focused my camera, I began to sing the Star Spangled Banner with them. Then my eye caught the identifier at the bottom of their banner, “” My accompaniment stopped abruptly.  I had been seduced, through song and sentiment, into joining an activity of an organization I otherwise distrust, if not detest!

LaRouche Choral Group

Still, I was with the LaRouchers, not only in the momentary act of singing, but also in their stated purpose: The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 had established the FDIC and regulated bank speculation. Unfortunately, sixty-six years later, this Act was repealed through the machinations of three Republicans, and the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act effectively removed those protections that had separated investment banks and commercial banks. In so doing, this new act opened the door to our present financial crisis.  So yes, in this instance, I joined the LaRouchers, or at least held out hope for some new version of Glass-Steagall.

But then, one of the male singers in the second row held up a despicable banner reading “Invoke the 25th Amendment” and picturing President Obama with a Hitler mustache.

LaRouche Choral Group Revealing their True Selves

Their true, deluded nature shattered their seductive singing, as they continued to beat old, nonsensical horses: last year Lyndon LaRouche--hardly someone whom I would call mentally competent--had called for Obama’s removal from office for mental incompetency; his tool of extraction would be the never-invoked Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. It’s the birthers in another guise!

One might ask why the LaRouchers were at this otherwise progressive demonstration. But then, after a look at the demonstrators and the range of their causes, one might just as easily ask, “why not?”

Code Pink Demonstrators, Broadway

Here, for example, is Code Pink, a women’s organization which promotes peace and social justice and, in particular, places its focus on ending wars and changing our militarism.

Veterans for Peace Flag, Crowd, Bowling Green

Or here, we see the flag of Veterans for Peace. One encounters their members often at local demonstrations, at least in New York City. This organization was founded in 1985, with a national office in Saint Louis, MO.  It’s objective is “to raise public awareness of the true costs and consequences of militarism and war--and to seek peaceful, effective alternatives.”

Bradley Manning Sign, Bowling Green
Then, there were several people who were championing the cause of Bradley Manning.  Manning, as many of us recall, was the Army soldier arrested in Iraq in May of 2010 on suspicion of passing restricted material to WikiLeaks.  He remains in solitary confinement in a brig in Quantico, VA. 

Among the material leaked were two videos, one of airstrikes in which US helicopters attacked a district in Iraq, killing Reuters war correspondents and innocent citizens, and another of a US airstrike in Afghanistan, known as the Granai Massacre, in which a village south of Herat was attacked (apparently in error), leading to one of the highest civilian death tolls caused by western action since the war began in 2001.

Troy Davis Signs, Broadway

Throughout the mass of demonstrators, one could see signs pleading for leniency in the case of Troy Davis.  Davis is scheduled to be executed by the State of Georgia later today (Wednesday, September 21) for the murder of a policeman, even though there are major doubts about his guilt: no physical evidence has connected him to the murder;  no murder weapon has ever been found;  seven of the original nine witnesses have recanted, and of the remaining two, one is highly suspect and the other may in fact be the murderer.

This case has spread far beyond our borders and is seen as an example of the corrupted justice system in America’s Deep South. On September 17, there were ten events in France alone protesting the execution,  and rallies began in Hong Kong and carried on in other parts of Asia, Latin America and Europe.

America Is Not Broke Sign

Here, in a veiled challenge to Republican hypocrisy regarding the economy, national debt, their refusal to raise our debt ceiling and their proposals for a balanced budget amendment, is truth in a nutshell: America ain’t broke; it’s all a ruse, a smokescreen. 

The statement apparently was taken from Michael Moore’s speech of early March, delivered to the protesters in Madison, WI.  In it, Moore pointed out that “today just 400 Americans have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.”  In other words, 400 individuals possess more money than 155 million people. This should be a national embarrassment.

The organization listed at the bottom of the sign,, has focused its efforts against corporate tax cheats and unfair public service cuts.

Guy Fawkes Masks

Along with Adbusters, which operates without a central planning committee or even a website, another group associated with encouraging this march on Wall Street is Anonymous. It was formed in 2003 and is dedicated to using the internet to promote civil disobedience while remaining hidden.

Anonymous is a form of international, decentralized collective that manages to operate in a coordinated way to accomplish self-agreed goals.  Many participants of Saturday's demonstration wore these Guy Fawkes masks, which I suspect is a reference to Anonymous. However, they wore them as caps on top of their heads because it is illegal for more than two people to wear masks in public.  I confess to asking these three young men to wear their masks over their faces in order to make this photograph.  Guy Fawkes, of course, was the English revolutionary who plotted to assassinate King James I and restore a Catholic monarch to the British throne.

View Down Broadway to Bowling Green

Police Car and Charging Bull

Charging Bull and Policemen, View North from Bowling Green

The now famous Wall Street Bull, here protected by a police cruiser from the front and several policemen from its rear, is actually titled Charging Bull.   It was designed and cast by the artist Arturo di Modica after the 1987 market crash and represents, in the artist’s words, "the strength, power and hope of the American people for the future."

Di Modica clandestinely installed it on the night of December 15, 1989 in front of the NYSE and in the middle of Broad Street. As he had no permit, the statue was impounded, but within six days, Parks Commissioner Henry J. Stern had it moved to its present spot at the foot of Broadway.  Stern neither consulted the Arts Commission nor the Community Board, 
as is required by law, before reinstalling the bull.  Di Modica has not been able to find a buyer for it--Merrill Lynch and Standard and Poor’s declined to purchase it for the city--so it remains on loan from the artist. This, despite the fact that art on loan to the city is limited to a year’s display time. 

In essence, the Charging Bull, now a fixture and a tourist favorite, is a perfect symbol for Wall Street and our big banks: it is an entity that gets its way and doesn’t play by the rules.

Unloading More Barriers, State Street and Bowling Green

Bowling Green, Crowd

Puppeteer: Our Economy Is Modeled On A Cancer

As a place for a demonstration, Bowling Green certainly is more pleasant than Wall Street would have been and it, too, offers symbolic meaning to political activity. In the 17th century it served as a cattle market and parade ground, but in 1733 it took its present form as a teardrop-shaped park. It contained an equestrian statue of King George III, and this was torn down in 1776 by the Sons of Liberty.

In these three photographs above, we see, first, more barriers being unloaded and erected around the outer edge of the park. Rumor spread that demonstrators best leave the park before the police “penned” them all in, but I suspect that was paranoia triggered by dusky memories of events such as the Democratic Convention in Chicago of 1968 or the Kent State shootings of 1970 (or possibly I’m just dating myself!).   The other photographs show the crowd milling just outside of the park’s fence and a puppeteer manipulating a broken, toy doll as an emblem of our economy--two of the many activities that were taking place in and around Bowling Green park.

No More Corruption in Chinese, Portugese, Norwegian

Corruption of the moneyed interests certainly was a main theme of the demonstrations, and here we get some of the event’s international flavor. As the US Day of Rage organizers stated: “Unfortunately, free and fair elections are a thing of the past in America.  Because of recent Supreme Court decisions, money is flowing freely and unaccountably into the American electoral process.  Elections will be swayed by interests opposed to those of the United States.  Corporations, even those owned by foreign shareholders, will and do use money to act as the voices of millions, while individual citizens, the legitimate voters, are silenced and demoralized by the farce of American Democracy.”

Reverend Billy, Bowling Green

Reverend Billy of the Church of Life After Shopping is always a striking presence. As more barriers were going up around Bowling Green, he called out, “Are you penning us in or penning us out?” Later, he would give a short, inspirational sermon to the crowd from the steps of the National Museum of the American Indian, culminating in shouts of “Change Alleluia.”

Need Must Trump Greed

The perceived greed that drives Wall Street as well as our large corporations and banks certainly is undermining our society and creating a world of increasing economic disparity. It also is not simply an American problem. It is global. On this same day of September 17, for example, the indignados of Spain joined with the indignés of France as part of a global action against the banks.

Call for a True Democracy

What does seem to be particularly prevalent in our United States today is the undermining of our great democracy, even at the grass-roots level, as can be witnessed in the actions of Republican governors in several states, such as Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Maine, to name just a few.  This fellow’s sign may be simple and crude, but its message is spot on: we do need to revive a true democracy in America.

Prayer Circle, People not Profits

Vietnam Veteran, Steps of National Museum of the American Indian

Saturday’s demonstration was peaceful and completely law-abiding, as far as I could make out. Despite the appearances of the Veteran with the megaphone, the messages were reasonable, the delivery respectful. Many demonstrators referred to a group calling itself the NYC General Assembly, and they handed out a leaflet entitled “Occupy Wall Street: Legal Information.” This enabled all present to know their rights as well as to know what they could and could not do. 

This event generated an enormous amount of positive energy, maybe because it wasn’t focused on some very specific complaint. As Nathan Schneider wrote in a piece that asked who would be occupying Wall Street, it “seems to be an aesthetic more than anything, a longing to see Wall Street full of the people whose concerns its operations have been blind to, and who are ready to get their due.”

Whatever the intentions of its various organizers, this event made me proud to be an American and a New Yorker. 

The final six photographs, I hope, offer a sampling of the wonderful, anonymous citizens of our country who came from all over, intending to camp out on Wall Street.  Of course they were thwarted in that, yet they happily assumed new roles that I hope  will, each in her/his own way, work to regain that “true democracy” that we have been losing of late.

Wiljago (from Oakland, CA)
Those 39 countries Wijago lists all spend more on education that does the United States. This is beyond tragic.

Zack (from Long Island)

Zack came in part through computer alerts from the group Anonymous (although I have no idea whether I actually ever met someone from Anonymous).  His message couldn’t be any clearer.

Rheannone (from Brooklyn)

Dissent is frightening and likely to meet with righteous indignation, but it is patriotic, even if (under certain, narrower legal situations) it may be seen as wrong.

Rafael (from the Bronx)

Rafael is holding a sign against the Supreme Court's ruling in the Citizens United Case, but I was attracted by the orange button directly above that reads, “Fight Like An Egyptian.” Very clever!

Margaret (from Baltimore)

Margaret was passing out announcements for the October 2011 Movement (see calling for a demonstration in Washington, D.C. on October 6, 2011.  It is in support of peace, social, economic, and environmental justice and against corporatism and militarism.

Greg (from Pittsburgh, PA)

I love this hat of Greg's. "There's no government like no government." It says it all.  How can anyone consider voting for people, like Rick Perry for example, who call for the destruction of government?    How much lunacy can we afford to support and still remain a great country and major world force?

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