Take it to Wall Street

Left activists have decided to target big business, as well as the government. Yesterday, in an event that was  months in the making, (at least) hundreds have attempted to occupy Wall Street.

Announced by the anti-corporate group, Adbusters, the hacktivist group, Anonymous posted a youtube video in support.  Over time, others joined in, organizing around the event.

Claiming inspiration from the Arab Spring, the project’s open source site, Occupy Wall Street, called for sustained mass action in lower Manhattan–and announced that they planned to stay and make a new world:

On September 17, 20,000 of us will descend on Wall Street, the iconic financial center of America, set up a peaceful encampment, hold a people’s assembly to decide what our one demand will be, and carry out an agenda of full-spectrum, absolutely nonviolent civil disobedience the likes of which the country has not seen since the freedom marches of the 1960s.

From our encampment we will launch daily smart mob forays all over lower Manhattan … peaceful, creative happenings in front of Goldman Sachs; the SEC; the Federal Reserve; the New York Stock Exchange … and maybe even, if we can figure out where they’re being held, at the sites of Obama’s private $38,500 per person fundraising events happening somewhere in Manhattan on Sept. 19 and 20.

Our strategy will be that of the master strategist Sun Tzu: “appear at points which the enemy must hasten to defend; march swiftly to places where you are not expected.”

With a bit of luck, and if fate is on our side, we may be able to turn all of lower Manhattan into a site of passionate democratic contestation – an American Tahrir Square.

(Wall Street is an obvious, attractive, and very difficult target for activists.  There was a march on Wall Street against the Federal bailout of large financial firms in 2008, organized by critics on the left, and a large antinuclear power rally and civil disobedience action in 1979 [more on this later].  It’s relatively easy for a large police force to shut off access to the Financial district’s narrow streets, and to clear activists out.  Armed, coordinated, equipped, and better trained police forces can stage mass arrests reasonably quickly, carting demonstrators out in plastic handcuffs or on stretchers.)

Calls for the action circulated on all sorts of social media, including Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter, the event as been widely publicized.  But no one applied for a permit.  As a result, New York police were well-prepared to deny access to most of the area (NY 1 Reports).  As with most large actions, people with many different perspectives are participating.  The New York Times that both anarchists and followers of the proto-fascist Lyndon LaRouche (singing patriotic songs) also attended–with their own plans and purposes.

It seems clear that it will be very difficult for any group to control the message that comes out of this event, and for this reason, the larger groups have stayed away.

United for Peace and Justice, for example, has announced a broad anti-corporate campaign, kicking off next week, which lists many events–but not the Wall Street demonstration.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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