Occupations in protest against corporate greed are spreading across the US. The first protest—Occupy Wall Street—began in New York’s financial district.
Now there are similar occupations in dozens of other US cities, including in Chicago, San Francisco, Dallas, Seattle, Denver, Olympia and Boston. And activists in other countries, including Britain are planning their own occupations.
Laura Paskell-Brown, a lecturer and graduate student based in New York, spoke to Socialist Worker about the Wall Street occupation.
The mood is incredibly optimistic and our protest is growing. We had a 20,000-strong march last Wednesday. It was a huge sign of support and a boost for us.
Trade unions called the march—teachers, lecturers, truckers. It wasn’t union-dominated, but it brought a new layer of people to support the occupation. I saw a lot of people with kids, for instance. So it opened things up.
I’d say the movement is making inroads into the working class, which I consider myself to be part of. I’m a PhD student at the City University of New York and a lecturer here. It’s meant to be a “middle class” job, but I earn just $18,000 [£11,500] a year.
The movement here is much younger than anything I’ve seen in New York in the five years I’ve been here. The shift to a new generation fighting back has been almost overnight.
The occupation has also started pulling in people from other boroughs of New York. I met people who’d come here from places like Queens and Brooklyn.
One was a young journalism student from the Bronx. She’d come to report on the story, but was so excited she started telling all her friends to come down.
The organisation of our occupied square embodies the kind of world we want. It’s a living democracy. But the question of the week has been about what sort of demands we should be raising. This came to our general assembly, although in an odd fashion.
Facilitators organise the assembly. Anyone can become a facilitator, but certain people have done it from early on. They raised an item about working groups making decisions on their own. But it was framed in terms of how we can share information better instead of what we stand for.
The unspoken issue was that we haven’t got around to talking about what our politics are.
We split into groups to discuss the issue further, and this theme kept emerging. A couple of people said they wanted to discuss what we stand for. But another couple said no, that’s not the topic.
This continued during the report-backs that took place afterwards. One guy said he’d been at the occupation for hours but still didn’t know what we are fighting for. Others said it’s not about demands, it’s about being here. So there’s pushing on both sides.
What is clear is that the future of the movement is up in the air. We have a period of grace before winter sets in. But we can’t stay indefinitely. One idea is to take occupation to the boroughs—and presumably indoors.
The response from local residents has been pretty good. There’s a working group to liaise with them. They said they didn’t want to file a complaint against us, but there was an issue with roads getting blocked and noise. So we instituted a “no noise after 10pm” rule.
The people who own the square could have us kicked out. There’s around 400 of us here in the evenings, so the cops could clear us all out.
But the political support the occupation has built up makes that impossible. It’s driving them crazy.