What Happened On Wall Street This Weekend

Some people are calling it the “American Tahrir Square,” which might surprise those who have managed to make it through the weekend and into the beginning of the work week without even hearing about the protests on Wall Street.  If you didn’t know about them, it’s not surprising; they’ve been covered by very few mainstream media outlets, especially on TV. The facts are, basically, these: beginning on Saturday, protesters “took over” Wall Street, marching through the financial district with signs and blocking much of the traffic through the area.  They haven’t left since. Numbers peaked around 5,000 on Saturday, and have settled at about 200 for those who appear to be in it for the long haul. Many are sleeping as well as working and organizing out of nearby Zucotti Park. They plan to stay for as long as is necessary.

To accomplish what? That’s more complicated. For the most part, the broad thrust of the protester’s goals seem pretty clear: to protest the ways in which politics and money have become unrepentant bedfellows, and to demand that at least some of the power that’s disproportionately held by corporations be put back in the hands of the people. This is the specific unrest of the underemployed and overeducated, people who locate ‘the problem’ as being with capitalism, not necessarily a government that isn’t allowing capitalism to work its magic. In that sense it’s a far cry from Tea Party ideology, although the sense of helpless rage finally finding form feels familiar. From the Wall Street Journal: 

“There is plan to basically stay here until we can build enough people to bring a strong message,” said Joel Atkinson, 21, of Columbus, Oh. Referring to the spring’s mass uprising in Tahrir Square in Cairo that eventually unseated President Hosni Mubarak, he added: “We’re trying to model this after the uprising in Egypt.” Members of the group banged drums and carried signs that read ‘Yes to Equality, No to Austerity,’ and ‘No such thing as ‘too big to fail”.


So far five people have been arrested; many, though not all, of the arrests seem to be about the Guy Fawkes masks (a reference to Anonymous) that are popular with protesters. Apparently it’s illegal for “two or more individuals to wear masks” in New York. One man was arrested for jumping over a police barrier and resisting arrest; one woman, Andrea Osborne, was arrested for reasons that bystanders can’t explain.

The protests are generally agreed to be non-hierarchical and ‘leaderless,’ but they originate from OccupyWallStreet, whose mission statement reads:

On the 17th of September, we want to see 20,000 people to flood into lower Manhattan, set up beds, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Like our brothers and sisters in Egypt, Greece, Spain, and Iceland, we plan to use the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic of mass occupation to restore democracy in America. We also encourage the use of nonviolence to achieve our ends and maximize the safety of all participants.

Right now the site’s subheader is “The resistance continues at Liberty Plaza, with free pizza ;)”. As of today, they are accepting donations.

There are some differences between the current Wall Street protest and Arab Spring. For instance, the fact that “police, though out in large numbers, have remained low-key.”  Or the fact that, rather than broadcasting their efforts worldwide with grainy cell phone video or trying to communicate through a state firewall, there’s a table set up in the square with laptops, next to the stations of peanut butter and scavenged food. Or the fact that they can walk away from this protest at any time without fearing repercussion for participating in it. Or the fact that none of these protesters are dead because of risking their lives by courting brutal assassination from a violent regime. Or maybe most importantly, while the protests in Tahrir Square had an extremely specific and urget goal — to successfully demand the resignation of Hosni Mubarak — the protest of Wall Street has a goal that is, at best, nebulous, and at worst nonexistent. The only mention of goals on OccupyWallStreet’s site are “restoring democracy” and “using nonviolence to achieve our ends.” It takes some digging to figure out more specifically what those ends are. The most concrete aim that seems to be floating around the internet is the desire to ‘take over’ Wall Street until President Obama establishes a commission on “the influence money has over our representatives in Washington.” It’s sourced to the original AdBusters call for a “Day of Rage”  style protest. “In other words, an end to “corporate cronyism.” That seems like a different thing, one that the creation of a commission will not necessarily accomplish, but maybe that’s not the point.

There’s actually something like a commission already being established — the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Eileen Myles has helpfully written a little about. It’s not precisely in charge of keeping money and government separate, but it is a recognition of the fact that the way the government (“the system”) is dealing with money isn’t helping anyone, and someone needs to keep an eye on it because no one is now. Part of its purview is overseeing the behavior of banks, which seems like it would be a primary concern for people protesting Wall Street. Its creation was advised on by Elizabeth Warren, whose significant body of work on poverty, bankruptcy, and how the average citizen is failed by “the financial system” seems like it would make her fairly expert. You can read the latest on what they’ve been doing here.

It’s unlikely that any commission the Obama administration could create will be better able to respond to what the protester’s demands seem to be than what the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau already is. It seems equally unlikely that “corporate cronyism” will end in the next few weeks or months, regardless of what any 200 people do. If they stick to their guns, the Zucotti Park protesters may be there forever. But that might be okay, because unlike the Tahrir Square protesters, they’re being supplied with free pizza.

They spent Saturday and Sunday night in the small square, feasting on donated peanut butter, salads and cheese. On Sunday night, supporters of the protesters ordered the group pizza—so much pizza that the nearby pizza shop announced it would have to stay open until 1 a.m. just to fulfill orders. On Monday morning the group marched down Wall Street proper, beating drums and blowing whistles, and broadcasting a live stream of the whole thing on their website.

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Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy." You can follow her on twitter and instagram.

Rachel has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. OT: I work in the Financial District…Right across the street from the Wall Street bull. People (esp. tourists) do weird things to that poor statue- like grab it by the nads while taking a pic. I don’t know how to feel about that….lol

  2. I’m not surprised that the media didn’t support this story. Every news and broadcasting company in the US is owned by a major Corporation anyway, allowing them to control what they think society should be aware of sadly.

  3. LOL MOST are a bunch of teenagers wanting to be on new/tv. Look at pictures… Videos. Most are 16-20… How much do you think they have paid in taxes? Their parents needt o raise thier kids. Seriously people. You aint changing shit.

    • It’s sheep like you that miss the point completely. These are not high school kids, they’re college and university students. Probably the only people who give a damn enough to pay attention to the crisis the world is going through and courageous enough to stand up for their rights while you sit on your ass and watch Oprah. So stfu unless you have something useful to say.

      • I dunno, guys. I’ve seen college kids (and older!) do some pretty stupid things.

        When I was in college, there was this pit in the downtown area of my college town. It used to be a community center, but some idiot burned it down. So instead it was a soot-filled hole with no proper light and god-knows-what-kind of contamination.

        When the city decided they were just going to sell the land to some retail interests, some GENIUSES at my school decided that that land had to be a community space. Not only that – it had to be a community GARDEN. In the middle of town. In a nasty, dark, soot-filled pit.

        There’s a Starbucks there now.

        These protests remind me a bit of that, to be honest. My classmates (and since my part of the college at the time was known for being especially friendly to older students, they weren’t all 18-21, either) managed to get time off of their classes to go sit in that damned pit, even though all logic said that what they were proposing was a terrible idea. I mean, at least they even HAD a plan, something these folks don’t even seem to have nailed down.

        I mean, I love citizen engagement as much as the next gal, but protesting with no goal isn’t going to get you very far.

  4. thanks, rachel! i definitely didn’t know this happened/is happening despite living in nyc.
    to be honest, i agree with them, particularly the more articulate guy in the suit quoted in that last awl article, about corporations having too much influence on our political system to the detriment of people’s rights and people being heard. …but reading this and the articles you linked to, i don’t think these handful of people with a fuzzy mission statement are going to accomplish anything.

  5. A group at my college organized a trip to NYC for this, and while I agree with various points they’ve made, even when they were organizing the trip it was hard to understand what, exactly, their goal was. It’s all seeming pretty vague—their mission is too huge in scope, things like this need specific, tangible goals. Preferably a singular goal. Broad protests about how our society isn’t working properly don’t do much more me, because what do you really think this is going to accomplish? Maybe the people there are better, but the people at my school struck me as little more than righteous college students wanting a cause to get riled up about.

    Plus, I find the Egypt comparisons pretty offensive, for the reasons you listed. Some people (especially the aforementioned righteous college students) have this tendency to almost fetishize the political uprisings abroad, and to co-opt them in ways that seem to always be coming from a place of privilege. It’s fine to be inspired by what happened over there, but equating the two is both arrogant and ignorant.

  6. I really really hate everyone’s need to compare any kind of political protest action anywhere to the Arab Spring. I realise in this case the protesters themselves are doing so, but I’m reminded of the way the press and right wing politicians used such comparisons to de-legitimise any political point that could have been raised from the UK riots last month. I know it was mostly a crime spree, and I am in no way endorsing or defending the rioters, but we still can’t deny that it was sparked by a racially and culturally sensitive issue; and the fact that the country essentially organised a mass burglary via bbm says something drastic needs to change about the nature or capitalist consumerism, and about the volatile anger of the underprivileged in the face of massive cuts and high unemployment – a point not dissimilar to the Wall Street protesters, I think. Woah long sentence.

    People in the US and the UK and other similar countries are lucky enough to live in a democracy where we are free to protest, something people in Libya and Egypt and Syria have given and are giving their lives for. Any comparison misunderstands and undermines the issues underlying all of the protests. Please stop, world.

    • I agree with your assessment. Comparing these protests to Arab Spring is really obnoxious in a first world problems kind of way. We’re (meaning Americans) are lucky enough to live in a nation where dissent won’t get you killed.

      and the fact that the country essentially organised a mass burglary via bbm says something drastic needs to change about the nature or capitalist consumerism, and about the volatile anger of the underprivileged in the face of massive cuts and high unemployment – a point not dissimilar to the Wall Street protesters

      This. More first world problem obnoxiousness.

  7. i appreciate their efforts, but i don’t have much faith in them. thanks for clearing things up, rachel. :)

  8. Hmmmm. I salute their time and efforts to try and do SOMETHING about it. who the hell knows what the solutions and goals are to achieve stability for our economy? That’s a toughie.

    If their main statement is to point out the corporations connections to wallstreet and our government, that is true and evident.

    Many are missing the point. Comparing the NYC wallstreet protest to other world-wide protests that turned violent, etc. is not as bad as ppl discussing HOW they compared them instead of talking about WHY the protest is taking place.

    Because it seems we are “priviliged” enough to protest does not make protesting or reasons for it, less important. I feel like, just because we are viewed as “priviliged” in safely illustrating our right to protest does not mean our efforts here should be frowned upon or reduced to some restless group ready for the next revolution.

    Forget about the comparisons! Focus on the issues at hand. :)

  9. Hey Rachel, It’s actually called the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (not Fraud). Thanks for mentioning it. Not enough people know about it. The Republicans have been trying to kill the agency behind the scenes all year, as it’s been trying to get under way. If it ends up working as intended, it could actually make a good dent in business as usual on Wall Street.

  10. I do think it’s incredibly ridiculous and horribly insulting for the organizers and participants of Occupy Wall Street to compare themselves to the Arab Spring uprisings. But I 100% agree with pettiho:

    “Because it seems we are “priviliged” enough to protest does not make protesting or reasons for it, less important. I feel like, just because we are viewed as “priviliged” in safely illustrating our right to protest does not mean our efforts here should be frowned upon or reduced to some restless group ready for the next revolution.”

    A possibility for why its reasons are all so nebulous could be the difficulty in conveying their beliefs. Sound bites are great but never capture the complexity of issues, particularly when you’re dealing with loose coalitions of activists – some of whom probably agree that the problem is with how the economy is being run, others who recognize the current economic situation as a natural outgrowth of a capitalist economy. Maybe the protesters are really inarticulate and simplistic, but until I can actually access more information (the only other post I’ve seen has been on AlterNet), I’m going to withhold judgment on their direct action.

  11. From what I know, it’s about the process just as much as the message. I would love to participate if I could, just so I could feel like my opinion truly mattered, and wasn’t overshadowed by the big bucks of corporations and lobbyists. And tbh, even if no laws are passed because of this or whatnot, it is bringing this into the American consciousness – that there are ways to make your voice heard. Especially on this issue we all agree on – “Wall Street” is too powerful and is screwing us over. It’s already getting more coverage than the Keystone Oil protests a few weeks ago, because the Occupy Wall Street people’s message is more popular, and because of these ridiculous Arab Spring analogies.

    That being said – I don’t want to demonize “Wall Street”. As an entity, yes, bad. But many of the lower and mid-level employees at these firms are just trying to put food on the table and afford medical bills and educate their kids. It’s the white house, Congress, and the top execs who are preventing us from realizing these goals.

  12. While they’re out there with their iPhones and iPads Tweeting and hipstering it up, I will still be working my 10 hour shift 4 days a week. I’m working to pay loans, bills, a car note, rent, and saving towards my retirement in 30 years. Let me know if you have time to occupy anything else in a few years when your parent aren’t paying for you. Sorry Kids, but you can’t stop big business. Now come join the rest of us in reality.

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