As the Thursday sun began to drop over the Hudson River in New York, one of the protesters at the Occupy Wall Street gathering jumped up onto a concrete benches on the north side of Zuccotti Park and yelled, “Mike check! General Assembly in 5 minutes.” The people camped out in the park assembled in an almost natural reaction that has come from conducting this event twice a day for almost two weeks.
Thursday evening’s general assembly took place an hour after a storm dumped rain on around 400 protesters who have turned the park into a campground and headquarters complete with a medical station, media center and a makeshift library. Although the park’s trees offer scant protection from the elements, the rain didn’t make the protesters run for shelter. “Everybody stuck around,” said Andrew Flinchbaugh, a protester from New Jersey who stood behind a bench holding a neon yellow sign that read “Dry Socks.” Flinchbaugh joined the movement in the middle of the first week and was one of the 80 protesters arrested when the group marched to Union Square on Sept. 24. After a brief trip back home, he returned Zucotti Park.
As they have with many logistical issues, the Occupy Wall Street protesters have developed a system to deal with wet feet after rain storms. Protesters can exchange their wet socks for dry ones, then they’re issued garbage bags to put over the dry socks so they can put their sopping shoes back on and their feet remain dry. The wet socks filled a bag that Flinchbaugh said would be taken to a laundromat, so they will have dry socks for the next storm. “This isn’t a committee,” Flinchbaugh said, referring to the working groups that handle sanitation, security and community outreach. “They’ve been doing it for every storm.”
A little after 7 p.m, people gathered, dozens deep, for the evening General Assembly. Twice a day, the protesters convene a general gathering to disseminate information, allow the committees to talk about their progress and vote on future plans. Each speaker yelled, “Mike check” to gather the attention of the crowd, but there are no microphones. Instead, the protesters had to shout their announcements, and the crowed repeated each phrase. Several people volunteered to to be “human microphones,” repeating the speakers’ information, phrase by phrase, through small, red, plastic megaphones you might find at a high school football game.
While Occupy Wall Street has used Twitter and live streams to spread their message and gather supporters, the movement is also partnering with more traditional mechanisms such as labor groups. The head of Occupy Wall Street’s labor committee announced that the protest had been endorsed by the Local 100 Transit Worker’s Union. She also said that the movement will partner with the Communication Workers of America and members of the faculty and staff at City University for upcoming marches. One protester spoke about a global democracy statement, which has circulated to marches around the world. The New York assembly will take a vote as early as tomorrow if they endorse the statement, which calls for drastic changes to global governance and the financial system.
(PHOTOS: Occupy Wall Street)
Midway through the General Assembly, which lasted more than two hours, a thin woman and a man in a baseball cap and hoodie sweatshirt walked to the front of the crowd. When all of the committees had finished their updates, Frances Fox Piven, a political science professor at the City University of New York, praised the gathering. “You can start a movement in the U.S. and maybe across the globe,” Piven told the crowd. “You’ve come to the right place at the right moment.” Piven called Wall Street a “neo-liberal cancer,” and finished her speech with an impassioned rap: “They’re gonna suck it dry/and move it, I guess, to Dubai.”
Piven’s speech fired up the crowd, and her rap garnered official praise from the next speaker, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. “You represent the seeds of a revolution,” Simmons told the protesters. He described the current state of the country as “class warfare on the middle class. We shouldn’t fear the democratic system, we should rebuild it. I should be paying more in taxes and we need to get the money out of Washington.”
After his speech, Simmons explained some of the issues he saw being discussed that lead him to support the Occupy Wall Street Movement. “You’re not a socialist because you want to give people health care or a decent education,” Simmons said. He explained that he is working to help organize a larger protest in October, and hopes to bring thousands of people to join the movement. “These kids are so clear, so bright, so insightful,” Simmons said. “It would be very easy to bring people together.”