For a little while the other evening, I watched an OccupyWallStreet General Assembly livestreaming from New York City’s Liberty Plaza. There are a lot of people camping in the plaza to bring attention to the financial misdeeds of a financial and corporate “plutocracy” whose members have brought suffering to millions as they have gotten richer. The protesters call themselves the “99%”, referring to the distribution of wealth in this country, where the top 1% of people hold nearly half the assets. Through rain and cold, they have maintained their occupation since Sept. 17.
The daily OccupyWallStreet General Assemblies are part of an effort to observe democratic processes there. Loud speakers are not permitted, so, as you may have learned elsewhere by now, the organizers use a “human microphone” system, in which people standing near a speaker loudly repeat what he/she is saying so that all can hear. Routine committee reports sound like chants. Speeches by visitors such as Michael Moore, Cornel West and Susan Sarandon have been broadcast in the same way.
These protesters are very technologically savvy. Livestreaming cameras have filmed the goings-on from the beginning, and many other videos have been posted on YouTube. As I listened to the assembly, these were some of the items of business: I heard a report from the outreach committee in which one young man told of getting a little group together to sing a song they had written about OccupyWallStreet on the subway. Another asked for help in outreach to small store owners around the plaza whose business was being slowed by the large number of police surrounding it.
There was a reminder that people sleeping under plastic tarps should be careful not to cover their faces. A speaker asked for permission to spend $300 out of donated funds to buy sweatshirts and sweatpants that will be needed as the weather gets colder. There were no objections. A report from the kitchen committee celebrated that they had prepared all their own food that day and asked for people to volunteer kitchens that will be needed as their numbers grow. Clearly these campers have shown staying power and ingenuity in setting up their alternative universe.
I am impressed by the decentralized nature of this movement, which is now spreading to other cities. The protesters are using every means of communication to rally the nation, from old fashioned word-of-mouth technology to computerized social media. There are already signs of support from postal workers, airline pilots and New York City Transit Workers. The Transit Workers are planning a rally in solidarity for Oct. 5.
Full reports day-by-day since the protest started can be found on the Occupy Wall Street website.