Photo credit: Peter Walsh Projects via Flickr
Drums pounded, horns blared, an incensed speaker's voice crackled over the PA. Union members chatted with students and gay rights campaigners raised their flags. Parents pushed children in strollers, the media swarmed everywhere, and elderly activists beamed out at the 10,000-strong crowd gathering around City Hall for the biggest day of Occupy Wall Street protests yet. A coalition of climate activists led by 350.org was smack dab in the middle of it all, and I was right there with them.
Photo: 350 via FlickrIt looked something like this:
The march was a beautiful thing. When the youth of the Occupy Wall Street movement joined forces with teachers, transit workers, and members of the middle class of every age and stripe, the enthusiasm burgeoned. We walked from Foley Square, right outside of New York's City Hall, to Zuccotti Park, where the Wall Street Occupiers have been camped out for nearly three weeks now.
The most popular chants --
"We are the 99 percent!"
"The banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"
And the all-purpose "Show me what democracy looks like -- this is what democracy looks like!" -- jubilantly rang out as we made our way into Wall Street.
Climate campaigners had their own messages: one carried a sign saying "The 1st Step Toward Clean Energy: End Corporate Greed". Others had this to say:
Some of the 350 leadership was participating in the march, too. I spoke with Phil Aroneanu, U.S. campaigns director, about why he was rallying his troops to occupy Wall Street:
Due to the enormous size of the crowds and the winding route through downtown New York, the protest often meandered at a glacial pace. But marching bands, enthused participants, and a ubiquitous, propulsive energy kept things interesting. It was getting dark by the time we reached Zuccotti Park, and we heard we'd just missed Michael Moore delivering a polemic on inequality. However, I showed up just in time to catch the notorious Reverend Billy Talen from the Church of Stop Shopping:
All said, the 10,000+ would agree: it was an inspiring experience. After the march, a smaller band of protesters broke off and took to Wall Street, eventually attempting to overcome a police barricade. 28 people were arrested, and charges of unnecessary violence from pepper spray and nightclub-wielding officers surfaced the next day. But these minor events shouldn't diminish the greater force of what transpired earlier -- a charged, but harmonious, display of dissent at the lopsided status quo.
It's been a long time coming. Ordinary Americans, evidently exhausted or apathetic or adequately vindicated after electing Barack Obama to right the wrongs of the last decade, sat idle over the last two years while a raging, billionaire-sponsored Tea Party rewrote our narrative: It wasn't corporations or bankers or executives that caused the economy to crash, that caused our woes. It was the government. The government was too big, that was it!
That's why an under-regulated financial sector got away with making bad bet after bad bet at the poor and middle class's expense. It made no sense, but that's the story that got told -- that's the tall tale we're still living today. And it's why we simply can't afford to clamp down on polluters. Not now. Not in this economy. We can't possibly limit the amount of toxic mercury industrial plants spew out, or the ozone pollution. Lord knows we can't even touch carbon pollution. Not until we've shrunk government down to the size of a walnut (except for the military, of course). It would just destroy the economy.
Or at least so say the very same folks who just got done destroying the economy three years ago. But this protest makes it clear: The people are tired of the government listening merely to those folks. The 1%'s days of rigging the system (and getting the Tea Party to help them) are numbered. The first step has been made towards rebalancing our democracy: An unambiguous voice of dissent has been registered. From here, the fight for greater equality and the economic rights of the middle class -- as well as for cleaner air & energy -- only stands to gain momentum.
It's up to the 99% now.
350.org is leading the green movement's charge onto Wall Street, and for more info on their efforts, check out the group's call for solidarity here.