occupy wall street

The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protests Drew Hundreds, Snarled Traffic

Photo: Jim McKiernan

It wasn’t Tahrir Square, exactly, but the anti-Wall Street demonstration that began on Saturday succeeded in disrupting the Monday morning commutes of the area’s workers. The J/Z Broad Street subway stop was shut down this morning, and the large police presence, along with chanting, meant that Wall Streeters had to pass a gauntlet of sorts to get to the office this morning. The turnout was lower than the organizers hoped for — “hundreds” seems to be the unofficial consensus for now, compared with the hoped-for 20,000.

When I stopped by mid-afternoon on Saturday, the crowd gathered in front of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian was a fairly compact one. There were anarchists in dreads, sure, but there were also people sporting North Face backpacks while holding signs decrying corporatism. At the last minute, the city had decided to block off certain sections of Wall Street near the stock exchange and Federal Reserve from the protestors. The crowd was well-mannered and mostly youthful — when one speaker asked the crowd to make some noise if they worked more than one job, the response was loud. When he followed up by asking if they’d paid more than $1 in taxes over the past year, the crowd was confused, silent. Had they?

The sprinkling of older protestors seemed more outspoken than the rest, though, or at least more media-savvy. Veterans of protests past, holding signs eagerly spoke to the many reporters holding cameras. Luis Vazquez, a middle-aged UAW employee from Ann Arbor, upon seeing my reporter’s notebook, eagerly serenaded me with a version of “America the Beautiful,” tweaked to criticize Wall Street. He was heartened to see young people “finally” getting angry enough to protest, he said.

But the initial showing disappointed some of those young people. One 24-year-old from East Harlem, who gave her name only as Genai, said she came out because, “I don’t like where America is. I wanted to see what would happen today.” She’d been living in Austin, Texas, during the Arab Spring, where there had been massive demonstrations in support of the Tahrir Square protests. She’d been expecting something on the order of that, and the relatively small crowd on Saturday seemed like a bit of a letdown. “I’m withholding judgment, though,” she said delicately.

And maybe she was right to do so: After the initial logistical hiccups that left people unsure where exactly to gather, the protest seemed to gain steam. The exact goals remained undefined — some demonstrators were holding signs calling for a death-row inmate to be freed, others were equating capitalism with imprisonment — but the movement got more attention from the media as the weekend progressed, thanks to speakers like Roseanne Barr. But that Monday morning transportation disruption got the group the most attention of all. If that’s the most effective form of civil disobedience these days, perhaps the MTA is secretly leading the charge to a better America?

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The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ Protests Drew Hundreds, Snarled Traffic