Tue October 4, 2011
Wall Street Protesters Gain Momentum
LYNN NEARY, host: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.
DAVID GREENE, host: And I'm David Greene. Good morning. Steve Inskeep is away, and Renee Montagne will be back in the studio tomorrow.
The protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street is now in its third week, and it's still growing. It all began in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park in the Financial District. More than a thousand people gathered in that park yesterday, and NPR's Margot Adler went to have a look.
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MARGOT ADLER: To understand what Zuccotti Park looks like, think one part those protests at Greenham Common in England, people sleeping under tarps; one part the Rainbow Gathering, the yearly hippie fest where no money changes hands, and there are cafeterias with free food; one part civil disobedience protest; plus just a bit of high tech - the marches are actually streamed live.
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ADLER: Makhaten(ph) helps maintain the live stream.
MAKHATEN: So rather than depending on CNN and corporate media, you end up with your own sense of what's going on, you know, from what you see.
ADLER: But what media? For the first two weeks, the media was hardly here at all. Then after some women were pepper-sprayed in a demonstration widely seen on YouTube, followed by a march last weekend with 700 arrests, the media has come in droves.
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ADLER: There's lots going on here. There's art; music; even free, rolled cigarettes from North Carolina. Nick Long sits at a table and rolls them.
NICK LONG: Everybody is supporting it because they know it keeps people calm, You know, everybody needs their nicotine.
ADLER: There's even a place you can send stuff to support the protesters. They've received cookies from a grandmother in Idaho, pineapples from Hawaii. But what are the unifying themes here? Again, Makhaten.
MAKHATEN: All humans are affected negatively by corporate greed.
ADLER: Or the most prevalent phrase: We are the 99 Percent. That is the non- millionaires and billionaires.
Jason Ahmadi is on the board of the War Resisters League, which has been protesting war for almost 90 years. But after he says the 99 percent line, you are left wondering about specific goals.
JASON AHMADI: I think if we just like, came forward and said like, this is what we're about and this is what our demands are - from a small group of people that come up with that - I don't think that really would be reflective of like, a broad-based movement.
ADLER: But he concedes that in trying to be anti-corporate, contradictions abound.
AHMADI: McDonalds, that's where we use the bathroom. Verizon, that's how we, you know, give you our live stream that we're broadcasting.
ADLER: Monica Lopez came here from Madrid, where she was a part of the huge protests there last May.
MONICA LOPEZ: It's like an example of the society that we want to try to have one day. And we are learning each day.
ADLER: But when asked what those demonstrations accomplished, her answer is fairly amorphous. For the first time, people listened to us, she says, and people who had little learned to ask for their rights.
There are some people here who want specific goals - like this guy, Jamie Ansorge.
JAMIE ANORGE: I think eventually, I mean, there need to be specifics. I think the organizers here are probably just trying to build numbers by being as inclusive as possible.
ADLER: He and friends have set up a table giving out the phone numbers of elected officials, to push one idea: Taxing millionaires more.
Watching all this is 65-year-old Richard Brodsky. He was a state senator in New York for 25 years.
RICHARD BRODSKY: It's like being here at the beginning.
ADLER: Brodsky says in 40 years, it's the first thing he has seen that totally reminds him of the '60s, with its humor and political theater. But he says it's up to the kids to decide if it will turn into a political movement. I ask him to compare it to the Tea Party, which started out spontaneously and now, has affected the whole country.
BRODSKY: The Tea Party went out and took big, right wing, corporate money. These kids won't do that. If there is going to be a movement that springs from this, it's going to be organic, as opposed to imposed from the outside. That's why it's A, it is a pleasure to be here. And B, you wonder whether it'll turn into anything real.
ADLER: But standing next to him is a 30-year-old protester who was arrested on Saturday. He tells him, we are birthing a new political paradigm.
lofty goal, for sure, but will that result in a sustainable political movement? Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.