Alex Wildcat recalls the stunned activity on Wall Street in September 2008, and discusses the new sense of unity and inspiration behind the current occupation and protests.
Along time from now, when I think back to these times of crisis, austerity and turmoil, I know I'll remember Liberty Square, the space in New York currently being occupied by hundreds of the discontented. But perhaps nothing will stick in my memory like a similar presence three years ago, shortly after the crash had happened and as the bailout first took shape. For that convergence, actually on Wall Street, there was no real call, no organization; people floated down in small groups.
On September 25th, 2008, there were no chants, few signs and the quite understandable anger was tempered by anxiety; we were quite literally stunned. Things have changed since then. The city has morphed around us, as jobs have become scarce, schools, universities and hospitals have been rocked by budget cuts and houses have been foreclosed upon. We've hardened a little, we're no longer surprised or appalled. Now, as we once again make our presence known, the atmosphere is different. In September 2008, we wondered what was going to happen next. In September 2011, we know what is going to happen next.
The Wall will come down. We know it's not about a particular street, building or even system. An irresponsible circuit of stock exchanges rings the globe, each facilitating the terrors of speculative capitalism and the pains of austerity and exploitation. Yet this space has particular significance - around there, one feels the anger and sadness of generations. Before the stock exchange was built, an actual wall facilitated the selling of slaves by the New York Elite; it's hard not to see a continuity with the forced labor imparted by multinationals on populations around the globe.
Inspired by the Adbusters call but more tangibly by the global unrest, a city-wide General Assembly had formed and met through the Summer, slowly snowballing and gaining momentum. By late August, it had outgrown all reasonable meeting spaces and had to be held in a small park, puzzling and occasionally attracting passers by. Though many were still sceptical, there was a pretty significant buzz. People around me were excited, while friends from far away made plans to visit.
And it happened; when I arrived and saw hundreds thronging the New York streets I was stunned, as I had been in 2008. Yet this time I felt like the only one; everybody else seemed to know exactly what was going on, why they were there. There was no unified demand, but none was needed. People knew what they were against - Wall Street and its associations. And the project of building a space - an alternative - served to motivate people to come down to the square every morning, or camp out every night. The strength of #OccupyWallStreet is that it is itself stunning: to the media, which can no longer ignore news which has the potential to be history. To the police, which reacts alternatively with condescending disruptions and frustrated violence. And to the percentage of New Yorkers who are beginning to notice, talk about and participate in an alternative presence in an area that long made them uncomfortable.
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