Protesters return to the Financial District to celebrate movement’s one-year anniversary
By Paul Bisceglio
Double-decker bus tourists had plenty to see when they reached the Financial District on Monday: grungy drum lines parading down the streets, crowds dressed in mock business suits, anarchist vests and polar bear costumes, and donuts hooked to fishing poles dangling in front of cops. It was Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary, and roughly 1,000 activists showed up to celebrate.
Protests kicked off around 8 in the morning, when the activists flooded the Financial District from its surrounding parks to interrupt business-as-usual on Wall Street. Police had barricaded all roads leading to the district’s cobble-stoned center, so protesters clogged the intersection of Pine and Nassau streets until the cops forced them onto the sidewalks and began to make arrests. The protesters then dispersed into small groups that independently roamed the neighborhood, some marching around with music and costumes, others parking themselves along Broadway or in Zuccotti Park—OWS’s original occupation spot—to accost posted cops and corporate-looking passersby.
Members of the Occupy movement traveled from as far as Vermont and Oakland, Calif., to heed New York General Assembly’s recent call to shut down Wall Street on the morning of the movement’s anniversary. The protesters rallied for various causes that encompassed corporate responsibility, education equality, environmental awareness and women’s rights, with signs like “I can’t afford to get sick,” “It’s the bankers, stupid,” “Public schools, not bombs” and “Police the parks, not our bodies.” As a teen from New Jersey put it, “Where there’s a problem, there’s an Occupy movement.”
The protesters reunited later in the morning at Bowling Green, where anarchic teens, parents with baby strollers and activists from the ’60s shared speeches and songs that decried corporate America. An elderly man in a police uniform told West Side Spirit that he was a retired Philadelphia cop who joined the movement after he heard OWS’s declaration last year. A man in punk clothing admitted that his upper-middle class parents support him so that he can contribute to the cause. “Reverend” Billy Talen, the white suit-clad OWS icon from the Church of Stop Shopping, passed through the crowd proclaiming that the “1 percent” were living for the death of the rest of us.
“People ask me if I think I can make a difference,” said a retired college administrator, explaining her reason for being there. “I say no, not by myself. But now I am doing my part to contribute to something bigger. That’s how a movement grows.”
Many activists shared her optimism, yet there were also grumblings of dissatisfaction with the day’s impact throughout the crowd. One woman expressed disappointment in the turnout, which was far below the numbers of last year’s occupation. Another protester mocked the morning’s excessive speeches: “I have something important to say, so everybody listen to me,” he said, mimicking the speakers. “We need to get back out on the streets!” If Wall Street was supposed to be shut down, he wondered, why was everything still running—albeit slower, with a much larger police presence?
Around the protesters, local employees went about their normal lives as best they could. Construction workers found benches to rest on in Zuccotti Park, and many scoffed at the protesters’ outfits. “All this stuff’s silly to me,” one construction worker said. “Even with corruption and fraud, when big businesses profit, we all profit.”
A source at a bank in the area added that “higher-ups” in the building were apathetic about the demonstrations. Many bankers look at the protesters as “jobless bums” who take to the streets to get attention, not to effect change, the source said.
After Bowling Green, the activists moved to Battery Park to plan more marches and demonstrations throughout the district. Nearly 150 people were arrested by mid-afternoon, according to police, most for disorderly conduct.
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