Sunday, September 23, 2018

Remembering Occupy Wall Street

On September 17th, 2011, I was in New York City, in Zuccotti Park. I had heard about the protests earlier, when they were in their planning stages. I don't have the resources to just stop everything and go join a protest that crops up somewhere, like, say, in Tunisia or Wisconsin – I couldn't afford to make it to either of those. But Occupy Wall Street was, conveniently enough, planned months in advance by friends of mine who alerted me to their plans. So I made sure to book a gig in New York City for the night before, also months in advance, so I could be sure to make it to the protest.

I had been to protests on Wall Street before. As I headed from Brooklyn to Manhattan that morning, I thought about one I remembered from May 1st, 2000. On that day, thousands of folks, mostly from Mexico and Central America, marched through Manhattan, along with an approximately equal number of riot police, who lined the route of the march on motorcycles, looking very menacing the whole time, towering a full head above most of the relatively short people marching.

It was only months after the Seattle police had been taken by surprise at the WTO protests there, and police departments throughout the US at the time were taking no chances. The NYPD was out in force, not only “escorting” the marchers at a ratio of about 1-to-1, but they also had riot cops deployed at every Starbucks and McDonald's throughout lower Manhattan, as well as in front of the World Trade Center, which seemed especially preposterous in retrospect.

The May Day march ended around Wall Street. An anarchist group had put up a website saying that they were going to shut down Wall Street at the end of the May Day march. That appeared to be the extent of the organizing involved with the effort, and the 5,000 riot cops did not have much problem keeping Wall Street safe from the 200 or so anarchists who showed up for the ostensible shutting down of Wall Street. Bizarrely, in anticipation of our little protest, the NYPD had already shut down Wall Street for the afternoon – not just Wall Street, but a huge number of city blocks in every direction surrounding it, creating even more traffic chaos than usual in lower Manhattan. The riot police were quite literally tripping over themselves and their motorcycles, often filling streets in such numbers that they were boxing themselves in.

These were the memories I was having as I arrived at Zuccotti Park in 2011. The scene was not dissimilar from what I remembered. A couple hundred mostly white young people, similar to the couple hundred folks who were prepared to commit civil disobedience on the evening of May 1st, 2000. Like the ones in 2000, the folks in the park in 2011 were far too few to even attempt any kind of shutdown of Wall Street. And as in 2000, the NYPD soon began to brutalize people, which is what they do, in order to keep what they consider to be “law and order.”

The difference this time was that people came back the next day. And the next. And the next. And soon the protest camps starting cropping up all over the country and the world. And, unlike during the anti-capitalist movement 11 years earlier, this time the media was covering it.

As the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City morphed unexpectedly into a national and then an international movement, during the first couple weeks of a concert tour of the US and Canada I had booked months earlier that just happened to coincide perfectly with it, I wrote this song, which I had the distinct pleasure of singing at impromptu concerts in thirty different encampments in different states and provinces, before I lost count.

Occupy Wall Street
Because this is where they buy the politicians
Because this is where power has its seat
Because ninety-nine percent of us are suffering
At the mercy of the madmen on this street
Because all of us are victims of class warfare
Being waged on us by the one percent
Because these greedy banksters rob the country
Leaving us without the means to pay the rent

Because both my parents lost their savings
Because I have never opened an account
Because the interest on my credit card just doubled
And now I can't pay the minimum amount
Because these budget cuts are just immoral
With our schools as overcrowded as they are
Because there are no buses where I live
But I can't afford to drive a car

We're gonna stay right here 

Because it has been demonstrated amply
That the winners are the ones who stick around
Because this world should belong to everyone
Not just the banksters who would smash it to the ground
Because we've noticed voting doesn't change things
When the politicians are mostly millionaires
Because we're learning how to stand up like Tunisians
Like they did in Tahrir Square

We're gonna stay right here 

Because corporations are not people
And we can't just let them choose
Because if we leave our fate to them
Then all of us will surely lose
Because the climate clock is ticking
And we can't just leave our world behind
Because corporate rule isn't working
And it's time for humans' hearts and minds

We're gonna stay right here 

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