NEW YORK – On September 22, one day after the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March, another environmental justice event occurred in New York City. “Flood Wall Street,” as it was called, targeted the singular place the participants saw as the heart of the problem: the financial district.
Clad in shades of blue to illustrate the wave of action to come, the activists of Flood Wall Street gathered first at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park for a rally, teach-in, and breakfast.
By 11 am, the group, increasing in size seemingly by the moment, began moving toward Wall Street. Carrying placards reading ‘Capitalism = Climate Chaos,’ some 1,000 commandeered the streets to tell the corporate beast that it must become responsible to our planet. Tight, shadowy lower-Broadway was shut down all the way to the water’s edge. For the stock and hedge fund people, it must have felt particularly confining.
Quickly, street traffic was halted by the sea of bodies. Among the vehicles blocked were two sight-seeing double-decker buses, a city bus, and a truck. To a soundtrack provided by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and varied chanting, colorful blue tarps were held aloft above huge sections of the demonstrators. One of these was stretched over the cab of a stalled truck as the driver sat motionless, looking out. Harried New Yorkers had to sit tight as the crowd swelled, blocking out the black-top. Without breaking up the proceedings, the NYPD cleared a path after an hour and let the traffic through; the tourists up on top of the bus cheered the protesters on. As soon as the vehicles were moved out, the human “flood” moved back in, securing the ground, sharing again in song and chant.
Later, in the afternoon some protestors moved into barricaded areas and the police responding intolerantly. Up until then and for most of the day, however, Flood Wall Street was peaceful and non-violent. In contrast to how things probably would have gone under Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg, the NYPD tactic for this event was geared to making no arrests.
The crowd communicated via the Occupy Wall Street “people’s mic” with multiple relays carrying the message outward. Some of the speakers were from other countries. One young man, a self-identified member of the IWW, climbed on top of a pay phone and spoke about the cause of all oppressed peoples. The police stood by close, seemingly unaware of what to do next. He held his ground but was arrested while descending from his make-shift podium.
With the majority of the demonstration happening further south, the action thinned as one walked northward up Broadway. All of the adjoining streets were closed to traffic but Wall Street had a small squadron of police guarding against any entry. Behind the barricades stood several annoyed brokers in European suits trying to get back to work after lunch. New York’s finest were standing guard over the institutions of profit and no one was getting by. “Show me your ID please.” Fumbling for their wallets, they did.
The irony was unique to the moment: the demonstrators were enjoying a sit-down on lower Broadway with police protection as men with $600 haircuts were being carded.
Just then, a group of visitors intent on taking selfies on the steps of the Stock Exchange were stopped too. “But, officer, I just want to see Wall Street,” a blond traveler beseeched the policeman.
The cop’s response was, of course, the key phrase of the entire event: “I am sorry but Wall Street is closed today.”
The Street would later report that it held its own but if you looked closely, you could almost see it cringe as the echo of chanting soared through the canyons of capital.
Photo: John Minchillo/AP