OWS Origins


In June 2011 the radical design magazine Adbusters sent out a call to occupy Wall Street. Later that summer their call was heeded by those who would form the basis of the New York General Assembly — people from New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, labor activists, graduate students and anarchists. On September 17th, the first day of Occupy Wall Street, 200 people came to Zuccotti Park, which they renamed Liberty Square.
Over the following days, a little town was established, replete with a kitchen working group, a comfort working group, and a sanitation working group. At the center of Liberty, a crew of media-makers assembled to crank out nonstop livestream video. Soon the arts and culture area was filled with signs drawn by dozens of visitors. By the following weekend, the signs numbered in the hundreds, with people holding them up proudly around the periphery of the park. The Outreach Working Group met every day, sometimes twice a day! (For minutes see: http://owsoutreachminutes.tumblr.com/)
By the second week, thousands of people had joined the first march of the movement; New York City police arrested 700 of them on the Brooklyn Bridge. Less than a week later, the labor movement joined forces with Occupy Wall Street, lending large numbers to the next demonstration, of 20,000.
An Occupy movement had taken hold. By mid- November, there were over a thousand Occupations worldwide. Talk of austerity measures was superseded by conversation about economic inequality.
Just days before the two month anniversary of OWS, on November 15th, at 1:20 a.m., 2000 riot police surrounded the perimeter of the park. Within seconds, a bulldozer rolled in, subway stops were shut down, and the Brooklyn Bridge was closed. The People’s Library had been thrown in a dumpster. A sound cannon reverberated between the densely-packed skyscrapers. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had sent in the New York City Police Department to evict the people living at Liberty Square.
The peaceful people of Liberty Square, undeterred by the unprovoked police brutality, instantly re-grouped and launched a General Assembly close to City Hall, at Foley Square. 

At 2:43 a.m., The New York Observer reported that photographers with credentials were barred from Liberty Square. Seconds later Gawker reported that a CBS news chopper had been ordered out of the sky by the police. Then, a New York Times journalist went to jail in zipties. Among the hundreds of arrests, a NYC council-member was arrested, with a head wound. The operation was planned to exclude all media coverage, to silence our dissent and to deter witnesses of this repression.
Just two days after our eviction, we convened our largest mobilization yet. More than 30,000 people took to the streets of New York for the National Day of Action on November 17. This moment was nothing short of America rediscovering the strength we hold when we come together to take action to address crises that impact us all.
FAQs From the Second Week of Occupy Wall Street:

What is Occupy Wall Street?

Occupy Wall Street is an otherwise unaffiliated group of concerned citizens like you and me, come together around one organizing principle: We will not remain passive as formerly democratic institutions become the means of enforcing the will of only 1-2% of the population who control the magnitude of American wealth.

Occupy Wall Street is an exercise in “direct democracy”. We feel we can no longer make our voices heard as we watch our votes for change usher in the same old power structure time and time again. Since we can no longer trust our elected representatives to represent us rather than their large donors, we are creating a microcosm of what democracy really looks like. We do this to inspire one another to speak up. It is a reminder to our representatives and the moneyed interests that direct them: we the people still know our power.

What do you want: what are you protesting for/against?

We are not merely a protest movement. What we communicate is not just outrage, but a full-on call to action. Further, we do not have one or two simple demands (though many demand them of us). We are a movement which does call for accountability, however – accountability to ourselves and to our country.

1. We must be accountable to ourselves. First and foremost, we are calling upon ourselves, and upon one another, to wake up and employ our power as citizens: to participate rather than observe, to raise our strong voices together, rather than complaining feebly in isolation. We cannot ‘whine’ about the injustices wreaked upon us if we have been complacent and silent in the face of these injustices. We must take responsibility for our own futures – and here at Liberty Plaza, that is exactly what we are doing, by modeling the kind of society in which everyone has a right to live. Here in Liberty Plaza, having lost our sense that we live in a democracy, we are reclaiming its practice.

2.Our government must be accountable to us, and corporations must be accountable to the government.We are saying definitively: We no longer live in a democracy, and we refuse to accept that. We seek an end to the collusion between corrupt politicians and corporate criminals, as democratic and capitalist institutions have become conflated. As such we must see major advances in the arena of the relationship between corporations, and people, on par with the amendments which outlawed slavery and assured civil rights to all people regardless of race, sex, or class.

We want what everybody wants: the ability to have a home, to make a livelihood, to have a family or a community, to live free. We all want economic and social justice. Thus, we are calling for accountability to the 99%, and of the 99% – for our most basic rights as citizens: to convene, to express ourselves, and to be heard. We are unified by our sense of economic injustice, as a result of both our domestic and foreign policies.

Who is involved? From which communities and organizations do we come?

A diverse group of communities and organizations from a surprisingly wide political spectrum have come together around Occupy Wall Street. We have no leader – we work autonomously, and most of us are unaffiliated with any particular group. We have come together as concerned individuals who simply want our collective voice heard – as a movement inspired by, and resembling, the organized spontaneity of social movements across the Middle East and Europe. However, there is involvement by unions, student groups, and existing social justice organizations. More of them join us every day.

Importantly: This movement is comprised of thousands of people who have committed themselves to nonviolence, in contradistinction from ‘the powers that be’. As our tax dollars increasingly serve to reinforce the State’s monopoly on violence, we are taking back the People’s monopoly – our natural monopoly on expression, voice.

How long do people intend to Occupy Wall Street?

We will stay until change happens! Until broad swaths of the American population realize that it is we, the 99% alone, who can reclaim society from the domination of the 1%. Democracy has never been a spectator sport, and Americans have an obligation, particularly if we claim to love our country, to build serious and meaningful change from the bottom up.

Will I get arrested if I come down to Liberty Plaza?

Citywide, it is legal to march on the sidewalk if you do not excessively block pedestrian traffic. It is inherently legal to convene there – this is a privately operated public space (POP), and our right to convene in public is democratically protected!

During marches and actions, it is unlikely that you will get arrested unless you are prepared to.  If you are unwilling to be arrested, or feel you cannot because you are not a U.S. citizen, or are a minor, there are ways to protect yourself from arrest, the most important being: remaining non-violent. Check www.nycga.com for legal information and advice on these topics. As of 10.8.11 ~ 800 people had been arrested; none were charged with committing a violent act.

How does Occupy Wall Street work?

At the inception of this movement, Liberty Plaza provided an inspiring space for people to meet one another, discuss and organize. Here, and in a dozen spaces in the vicinity of Liberty Square, we engaged in horizontal democracy. This means every voice is equal and autonomous action is encouraged. This means we have no leader – we all lead; in fact we are a movement which encourages leadership at every level. This means we cannot be easily defined by observers, and we cannot be easily hijacked by outside forces. We try as much as we can to gain consensus because we believe everyone’s experience is equally valid, every voice and opinion should be heard, and none more than any other. In order to assure that all voices are heard and to facilitate better communication in a non-hierarchical meeting, we commit to engaging in consensus decisionmaking, “meeting process”.

This exercise in participatory democracy is meant to shed today’s political overtones of divisiveness, disrespect, mistrust, and marginalization. We do this in defiance of an atmosphere of political opportunism in which many politicians consciously circumvent the best safeguards built into our democratic process.

So rather than a bunch of organizers deciding on demands a year before the protest date, thousands of people are showing up at Liberty Plaza to say their piece during “General Assembly” meetings, held at the end of each day. Together we are working out our “Call to Action” in a horizontal, transparent, and democratic way, rather than top-down, i.e. from people behind the scenes. Unlike at rallies, where protestors convene to listen to speeches, we directly participate in relating the needs of our movement ourselves. Direct democracy is integral to the process of articulating what we the 99% are asking for, what we want as a people.

So this leads back to the question: Why do we seem to have not just one, but many demands? We are not simply asking for an end to the war (we have already done that). We are not simply asking for equal rights for one group or another (we have already done that). We are not asking for respect for the earth and its remaining resources (we have already done that). We are not calling for changes to existing labor laws, or trade agreements (we have already done that). We are not even calling for an overhaul of the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Federal Reserve, or an end to corporate personhood. We are calling for all these things and more!

So why do we seem to have not just one, but many demands?Precisely because we are a movement descended from each and every one of these movements: The abolitionist movement, the workers’ rights movement, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist and queer liberation movements, the environmental movement. We welcome all who will join in this exercise of participatory democracy, as we challenge what we know to be the greatest obstacle to the democratic progression of these movements.