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2011-09-30

Inside Occupy Wall Street: A Tour of Activist Encampment at the Heart of Growing Protest

Guests

Mike Burke, Democracy Now! producer.

Frances Fox Piven, professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. She is the author, most recently, of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America.

Jackie DiSalvo, labor activist, and associate professor of English at Baruch College, City University of New York, and the Graduate School and University Center.

Yell, pepper-sprayed by New York police officer.

Michael Tracey, independent journalist.

Marisa Holmes, Occupy Wall Street organizer.

Patrick Bruner, Occupy Wall Street organizer.

Hero Vincent, Occupy Wall Street protester.

Gerardo Renique, CUNY professor.

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Hundreds continue to camp out in a park in Manhattan’s Financial District for the Occupy Wall Street protest. The encampment got a boost this week when one of New York City’s largest unions, the Transit Workers Union, announced its backing. In this report, Democracy Now! producer Mike Burke gets a tour of the private park, open to the public, that people have occupied, and speaks with demonstrators, including a woman who was pepper-sprayed by New York City Police Department Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna last Saturday. Special thanks to Hany Massoud. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Here in New York, protesters are continuing to camp out in a park in the Financial District as part of an action called Occupy Wall Street. Democracy Now!’s Mike Burke was at the protest encampment last night and filed this report.

OCCUPY WALL STREET SPEAKER: Mic check. I’d like to hear this man. So I’d like to ask him to speak in short sentences, so everyone can repeat.

MIKE BURKE: We’re just blocks from Wall Street and the former World Trade Center. We’re in a park called Liberty Plaza, where for the past 13 days thousands of protesters have gathered. Hundreds have slept here overnight in an unprecedented protest for an action called Occupy Wall Street. Behind us now is the General Assembly, a nightly meeting where the protesters gather to decide what actions should come next. Moments ago, we spoke to some of the organizers behind Occupy Wall Street.

PATRICK BRUNER: My name is Patrick Bruner. I’m 23 years old. I’m from Tucson, Arizona, although I live in Bed-Stuy until—well, until, you know, I can’t pay for it anymore, which is going to be next month, and then I’m officially moved in here. And I’m on the press relations working group here at Occupy Wall Street.

I think that there’s a very real sense in this country, and there has been for a long time, that things are not working. You know, we have right now an 80 percent of the country thinks that we’re on the wrong track. We have only a 15 percent approval rating of Congress. You know, those numbers aren’t acceptable. And people are coming out here to voice, you know, their disapproval with the system and to voice themselves in a direct, democratic fashion. And it’s really refreshing for people to have a voice. It’s really refreshing for people to think that they can effect change in this system that has essentially made it so that only one percent of the population are citizens.

MARISA HOLMES: Marisa Holmes, and I’ve been with the New York General Assembly from the beginning. And basically, every night, we’ve had an occupation here of 200 to 300 people a night, sleeping and organizing themselves. We have a food committee, a medic team, a legal team, a couple of different media teams working. And really, it’s about self-organization, participation and democratic process.

MIKE BURKE: And what keeps you coming back every single night here?

MARISA HOLMES: Just the incredible momentum and support that I’ve been getting from around the world. I mean, I just—we have an Occupy Chicago, an Occupy L.A., an Occupy Milwaukee, an Occupy Atlanta, an Occupy Tampa. I mean, it’s just—it’s crazy. We have international support from Spain, Greece, Egypt, Tunisia. And so, hearing all of their stories and their actions, realizing that this is a global movement, keeps me coming back.

MIKE BURKE: The protest movement at Occupy Wall Street received a significant boost this week when one of the city’s major unions voted to endorse the occupation.

JACKIE DISALVO: My name is Jackie DiSalvo. I am a English professor at the City University of New York at Baruch College in the Graduate Center. The Transit Workers Union, which is the most militant public-sector union in this city, which is the one union that has had the guts to break the Taylor Law, which is an anti-strike law, and strike, and suffered great penalties for it, they endorsed Occupy Wall Street today. Tomorrow at 5:30, there is a rally at One Police Plaza, organized by many rank-and-file trade unionists from my union, the Professional Staff Congress, to condemn the police brutality and harassment. And at the end of that rally, they are going to march to Occupy Wall Street.

I have to say that this is a working-class group, by and large. They’re described as middle class in the bourgeois press, but a lot of these young people are unemployed, underemployed, underpaid, working a couple of part-time jobs, so they identify very easily with the labor movement. Many of them wish they had a union.

MIKE BURKE: Let’s take a quick tour of Liberty Plaza, the home of the Occupy Wall Street movement. For the past two weeks, the media center here at Occupy Wall Street has been the way the protesters have gotten the word out to the rest of the country and the world.

Over here is the food area, where hundreds of people have been eating every single day donated food—muffins, apples, PowerBars. They’ve been serving three meals a day for the hundreds of protesters who have been camping out here.

Tents are spread throughout this part of Liberty Plaza. Protesters are preparing to spend another night, their 13th night in a row inside this park, as part of Occupy Wall Street. The police have barred the use of tents, but that hasn’t stopped protesters from staying here, even in the rain and in the cold.

On the northern end of Liberty Plaza, space has been set aside for protesters to make homemade posters. Some of them read: "You are the 99 percent," "System change, not climate change," "Wall Street Bonuses = Money from Crime."

HERO VINCENT: My name is Hero Vincent. I’m an artist, dancer, actor, model, songwriter, singer. You name it, I do it. Basically I’m here because I’m fighting. I’m fighting for my family. I’m fighting for my friends. I’m fighting for everybody who’s going through the same thing we have gone through over the last couple years. There’s a certain one percent that is taking everything from us, you know, that’s not even looking out for us. They’re supporting our politicians; the politicians support them. And there has to be an end. There has to be some restrictions on these lobbyists that buy out campaigns and stuff that, you know, is causing us to go to war, still be in wars that we shouldn’t be fighting. It’s causing us to lose our homes and mortgages to go up. So, that’s what our message is. We want a change.

MIKE BURKE: Here in the western part of Liberty Plaza, the space has largely been used for small gatherings, for classes, for teach-ins. On Wednesday, we observed one class on direct democracy, another one on how to facilitate a meeting. Just hours ago, we caught up with one local professor who had just returned from Spain. He was talking about how Occupy Wall Street fits into the global protest movement.

GERARDO RENIQUE: Hi, my name is Gerardo Renique. I’m a professor of history, Latin American history, at the City University of New York. As a historian, I see this current crisis and the events of the last two decades in the long-term perspective. What we’re going through, I think, is the consolidation of a particular economic model that it’s grounded in financial—in the financial sector, in a sort of casino capitalism. And I don’t see in the near future, you know, an economic structure that is going to be creating enough jobs, you know, to absorb the number of young people that comes out of high schools, you know, universities. So it’s a—well, I think one of the questions that this type of demonstration raises is the fact that we need to start thinking, you know, of a new alternative, you know, to want to come out of the crisis, and I would say an alternative model of civilization.

MIKE BURKE: While the Occupy Wall Street protest has been festive and peaceful, New York police have arrested dozens of protesters over the past week. In at least two instances, a senior police official pepper-sprayed peaceful protesters. The official, Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna, is now under investigation.

MICHAEL TRACEY: Hi, my name is Michael Tracey. I’m a journalist. The flier that I created depicts Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna on Saturday in a video that surfaced, I think, two days ago, pepper-spraying protesters—unprovoked—after they had actually been given an order by him and were complying with it. So, he’s standing on the sidewalk up near Union Square, and the protesters that he had instructed to vacate were doing so. And even then, as they were walking away, he indiscriminately started spraying them with pepper spray. And this was caught on video, after a first video which had surfaced a few days earlier depicted him just spraying women in the face with pepper spray. And when I looked at this image, and I just saw like the look of rage on his face, what really came to my mind was that we can do better than this, collectively. Protesters deserve respect from officers, and officers deserve respect from protesters. And this image belies that mutual respect that should be afforded.

MIKE BURKE: I caught up with one of the protesters who was pepper-sprayed by Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna last Saturday. I asked her to describe what happened.

YELL: My name is Yell. I was standing on the sidewalk watching someone get thrown into the street and brutally attacked and arrested, as I was waving a peace sign, saying, "What are you doing? We’re remaining peaceful." That’s what I was doing. I was not being aggressive. I was not being violent in any way. I was not given a warning that I was about to be pepper-sprayed. I didn’t even get to see him come at me. I turned my head, and it happened. It took four to five seconds for me to realize that I had been pepper-sprayed. And it was very scary. It was very scary.

MIKE BURKE: Are you afraid to keep coming to the protests after that?

YELL: It takes a lot more to scare me. I’m definitely not scared. It gives me more of a reason to want to be out there now, to participate in every march, in every general assembly. I want to be more active. I want to be more a part of it, because people out there have seen what happened, and they want us to keep going. And I’m going to keep going. I see no ending for me in the future. I’m going to keep fighting.

MIKE BURKE: This Saturday will mark the beginning of the third week of the Occupy Wall Street protests. A major demonstration is scheduled here in the Financial District and Lower Manhattan. Protesters say they’re planning to stay here indefinitely and hope that Occupy Wall Street inspires similar protests across the country.

FRANCES FOX PIVEN: Frances Fox Piven. I teach at the Graduate School of the City University of New York. And I’m here because I’m so enthusiastic about the possibilities of this sit-in, of the marches that are occurring over postal worker issues, of the sort of sister demonstrations that are starting in Chicago and Los Angeles, and maybe in Boston. I think we desperately need a popular uprising in the United States. None of us know. I study movements. We don’t know the exact formula when those movements erupt. But it could be. And if that’s true, then these people who are here are really wonderful, and I would do anything to help them.

MIKE BURKE: For Democracy Now!, this is Mike Burke, with Hany Massoud and Ryan Devereaux.

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