“I AM SORRY BUT WALL STREET IS CLOSED TODAY”
1000 RALLY IN NY’S FINANCIAL DISTRICT FOR ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
Photo by John Pietaro
By John Pietaro
On September 22, one day after the 350,000-strong People’s Climate March, another environmental justice event occurred in New York City. But this one received few of the news cycle's time as it hit a little close to home: the wallet. Forget Columbus Circle, this demonstration targeted the singular place most see as the heart of the problem: the financial district. ‘Flood Wall Street’ couldn’t count the mayor or celebrities among its supporters but then this group wasn’t necessarily seeking approval. It surely wasn’t extending a hand to the captains of industry either.
*******************Clad in shades of blue to illustrate the wave of action to come, the activists of Flood Wall Street gathered first at the tip of Manhattan in Battery Park for a rally, teach-in and breakfast. Naomi Klein was one of three guest speakers. This event was small on pomp but Klein’s statements were profound to say the least. By 11AM, the group, increasing in size seemingly by the moment, began moving in concert. Carrying placards reading ‘Capitalism is Climate Chaos’, one thousand commandeered the streets to tell the corporate beast that it must become responsible to our planet. Tight, shadowy lower Broadway was shut down all the way to the water's edge. For the stock and hedge fund people, it must have felt particularly confining. And this is the place where the brokerage houses on this winding road already hunker down about the sidewalks.
Quickly, street traffic was halted by the sea of bodies. Among the vehicles blocked were two sight-seeing double-decker buses, a city bus and a truck. To a soundtrack provided by the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and varied chanting, colorful blue tarps were held aloft above huge sections of the demonstrators. One of these was stretched over the cab of the stalled truck as the driver sat motionless looking out. Harried New Yorkers had to sit tight as the mass crowd swelled, blocking out the black-top. Without breaking up the proceedings, the NYPD cleared a path after an hour and let the traffic through; the tourists up on top of the bus cheered and gave the raised fist sign to the protestors. As soon as the vehicles were moved out, the human Flood moved back in, securing the ground, sharing again in song and chant.
Though there was a mood shift by evening that involved arrests, these first hours of Flood Wall Street were non-violent in every sense of the term. And while a large segment of the group had already decided to risk arrest by engaging in civil disobedience, the opportunity never arose. In contrast to the police response under Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, the NYPD tactic for this event was to simply arrest no one. There was no need as the order to vacate never happened. So the people reveled.
The mass crowd communicated via the Occupy Wall Street "people's mic" with multiple relays carrying the message outward. Some of the speakers came from points around the world. And one young man, a self-identified IWW, climbed up on top of a pay phone and spoke about the cause of all oppressed peoples. The police stood by close, seemingly unaware of what to do next. He held his ground but was arrested while descending from his make-shift podium.
With the majority of the huge demo further south, the action thinned as one walked northward up Broadway. All of the adjoining streets were closed to traffic but Wall Street had a small squadron of police guarding against any entry, as if preparing for the action they’d see later that evening. Behind the barricades stood several annoyed brokers in European suits trying to get back to work after lunch. NY's finest were standing guard over the institutions of profit and no one was getting by. "Show me yer ID please". Fumbling for their wallets, they did.
The irony was unique to the moment: Occupy kids, aging hippies, radical feminists, anarchists, Marxists, enviro-socialists and assorted progressives were enjoying a sit-down on lower Broadway with police protection as men with $600 haircuts were being carded.
Just then, a group of visitors intent on taking selfies on the steps of the Stock Exchange were stopped too. "But, officer, I just want to see Wall Street", a blonde traveler beseeched the officer.
The cop's response was, of course, the key phrase of the entire event: "I am sorry but Wall Street is closed today".
The Street would later report that it held its own but if you looked closely, you could almost see it cringe as the echo of chanting soared through the canyons of capital.