Saturday, October 8, 2011

The 99% Occupy Wall Street in Search of Another World

In the later afternoon of Wednesday, October 5, people began to gather in Foley Square, just north of City Hall in Manhattan. Word had it that the labor unions would join with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators on a march from there down to Wall Street.  With about two hours to spare before I met a friend for dinner, I went to Foley Square, camera in hand, to have a second look at the demonstrations that had begun two-and-a-half weeks ago.

The photographs that follow represent my second attempt to present and interpret this growing movement that calls itself Occupy Wall Street.  They are my main material for this post, although I have added some commentary after each one.  I also have chosen to make the horizontal images the same size as the vertical ones so they "read" better, even though they then will extend beyond the right margin of the text ( a design issue within the Google blog over which I have no control).  Enjoy.

New York Supreme Court, 60 Centre Street

Before marching down to Wall Street, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators gathered in Foley Square. I left the square before the march started, but in the hour-and-a-half that I was there, I watched it fill to bursting, to the point where I could barely manage to blaze a trail out to the subways.

This courthouse, with its pedimented Corinthian front, overlooks Foley Square from the east and provides a certain gravitas to the civic center.  It was designed by Guy Lowell, a Boston architect, and completed in 1925. Engraved above the columns are the words of George Washington, “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government.”

Supreme Court reflected in fa├žade of Court of International Trade

Across Foley Square to the west, we see the James L. Watson Court of International Trade building reflecting the Supreme Court as well as a demonstrator’s sign that is emblematic of this event: “It’s About Freedom.”

America is losing its freedom, and it’s not from outside forces. Rather the threat comes from unregulated and increasingly unfettered greed and hunger for power from within our own country.

Anti-Corporate Flag

Replacing the stars on this American Flag are corporate logos, and it’s an equal opportunity selection. Not only are the obvious culprits like Shell, Chase Manhattan, Citigroup, GE, IBM, CBS and Xerox represented, but also corporations that do not so clearly lean to the political right, like Adidas, Nike, Pizza Hut, Pepsi, Playboy and Quiznos. Overlaid on this field of "uncaring corporate greed" [my words] is the symbol of denial, a circle with a diagonal line through it. 

Corporations, no matter what they make, have become insatiable.  They are structured for short-term gains and they neglect long-term decisions that would benefit them as well as the country, such as educational and social programs.  Today’s corporations have no respect for national boundaries, and the idea of local, American corporations in which we can take pride is a thing of the past.  Why we still feel loyalty to them is a mystery.  They only care for the bottom line.  They are prepared to destroy our environment for it and to sell us dangerous products for it. They are inhuman entities and they are definitely not individuals!

We Are The 99%:  Barry with a Transport Workers Union sign

In contrast to the corporations that seem to have taken over the soul of our country, here is the real heart of America--the other 99%: those who are actual people and not corporate entities, who are not millionaires, who right now pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes than do the very wealthy.  They are the upper middle class, the middle class, the working class, the poor, the out of work, the out-of-home.  They are doctors, teachers, truck drivers, packers, public servants (including the police overseeing this demonstration), workers in the private service industry.  They are the backbone of America and they are being eaten from within, at their marrow, by the greed of our large corporations, banks, other Wall Street operatives, and by wealthy people like the Koch Brothers who don’t give a damn for our country and just want to make more money for themselves.

This sign represents the Transport Workers Union, which was founded in 1934 by New York subway workers, and later became a  member of the AFL-CIO.  Since 1945 the TWU also began to represent airline employees, and since 1954, railway employees. Barry, who is holding the sign, lives in Manhattan.  He is not a member of the union, but has come out to support this and other unions, as of course he should support them.   We all should. Without the TWU, we would not be flying, taking the train, or the subways and busses.  Without the 99%, even the Koch Brothers would be unable to leave their gated community!

The Cancer Cell

“Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the CANCER cell,” reads the sign. In one sentence, this manages to summarize the problem of America today and the reason for this on-going Occupy Wall Street demonstration. 

Cancer, the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body which divide and grow, invades neighboring tissues and spreads throughout its host body.  One of many ways to apply this cancer analogy to today's political environment is to use it as a lens by which to examine the the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision: what can possibly be more “abnormal” than calling a corporation a “person?”

We are seeing the results of this decision already with the cancerous spread of untold amounts of corporate money funding efforts to restricting voting in many states, to buying elections and candidates, to destroying public and private unions, to rescinding child labor laws, to cutting health coverage for low-income families, to selling state-owned entities to private (corporate) buyers, to dismissing elected officials of local government and appointing unelected "emergency managers" (isn't this what dictatorships do?!).  I could go on for paragraphs, but you get the picture.  A cancer is destroying America, and our Supreme Court is helping to spread this infection.

Government for the People

Andy, who is holding this sign, is from the Bronx, and how can we argue with his message which simply asks for a government of, by, and for the people?  How is it that we have come to the point of needing to state the obvious?  These words, of course, reference Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.  Isn’t it ironic that we need to recall the words and the message of a great Republican president because today’s Republicans (and the right wing that it embraces) are undermining the great government that Lincoln envisioned and served!

Real Democracy

This sign, “We want REAL Democracy, not 2 ‘Parties’ run by Wall Street,” echoes the sentiment of Andy’s sign as well as the meaning behind Lincoln’s words.

God and Wealth

Annie, who attends Union Theological Seminary, quotes  Matthew on one side: “You Cannot Serve God & Wealth,” while on the other side she has written, “people of faith support Occupy Wall Street.” This is a good reminder that, among the other 99% that constitute normal, everyday Americans, there are many people of faith, many religious people. Very likely, the majority of Christian Americans are not the right-wing evangelicals who always seem to enjoy national press coverage.

Books not Bombs

Barbara from Manhattan is a member of Code Pink, a well-known women’s anti-war group founded in 2002.  She holds up a sign that ought to have every American thinking and reconsidering our priorities: Why IS there always money for war but not for education?

Teamsters Local 111

Bill represents the Teamsters and the official presence of unions, which have joined Occupy Wall Street as of Wednesday.

Chop from the Top

Katherine from Brooklyn expresses what well over 90% of Americans would like to see: a much greater measure of economic equality among Americans.  In fact, a recent study revealed that 92% of Americans would prefer a society with much less income disparity, choosing Sweden's model over ours.   Given that the average CEO today makes well over 400 times what his average employee makes, and the top 1% of Americans own 38% of the nation’s wealth, the outcome of this recent study makes complete sense.

Keep this in mind:  The wealthy were still wealthy during the Eisenhower era, when the top tax bracket was 91%; yet today they (and their Republican toadys) are screaming “class warfare” at the idea of returning to the relatively paltry 39% tax bracket of the recent pre-Bush era.  Maybe they'd stop their screaming were we to threaten to impose
 Sweden's tax rates on wealthy Americans!

Katherine represents US Uncut, a grassroots movement fighting the budget cuts that are now directed toward working Americans and also acting against corporate tax cheats and public service cuts.

Holly & Ken from the Judson Memorial Church

Holly and Ken hold the banner of the Judson Memorial Church, a Greenwich Village landmark that dates from 1892 and was designed by McKim, Mead & White.  Long known for its progressive activism and support of art and artists, the Judson Church works on immigrant rights, peace action and women’s reproductive rights.  Its senior minister, Donna Schaper calls it a “gathering place for people who seek spiritual nurture to build public capacity for social change.”

Joel with Shirtwaists

One hundred years ago, March 25, 1911, the Triangle shirtwaist factory caught fire, killing 146 garment workers within eighteen minutes, then the deadliest industrial disaster in the history of New York.  The reason:  managers had locked the doors to stairwells and exits.

Here we see Joel, a retired teamster, who, with some friends, is carrying actual shirtwaists overlaid with diagonal sashes that call for “Solidarity,” “Power to the People,” “People Over Profits,” and several similar statements.  Rather than mere placards, these shirtwaists serve as inspiring pieces of activist art.  In the context of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, these "talking" shirtwaists serves as powerful reminders of America's corporate greed and a lack of concern for the worker.

Michael and the RICO Law

Michael from Manhattan carries a sign that equates the Wall Street bankers with a crime family and calls for them to be indicted under the RICO Laws.  The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act allows for the leaders of a syndicate to be tried for crimes that they ordered others to do, even if they remained above the acts themselves.  Naturally, what Michael asks for will never happen;  but it should.   After all, virtually every bank and financial company on Wall Street was involved in criminal scandals that destroyed trillions of the world’s wealth.  As Matt Taibbi wrote in an article of March 3, 2011 titled “Why Isn’t Wall Street In Jail?,” ours was “an industrywide scandal that involved the mass sale of mismarked, fraudulent mortgage-backed securities.”

Vernal and the NYCC

Vernal, from Brooklyn, is one of several representatives for New York Communities for Change at the demonstration.  NYCC is a coalition of low and moderate income families fighting for social and economic justice throughout the state.

Writing on their web site as to why NYCC is joining Occupy Wall Street,  John Kest puts forth the theme shared by most of the demonstrators: “While the big banks have destroyed our economy and working people have fought to make do with less and less, the richest one percent of Americans continue to take of more of the pie.”

Collective Bargaining Works

In the mid-1950s, 36% of America’s labor force was unionized, a number far below the percentages of almost every other developed democracy of the world. By 2007, this number had fallen to 13.3%, due to a half-century of business propaganda that demonized unions because they were feared as a democratizing force that needed to be eliminated in order to promote the “capitalist story.”

Collective bargaining, the process of normal union employment negotiations as well as a way to resolve labor-management conflicts, “is, essentially, a recognized way of creating a system of industrial jurisprudence.”  It forces management to honor the civil rights of workers and to operate within a set of established rules.  Of course collective bargaining works; and without it, workers work less well.

Donna for Workers' Rights

How can one argue with this statement?  Workers’ rights are human rights.  Worker’s rights are simply a cry for a living wage, job safety, workers’ compensation, a paid vacation, health benefits, pensions, an eight-hour work day...and a right to organize to insure that all these other rights are recognized.

War on Workers

Collective bargaining and trade unions are being castigated by many Republicans today, especially by governors of states like Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, and Maine, who clearly have declared a war on workers.  Nevertheless, collective bargaining is recognized internationally through human rights conventions, while the organization of trade unions is recognized as a fundamental human right as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948.   In other words, America’s demonization of unions and today’s war on workers places us squarely on the opposite side of most of the world’s developed democracies and in conflict with one of the early, major declarations of the United Nations General Assembly.

Chuck says "Tax the rich until they're poor"

Chuck came in from New Jersey with this sign that indicates the degree to which growing economic inequality and wealth stratification has overtaken America.  Income inequality has been increasing since the 1970s, in contrast to America in the mid-20th century, when income inequality had been decreasing; and in 2006, the United States had one of the highest levels of income inequality among high income countries.

Chuck's sign reads: “Tax the Rich Until They’re Poor...Let them see what it’s like.” Below this it reads: “Corporate America is stealing the American Dream from your children and grandchildren.”

Robbing the Middle Class

There are so many ways in which today’s Republicans are robbing the middle class (and giving tax breaks to the rich) that I hesitate to start down this rocky road.  Instead, why not state one example in which Republicans and Democrats have been ganging up on the middle class like some trash-talking WWE tag team.  That example is Social Security.  Although Social Security actually has a $2.5 trillion surplus, Congress (during the Bush Presidency) blithely (and improperly) spent much of it for year-to-year budget allocations for the wars, tax cuts and oil subsidies. 

Nicole: Greed Against the Earth

Nicole, from New Jersey, brings forth a broader, ecological,  problem of greed, not only of Wall Street and the banking industry but also of the extractive industries.  Fracking and the pollution of our land and water, mountaintop removal, deep water oil drilling, the heating of the globe due to human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are putting us close to a point of no return, a “tipping point,” after which we may not be able to survive on this earth.  But, of course, there is money to be made, and some of those making it are happy to fund the dissemination of misinformation that leads to the insane denials of global warming, or the equally insane rally cries of “drill, baby, drill.”

Analyzing this crisis in its broadest context, paleontologist Peter Ward has coined a phrase for this (and he also has written a book), calling it the Medea Hypothesis
, which claims that our very success will cause our extinction.

Civil Liberties, et. al.

A man holding a sign saying “Jobs not Cuts,” a younger man raising his right hand in a clenched-fist salute, a Muslim woman with a sign reading, “Dude, Where’s My Civil Liberties?,” a fourth man with a sign that appears to be a play on the word “bomb” that may also allude to Obama, and a fifth sign indicating the lack of truth in television.  This photograph captures the wonderful eclecticism that characterizes the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

Erica: Star Stuff

Erica, a graduate student at CUNY, holds up a sign that reads, “We are ONE SPECIES; we are star stuff, harvesting star light,” a quotation from Carl Sagan.  So, Erica urges us to think beyond our country and the earth and into the Cosmos, or, more accurately, back to the Big Bang, which caused the earth and every living thing to be made of star stuff.

Michelle: My Professor

As Michelle, a student at Pratt, implies, everyone in this country ought to have health insurance, even her professor.  Now, most professors have health insurance through their college or university plans.  However, since we are in New York City, and New York colleges have the “luxury” of hiring many adjuncts along with full-time faculty, it may well be that her professor is an adjunct and does not on a college health plan.  Yes, he should be covered--and so should every other person in America.  But because of private insurance company greed and inefficiency, health spending per capita is much higher in America than in most other countries, the quality of care is lower, and our system is among the least equitable.

Richard: Strumming for the Social Contract

Richard, an actor with the WorkShop Theater Company, is entertaining the growing crowds on his banjo and has written a song, “Marching Down to Wall Street,” which can be found on YouTube. As he says, the reason he is here is that we are all in this together, and we must find a balance between socialism and capitalism.  For a healthy social order, they need to co-exist.

The NYC Raging Grannies

Also entertaining the growing crowds in Foley Square are the Raging Grannies, or to be specific, the NYC Metro Raging Grannies and Their Daughters, for the Raging Grannies is an international movement which began in 1987 in British Columbia.  Their purpose, as stated on their website, is to “promote global peace, justice and social and economic equality by raising consciousness through song parodies and satire.”

Foley Square ca. 4:30 pm,  October 5, 2011

Here is what Foley Square looked like around 4:30 pm. The march downtown would not begin for quite some time, but it seemed as if a body was occupying every square foot of the civic center.

Christopher: Another World Is Possible

Christopher, from Brooklyn, holds two signs. The one states optimistically, “Another World Is Possible.”  The other is a quotation from George Soros: “The Collapse of the Global Marketplace would be a Traumatic Event with Unimaginable Consequences. Yet I Find It Easier to Imagine than the Continuation of the Present Regime.”

George Soros has devoted himself to creating and promoting open societies around the globe, particularly in the Eastern bloc as the Soviet empire crumbled.  He has championed tolerance, democratic governance, and human rights through his Open Society Foundations.

I and the many thousands of participants in the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations would love to entertain the possibility of another world, a world of greater equality, a world in which the wealthy, the big bankers, the heads of our corporations all felt an obligation to the poor and the less wealthy, a world in which politicians cooperated consistently with the opposing party for the benefit of all their constituents and their country, a world in which no entity would consider defiling the natural environment, a world in which politicians and other decision makers primarily would consult scientific experts and not paid lobbyists, and a world in which the health and education of the entire citizenry would be given primacy.

These, indeed are the goals and the dreams of the 99% who are Occupy Wall Street.  If only the other 1% would listen and join in; then, maybe, we could rescue our country.


  1. Fascinating and moving post. I feel like I was there with you. Thank you.

  2. I predict that what happened in Spain (and France) will happen to the US movement.
    And this as soon as winter will start kicking in.
    But for everyone who would have been there, it will leave great memories of a great movement.
    Future will tell. I hope I'm wrong.

  3. Thank you, always. I was there this past Thursday and Friday,but, gulp, can hardly bear to think of another time when we all hoped to "get ourselves back to the garden".


  4. In a very quick look, what I like most about your article Tyko is that I don't see any "dirty, stupid, un-american hippies." The Right (aka Corporate Apparatchik) has been quick to label this real tea party. Sure hope this uprising has legs!


  5. I found this post through my friend and former professor Bill Stott. I too am a former professor living in Brooklyn, blogging, writing a childhood memoir of growing up Mennonite in Lancaster County, PA, and taking care of our infant grandson by day. I visited the protest in late September and came away hopeful that something focused and constructive may emerge. This in-depth look is the best I've seen yet. Love the emphasis on the architecture and history.

    1. 1 1/3 year later, but as you are in Brooklyn, we ought to get together to share connections, like how you know Bill.

  6. Excellent photos and text. I will forward this blog to friends and share on Facebook.

  7. What a great portrait of what we can all hope is a pivotal moment! So nice to not only see the signs, but to know the names and circumstances of the people holding them. For us that are too far away to participate in body, this helps us participate in spirit. Thank you, dad! Love, Carla