Anti-Wall Street rally gets support from politicians, unions

Updated: 2011-10-06 10:34

By Chen Weihua (China Daily)

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Anti-Wall Street rally gets support from politicians, unions
Thousands join a rally Wednesday afternoon at Foley Square in New York City as union members and politicians gathered to show their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Chen Weihua / China Daily

NEW YORK - Despite being called by some United States media organizations as hippies, leftist loonies and a small lone group, the Occupy Wall Street protesters got a major shot in the arm Wednesday afternoon as thousands of union members rallied to show their solidarity.

The movement, which started on Sept 17, began with a small fledgling group who were out to tackle corporate greed and social inequality.

Wednesday's gathering drew thousands representing dozens of unions such as United Auto Workers, Transport Workers Union, National Nurse United, Musicians Local 80 and New York Taxi Workers Alliance. Estimates near Wall Street ranged from 5,000 to 8,000 people, with many more continuing to arrive.

Many people left work and school early, wearing union T-shirts and waving signs, all in high spirits.

Jimmy Shea, a carpenter, said the rich must share as much sacrifice as the middle and working classes.

"It is now very hard for the middle class in America," he said.

Besides union members, local politicians and other organizations, such as Citizen Action of New York and War Resisters League, also participated to show their support for the 19-day-long protest.

Only a few celebrities, such as filmmaker Michael Moore and actress Susan Sarandon, have spoken to the crowds at Liberty Plaza, also known as Zuccotti Park, where hundreds of protesters have camped for the past couple of weeks.

New York City Councilman Daniel Dromm said he came down to lend support.

"They have been struggling for a long time. People are sick of the rich getting away not paying their fair share of taxes . This is the people's movement. The changes are necessary," he said.

New York State Senator Bill Perkins claimed the protesters have already won. "We are at Zuccotti Park and we are at other parks throughout the country. It's all on the same message, a message for change," he said.

In the past weeks, the Occupy Wall Street rally has spread to at least a dozen cities across the country in the past few days. More events are planned across the US, including one in Washington on Thursday.

With the movement spreading, many demonstrators in Zuccotti Park said they feel motivated by the progress.

"It is encouraging to see the protest expand to other cities," said Richard Hirsh, 58, a film and video worker from Brooklyn, who has been involved in the rally since Sept 26.

Hirsch said he is standing up against the takeover of the country by corporations and banks through lobbying. "The 1 percent (of the population) controls the 99 percent," he said.

Although the rallies have been mostly peaceful, the arrest of more than 700 protesters by New York police on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday have taken a toll on many who are involved.

Heather Long, 18, was still emotional describing the events four days later.

A biology student at Florida State College at Jacksonville, Long and her friend drove 16 hours to New York City on Saturday to join the protest, only to find themselves being arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. They were released at 3 am the next day after 11 hours of detention.

Raised in a poverty-stricken family, Long said she and her family knows what it's like to go hungry, not have enough clothes and not have medical insurance.

"We never had cable, Internet and home phone because we couldn't afford to pay the bills," said Long, who was the first in her family to finish high school and attend college.

While voicing her opposition to the widening gap between the rich and poor, Long said she is also upset with the constant bickering between Democrats and Republicans.

"The system the government has set up needs to change," she said.

A recent Washington Post poll shows that nearly eight in 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the way the political system is operating, up dramatically from late 2009.

Long said as soon as she and her friend heard the news in Florida, they felt like they want to be part of the revolution.

"We try to unite Americans and unite 99 percent. We are not high, we are not hippies and we are fighting for the 99 percent. If we all come together, we could make change," she said.

While critics argue the point of the rally lacks a clear goal, there is a unified message among the crowd who are frustrated with the system, the widening gap between the rich and poor and corporate greed and influence.

"I am protesting against the idea that top 1 percent is making far too much money at the expense of the bottom 99 percent," said Jason Ciaccio, a doctorate student at the Graduate Center of City University of New York.

Coming to the plaza to show sympathy and solidarity with the people who are protesting, Ciaccio said he doesn't know if everyone is ready to embrace change, but he believes most people there will be happy if they can just raise awareness of the country's problems.

"I don't know how long the protest is going to last, but I hope it lasts as long as possible," said Ciaccio, sitting in front of his protest sign while reading the book Hegel's Aesthetics.

Susan Olzak, a sociology professor at Stanford University, said these protests are in the very early stages, which makes its effect very difficult to assess.

"In my view, the movement's aims have not been clearly conveyed to the media or to the public-at-large. On the other hand, we have witnessed a large turnout of protesters in New York City and similar protests have spread to other cities across the country," she said.

"The protests seem to resonate with surveys of the American population that suggest there is widespread discontent with the economy and with shrinking job opportunities, especially for younger workers entering the job market. However, at this point, it is unclear whether an effective social movement will eventually emerge," said Olzak.

Zuccotti Park has transformed into somewhat of a summer camp. Besides daily rallies, various committees hold regular meetings to compare notes. A buffet table offers food to protesters. Musicians play instrument to drum up morale. Several occupants practice yoga while a line of protesters stand firm, drawing the attention of many passers-by and tourists on a double-decker tour bus.

It is unknown how long the rally will last, but many are planning for the long haul.

China Daily