Across the nation yesterday, in all 50 states, hundreds of thousands joined Occupy Wall Street, the labor movement and their allies in demonstrations demanding jobs, taxation of the rich, curbs on the power of big finance and preservation of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
Leaving behind their tents and tarps, the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators brought their message to the people by marching through the nation’s financial districts, through the streets of cities and towns coast to coast, and by occupying everything from mass transit hubs to the bridges that span the nation’s rivers, canals and lakes.
Coming just two days after protesters were evicted from their headquarters in many city parks and town squares, the mass demonstrations amounted to the largest public outpouring of support for the movement since it began as a picket line in the financial district here on Sept. 17.
Nearly 40,000 people from over one hundred groups jammed Foley Square here, alone. They poured into the square after having demonstrated at numerous other events around the city, including at the opening of the New York Stock Exchange.
Although they came in solidarity with those who were evicted on Tuesday by court order from their Zuccotti Park encampment they, in effect, were launching an Occupy Wall Street movement far bigger and broader than it had been at any time before the eviction. (story continues below slide show)
Billionaire Mayor Bloomberg had gone to the Appeals Court to overturn a Supreme Court ruling that allowed protesters to remain in Zuccoti Park with their tents and tarps. If there was ever any illusion that the mayor’s move would kill the movement, it evaporated at Foley Square.
The tens of thousands gathered in the square heard music and they heard testimony from speakers who, after having lost jobs, homes and hope, were fighting back. Hope for a better America, many said, was in the air.
Unions were out in force at Foley Square yesterday, as they were at demonstrations across the country.
Michele Keller, speaking for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, declared, “We are part of the protest that’s letting it be known quite clearly that we are the 99 percent. We are part of a union and blessed to have a job; we are linked by our brothers and sisters and our young people. We are being left behind and whatever we can do today and every day we will do.”
“We’re supporting Occupy Wall Street,” said Chris Rzonca of the United Auto Workers, Local 7902, the adjunct union at New York University. “Our union, the UAW, has come out strongly in favor of it. We are here to support these young people to make sure they know we are behind them.
“We have to find out what people need and talk about economic justice. We’ve been doing the same thing as unions– we marched on Wall Street many times but these young people put their bodies out there and I think that has made the difference.”
Eventually the crowd formed itself into a massive procession to the Brooklyn Bridge chanting, “We are the 99 percent,” “People united will never be defeated,” and “Whose streets? Our streets.”
In a planned act of civil disobedience, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, and several members of the New York City Council were arrested on the bridge.
Kristin Schall, 27, passionately expressed her feelings, saying, “I’m a graduate student at Brooklyn College and I studied early childhood education. I’m $100,000 dollars in debt. I’ll never pay off my student loans. My future students aren’t going to have the opportunity to go to college or own a home or to have a good job because Wall Street and capitalism have gutted the future. I’m here for that future.”
The crowds were so thick that it took several hours for the typical marcher to get from Foley Square to the Brooklyn side of the bridge. The people roared and cheered every time a passing car honked its support.
The day had begun in New York with protesters, attempting a march on the New York Stock Exchange. They were held back, however, by lines of helmeted police.
Entrances to many buildings in the financial district were needlessly blocked by the seemingly overwhelmed New York Police Department, making it impossible for many workers to get to their jobs.
In the afternoon, there were demonstrations at subway stops all over the city. Occupy the Subway contingents later joined the rally at Foley Square.
Rebecca Myers, who is both a student at General Theological Seminary and a social worker, said, “I’m here to give support. I’m excited because it creates conversation among a lot of people and that is very important in a democracy, to have that conversation. Occupy Wall Street has shifted the conversation.”
John Wojcik contributed to this article. Photo: Some 2,000 Occupy Chicago protesters rallied and occupied a bridge to demand jobs not cuts, and to show the Occupy movement cannot be evicted. (John Bachtell/PeoplesWorld.org)
CORRECTIONS: In a previous version of this article SEIU President Mary Kay Henry’s name and number of protesters at NY Stock Exchange were incorrect. We regret the errors.