Thousands of demonstrators (estimates range from 15,000 to 20,000) marched from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park yesterday in the single largest protest staged since the Occupy Wall Street movement began nearly three weeks ago. The march was a forceful yet wholly peaceable expression of frustration against the growing economic inequality in this country, a message sure to be eclipsed by subsequent allegations of police brutality, video of police hoping for brutality, and arrests—including one arrest of a protester without arms.
Around 3 p.m. teachers and students who walked out of class convened in Washington Square Park, to meet their union before joining Occupy Wall Street counterparts in Foley Square. "This is about building a base," Erica, a NYU sophomore said. "The Civil Rights movement didn't make demands until long after people marched in the streets. That's what's happening here with these protests."
Initially, one could discern two distinct groups at Foley Square: on the south side of the fountain were the unions, with bullhorns blaring, while on the north side, the Occupy Wall Street protesters banged snare drums and blew trumpets. There was some eye-rolling on the north side of the fountain at some of the old-school union chants.
"Those differences are small. If this movement is ever going to gain traction it has to be with the help of working class people," said Karina Garcia, a high school teacher from Chelsea, was arrested last week on the Brooklyn Bridge. "Little things like that don't matter. They're going to make this movement stronger in the long run." Indeed, TWU president John Samuelsen thanked the Occupy Wall Street crowd for "sparking the labor unions and showing us how it's done."
Several times the march bottlenecked, and those marching shoved barricades over to make room for more people. The NYPD chided them, but largely let them walk unmolested. Four police helicopters hovered in stationary positions along Broadway. Passing by a barricade, an officer remarked to a woman who was marching, "You wouldn't last two minutes in my job. They'd take your shoes and you'd be naked out on the street." Everyone exchanged puzzled looks and carried on.
As night fell and the march reached Zuccotti Park, thousands of people continued streaming in, created a mass that blocked vehicular traffic on Church Street and make it difficult to move. Each separate union or organization congratulated one another as they arrived onto Liberty Street, and the park itself was nearly impassible. Around the time of the General Assembly, Michael Moore showed up to say a few words (video below). Pointing up to the buildings surrounding the park, Moore said, "Those up there have an addiction to greed. We're here to give them an intervention."
But by around 9 p.m., most of the labor unions had left, and the protesters figured they'd take one more stab at marching on Wall Street. According to Occupy Wall Street, at least 20 protesters were arrested, and police were seen on video using nightsticks to beat back demonstrators. (The NYPD would not confirm to us the number of arrests.) Harlem resident Julia Reinhart, who runs a chamber music concert series, tells us:
It all started really peacefully, the march was fine and respectful. Once everyone got here, we tried to go down Broadway to march on Wall Street. There were literally thousands of people pressing up against the cops, who were blocking the entrance via Broadway. That's when two protesters who broke the police line at Wall Street got pepper sprayed. I heard a rumor, but I didn't see it, that an officer pulled out his Taser.
The two pepper sprayings were about 30 min apart, and in between those, a white shirt took out his baton and just started swinging everywhere. So then we went down on Reade street to find an alternate route onto Wall street, and all of a sudden there were dozens of cops of scooters. I turned to talk to a friend, then turned back, and two scooters were on the ground.
Three officers were on top of a 100 lb woman violently beating her. I mean they were really going at it, really hurting her. Two white shirts and one blue shirt. So we're all yelling "stop!" and eventually they get off. She looked awful. I talked to someone at Legal Aid and they sent a medic down to the 1st precinct to check up on her because, as they told me, they were afraid she'd "come out worse than she came in."
I know that all the media cares about is the violence, but it was only a few minutes of what were hours of peaceable protest.
Additional reporting by Bethany O'Grady and James Thilman