The protesters of Occupy Wall Street movement who have been camping out in Manhattan’s Financial District for more than two weeks, since Sept. 17, eat donated food and keep their laptops running with a portable gas-powered generator. They have a newspaper – the Occupied Wall Street Journal – and a makeshift hospital.
They speak against corporate greed, social inequality, global climate change and other concerns. But they are growing in numbers, getting more organized and showing no sign of quitting.
City officials “thought we were going to leave and we haven’t left,” 19-year-old protester Kira Moyer-Sims said. “We’re going to stay as long as we can.”
The arrests of more than 700 people on Saturday as thousands tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge seemed to pour oil on the rage of those who camped out overnight in Zuccotti Park, a private plaza off Broadway near Wall Street.
The growing, cross-country movement “signals a shift in consciousness,” said Jared Schy, a young man sitting squeezed between three others who participated in Saturday’s march from Manhattan’s Financial District to the bridge.
“We don’t care whether mainstream media covers this or people see us on television. What counts are the more than 30,000 viewers following our online live stream,” he said. “We heard from a lot of them, and they’re joining us now!”
The Occupy Wall Street demonstration started out last month with fewer than a dozen college students spending days and nights in Zuccotti Park. It has grown significantly, both in New York City and elsewhere as people across the country, from Boston to Los Angeles, display their solidarity in similar protests.
Moyer-Sims, of Portland, Ore., said the group has grown much more organized. “We have a protocol for most things,” she said, including getting legal help for people who are arrested.
The protest has drawn activists of diverse ages and occupations, including Jackie Fellner, a marketing manager from Westchester County.
“We’re not here to take down Wall Street. It’s not poor against rich. It’s about big money dictating which politicians get elected and what programs get funded,” she said.
On Sunday, a group of New York public school teachers sat in the plaza, including Denise Martinez of Brooklyn. Most students at her school live at or below the poverty level, and her classes are jammed with up to about 50 students.
“These are America’s future workers, and what are trickling down to them are the problems – the unemployment, the crime,” she said. She blamed Wall Street for causing the country’s financial problems and said it needed to do more to solve them.
Police officers have been a regular sight at the plaza, but NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said the protest has not led the department to assign additional officers to the area. The department won’t change its approach to handling the protest and will continue regular patrols and monitoring, he said.
“As always, if it is a lawful demonstration, we help facilitate and if they break the law we arrest them,” Browne said.
The Fire Department said it had gone to the site several times over the past week to check for any fire safety hazards arising from people living in the plaza, but there have been no major issues.
The protesters have spent most of their time in the plaza, sleeping on air mattresses, holding assemblies to discuss their goals and listening to speakers including filmmaker Michael Moore and Princeton University professor Cornel West.
On the past two Saturdays, though, they marched to other parts of the city, which led to tense standoffs with police. On September 24, about 100 people were arrested and the group put out video which showed some women being hit with pepper spray by a police official. On October 1, more than 700 people were arrested as the group attempted to cross the Brooklyn Bridge.
Some of the protesters said they were lured onto the roadway by police, or they didn’t hear the calls from authorities to head to the pedestrian walkway. Police said no one was tricked into being arrested, and that those in the back of the group who couldn’t hear were allowed to leave.
The NYPD on Sunday released video footage to back up its stance. In one of the videos, an official uses a bullhorn to warn the crowd. Marchers can be seen chanting, “Take the bridge”.
Browne said that of the most recent arrests, the vast majority had been released. Eight people were still being held on Sunday, three because of outstanding warrants and five others who refused to show any identification.
Gatherings elsewhere included one in Providence, RI, that attracted about 60 people to a public park. The participants called it a “planning meeting” and initially debated whether to allow reporters to cover it.
In Boston, protesters set up an encampment across the street from the Federal Reserve Building.