By Brian Douglas
At 7:45 am I loaded up my cart with 200 copies of the first issue of the Brooklyn Occupant, 20 umbrellas, a dozen foam core signs with prints from OccuPrint.org, and headed out to Occupy Bushwick’s May Day Morning Commute. As I looked at the pile of supplies I gathered, I had a twinge of doubt as to whether there would be enough people at Maria Hernandez to distribute them to. The facebook event had climbed from 162 to 188 confirmed attendees during the night, but being a musician who uses facebook to invite people to gigs, I’d become understandably cynical as to the accuracy of RSVP counts in the digital world.
As I walked up the southwest pathway of the park towards the center circle, I could only see about a dozen people standing around in umbrellas and panchos and my heart started to sink a little bit. I knew that the numbers would climb a bit before we commenced our march, but the image in my head of only 15 people chanting and holding banners wasn’t going to be very inspiring or impressive. I shook off these pessimistic thoughts as I walked up to the circle and gave a big hollar and shouted “Happy May Day!” I figured if we’re going to be small, might as well be spirited.
Naturally, there was a disproportionate police presence standing around, but that’s pretty much the status quo for all occupy events. Moments after I started pulling out supplies from my cart, a community relations officer walked up beside me and asked “Who’s in charge here?”, which prompts me to laugh a little bit before I say “Everyone, but I can talk to you about the event if you have any questions.” The officer was very polite with me and after I told her what our route for the march was, she said “I know why you’re marching and I just wanna make sure you guys are safe,” and gave me a look that undeniably signaled her suppressed support for the cause.
As 9am approached and people continued to stream in at a steady pace. Even more encouraging was the amount of press that had showed up to cover the event. There was one reporter from The L Magazine, another covering the story for WNYC, and more that I didn’t even notice until well into the march. By the time we were ready to embark, over fifty people had amassed and all of my fears of a “mini-march” dissolved completely.
We marched from Knickerbocker to Flushing to Broadway, escorted by at least a dozen police vehicles on the street and bookended by officers. The goal of this event wasn’t to “block the streets” or “shutdown Bushwick”, but if it had been, we couldn’t have had a better ally than the NYPD. Their escort caravan pretty much stopped the traffic on Broadway from Flushing all the way to the Williamsburg Bridge. At first, this sort of disruption made some marchers (myself included) nervous about turning off morning commuters stuck in the traffic, but that fear turned out to be unfounded as car after car honked and threw out calls and waves of support. One of the organizers of the march, Kyle, didn’t miss a single opportunity to run up to each friendly driver and give them some literature on May Day.
As I walked, a reporter with CapitalNewYork.com interviewed me and several other marchers about the march and OWS in general. I told him that for me, OWS has become a civic obligation. Either I try to make this movement work, or sit back and watch the status quo destroy itself. The Democratic party’s behavior since the 2012 election has forced me to acknowledge the fact that the bi-partisan consensus has left me behind. If I want to see end the wars on drugs and terror, a stop to corporate hegemony over political discourse, or a full and open accounting of the crimes of Wall St and high-level government officials, there simply is no place for me in the two party system.
Once we arrived at Continental Plaza at 10am, members of Occupy Williamsburg were waiting to join us. A big cheer went around the park as we arrived everyone gathered around the statue of George Washington. Almost immediately, a member of the National Lawyers Guild mic-checked the crowd to inform all of us of our rights, how to deal with being arrested, and asked everyone to write their phone number on their arm.
The march over the bridge was pushed back a half hour to 11am, to allow for more people to join us. As we waited, everyone got to know everyone, more reporters from the local ABC and NBC affiliates conducted interviews, and a large group decided to march around the plaza until it was time to leave in the hope of bringing along some of the nearby locals. When it was finally time to head out, we had gathered somewhere between 200 and 300 people. The police announced to the crowd that we were to keep moving, not to go onto roadway (which isn’t even really possible to do on the bridge), and not to drop any banners. With that we set out onto the bridge, along with the mini-marching band of drums and even a tuba that had at some point joined up with us, and aside from three arrests of occupiers who masked up and were carrying shields, everything went perfectly smoothly.
All of us in the movement have different priorities and embrace different tactics, but we are united in our understanding of the fact that our government has rendered the average citizen’s opinion to be irrelevant. The 1% (or more accurately the 0.1%) have attained full-spectrum dominance of our political discourse through their control of major traditional media outlets and campaign contributions. We are working to subvert that dominance by reminding people of the power we have when we come together to say “ENOUGH”.
Some still lament the fact that OWS doesn’t have a one or two “demands”, but this is an extremely uninformed criticism. Every single person in this movement has a set of demands, which they’d all be more than happy to share with you (whether you ask them to or not), and it’s not hard at all to find several that nearly all of us share:
Reverse Citizens United
Enact public financing of elections
End the War on Drugs
End the War on Terror
Prosecute those who engineered the financial “crisis” (scam is a more appropriate term)
A moratorium on foreclosures by institutions who have demonstrated predatory lending practices (I’m looking hard at you, BofA)
De-militarize Local Law Enforcement
Stop Stop and Frisk
That’s just a handful of policy proposals that I suspect every single Occupier would love to see enacted, or at least wouldn’t be opposed to. Not one of those issues is a part of the Democratic or Republican party platforms, nor will they ever be without heavy and sustained pressure from the people. Yesterday was exactly what needed to happen, and it needs to happen again and again and again until we get the Change® we were sold on in 2008.
Occupy Bushwick meets every Thursday from 7-10pm at Maria Hernandez Park, or at Shops at the Loom in the event of rain.