The protesters are motivated by a general sense of injustice, not specific demands.
Check out more photos from the Occupy Wall Street protest.
In a radio interview on September 16, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said "We have a lot of kids graduating college, can't find jobs. That's what happened in Cairo. That's what happened in Madrid. You don't want those kinds of riots here."
His words were prescient. The next day, around 300 people began camping out at Zuccotti Park near Wall Street to protest the economic bailout. This weekend, dozens of protesters were arrested and the “Occupy Wall Street” movement became a national news story for the first time.
The protest was organized by Adbusters and Anonymous, though it has no formal leader. Participants are overwhelmingly overeducated and underemployed but are ethnically and geographically diverse. They’re fueled by anger at the nation’s economic system and at the big banks that sit a few blocks away from the park, though they have no concrete demands.
"The goal is our future," protester Vlad Teichberg says. "We’re working for a system in which everyone has a voice."
Asked about her motivation, 21-year-old Amanda Clarke responds, "I give a shit about the people of this country, but I don’t have millions of dollars to get my representatives to listen to me." The pink-haired college student was arrested Saturday but returned to the park as soon as she was released from police custody.
Specific complaints vary from person to person, but they are united by a general sense of injustice.
"On a larger scale, we have a really flawed economic system,” says Alexi Shalom, a political science student at the City University of New York. “Some people are making billions of dollars and others can't afford rent. That's why I'm here.”
"We demand the accountability of the financial processes of the United States until we know they are benefitting the 99 percent and not the 1 percent," added Thorin Caristo, who came in from Connecticut.
Ten days into the protests, participants say they plan to continue indefinitely, and Zuccotti Park has begun functioning as a small city. Several committees make sure everyone is fed and warm. When police began confiscating microphones and megaphones, protesters instituted “the people’s mic,” a game of telephone in which a speaker’s words are repeated throughout the crowd. It’s tedious, but it works.
Courting the media in person and online is a core part of the protesters’ strategy. They’ve set up a wi-fi hotspot and multiple websites and Twitter accounts. The hastag #occupywallstreet was trending at around 2,500 tweets per hour Monday morning. The real stream video coverage offers a spotty look at the proceedings to viewers around the world, though late at night it’s often a stream of people asking for donations of pizza and coffee.
And the size of the crowd is growing. Jessie Wilson, 26, and Ashley Libertore, 21, arrived Saturday after several hours on a Megabus from Akron, Ohio. "We were following it online and couldn’t just sit at home anymore," Wilson says. "This is everything we talk about."
Libertore promised that the movement would spread across the nation very soon. "We’re going to take what we learn here back to Ohio," she says, pledging an "Occupy Cleveland" event next week.
Photo by Allison Burtch