Updated September 18, 2011 1.15 EST
Protestors and hacktivists of all stripes filled the streets of lower Manhattan Saturday as they sought to register their ongoing anger at what they see as the influence of big financial institutions over politics and everyday life in the United States. The protests, dubbed Occupy Wall Street, were organized through Twitter, the magazine web site Adbusters and under the banner of “Anonymous” at various sites online, and were planned for several other cities around the world we well.
New York City Police wouldn’t give TPM’s Idea Lab any crowd estimates, but they apparently showed up in force to keep things under control and to protect the bronze bull in Bowling Green Park, which has often been the target of anti-Wall Street wrath in the past.
A Livestream broadcast of the streets around Bowling Green Park showed a rowdy, circus-like atmosphere with people conducting yoga lessons in the park, and a choir singing behind a protest sign. The sound of police sirens blared in the background, against chants of “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street!”
Ron Paul supporters, supporters of Bradley Manning, members of the Socialist Party, self-described anarchists, Lyndon LaRouche supporters showed up, and were interviewed by a cameraman broadcasting on LiveStream.
Earlier in the week, protestors said that they were inspired by the participants of the Arab Spring. They say that they plan on camping out around Wall Street for months until President Obama forms a commission to address their concerns. The protestors haven’t formed a precise list of those concerns, but had scheduled themselves to formulate their demands on Saturday afternoon.
Members of the loosely-affiliated online group Anonymous had also promised to release a new tool called #Ref#Ref to enable sympathizers to participate in online distributed denial of service attacks, but as of early Saturday, there were no reports of any major online attacks against a financial institution. Demonstrators both online and off say that they want to keep their offline protests peaceful.
The Saturday protest is the latest manifestation of an emerging form of political organizing that’s grown over the past few years that usually involve a core group of activists, but with its open-source ethic draws in many more individuals of all political persuasions who have been politicized and galvanized by particular events. They often join in by labeling themselves as part of the group Anonymous.
“The core group of people isn’t like 10 people, it’s much larger than that, probably in the couple hundreds, and it grows and shrinks depending on operations,” said Gabriella Coleman, a long-time observer of hacker culture and an assistant professor of media and anthropology at New York University. She is writing a book about Anonymous.
Many self-identified members of Anonymous are hard core “hard left” activists, she said. It appears that some of them showed up in person on Saturday.
“I’m here because Wall Street has destroyed this country’s economy, and ruined millions of people’s lives,” said one unnamed protest participant interviewed in Bowling Green Park by a cameraman broadcasting events as they unfolded on Livestream.
“I’m here for the very simple reason that the working class people of this country need to start fighting back,” said another interviewee decked out in red and holding a “Socialist Party of America” sign. “We’re told that it’s class warfare when we fight back, but it’s class warfare 24/7, and this is the world headquarters for the class warfare that’s been going on in this country for many, many years.”
“We’re here to tell you, hey Wall Street, fuck you, we know you run the country, we know the political system is here to serve the rich and not us,” said another protestor. “I have a background in anarchy, and I would like to see some kind of anarchist society arise from below sometime sooner rather than later.”
“I’m sending a message to the powers-that-be in our society that people cannot be stepped on, disregarded and treated with gross neglect as the people of this city, this state and this country have been treated for too, too long,” said a man who identified himself as Beau Johnson, a Vietnam veteran from Staten Island. “It’s up to all different generations to try to be here, and to share our stories, our anecdotes, our feeling and passion for life, to be a loving people filled with family and community and dedication to one another, instead of to the mighty dollar bill, which makes an enemy of all of us.”
Another recent offline and ongoing protest organized by members of Anonymous involved people in San Francisco angered by the Bay Area Transit Authority’s handling of protests over its most recent incident in July. That’s when BART police shot and killed a homeless man who threw a bottle at them. SF BART cut off cell phone service in an attempt to thwart a planned protest over the incident. That resulted in further protests and its web site being brought down.
But online activists operating under the banner of Anonymous, as well as other groups such as Telecomix have also worked to help the citizens in the Middle East as part of the Arab Spring. Anonymous took full responsibility for taking down the web sites of PayPal, MasterCard, Visa, as well as an attempt on Amazon in December for cutting off service to Wikileaks.
One New York City cop reportedly characterized some members of the Saturday protestors this way: “Oh you know, a bunch of angry college students showing up because they can’t get jobs, so they’re blaming Wall Street.”
Non-Livestream street photos courtesy of: Gabriella Coleman.
This post originally misstated Gabriella Coleman’s position at NYU. We regret the error.