posted 2011-11-18 13:54:34

Occupy Wall Street Movement Branches Out

General Assemblies form at CUNY as unions and other community groups get involved   

The Occupy Wall Street movement that started four weeks ago with its physical identity bound to Zuccotti Park has since broadened its base of support around the city. As unions, community organizers and student activists continue to latch on, the movement’s organization is beginning to reflect the diversity of the city, and has encouraged groups to use the general movement’s energy in their own occupations.

“We’ve outgrown the model of the General Assembly,” said Marissa Holmes, a Hunter graduate student who helped organize the first Occupy Wall Street march. “This started as a horizontally participatory assembly. The idea was to create a space for people to turn into what they wanted it to turn into.”

But as more people joined the movement, assemblies catering to certain groups have started meeting outside of Zuccotti Park. On Friday, Oct. 4 at 4 p.m. a CUNY General Assembly met outside Hunter West, while a NYC All Student Assembly gathered at Washington Square Park at noon the following day.

Zoltan Gluck, the stack taker noting the order of speakers at the NYC All Student General Assembly said the assembly was about starting a student movement in line with Occupy Wall Street.  An issue that clouds both student assemblies in their infant stages is the decision as to the scope of their action.  They have yet to put to vote how prominent education reform will be in their agenda over other issues such as foreign policy and the environment.

When assemblies meet in places like Washington Square Park, speakers perform what they call a “the people’s microphone” – a system which works around legal restrictions on megaphone usage by having one member of the crowd speak in short phrases so that others nearby can repeat in unison to amplify the phrases to the further reaches of the crowd.  A speaker usually begins each run with the phrase “mic. check” to confirm that the human microphone is indeed working.

A Columbia student active in the International Socialist Organization and Students for Justice in Palestine said using the people’s microphone, “this is the time for Occupy Wall Street to look around and see what kinds of movements we can be connected to.”

What started as a movement that many were quick to point out as mostly white, young and liberal has emphasized in its agenda its desire to connect with the “99%” of the population similarly disenfranchised by a corporation dominated financial system.

“Who suffers more than I do?” said a Hunter graduate student under heavy debt at Saturday's assembly. Responding to his own question he answered, “the poor and marginalized in NYC being displaced from their own public education system.”  He said Occupy Wall Street should be engaging in outreach to the most marginalized communities in New York.

“We need to be welcoming to the people who do not have three hours to spend in a meeting,” he said.

Groups from all over the city have gotten involved in Occupy Wall Street since the occupation began more than a month ago.  Students, unions and community groups became important elements of marches and rallies such as the Oct. 5 Labor March which drew an estimated 15,000 people from over 20 different organizations.  Many returned the following week as thousands marched on the Upper East Side in a tour-de-rich – stopping at the homes of Rupert Murdoch, David Koch, Paul Milstein, John Paulson and Jamie Dimon to remind them to pay their taxes.

Angeline Echeverria, a staff member from New York Civic Participation Project was in an orange shirt handing out fliers in the Billionaire’s March. Like other groups, NYCPP represented the diverse communities of New York City that believed their constituents shared goals with Occupy Wall Street. “We’re advocates for immigrants consistently excluded from public discourse. [The protest] is about everything – the unequal distribution of wealth, how the country’s run.”

LaGuardia English teacher Sigmund Shen marched with a Professional Staff Congress sign at the Oct. 5 event. Though he was particularly concerned with budget cuts to public education, he said “[the PSC] sees enough commonality that we want to support [Occupy Wall Street’s] demands – we agree that their requests are valid.”

Shen was inspired by the student turnout. “The movement shows people are angry but also hopeful,” said the 42-year old full time PSC member. “The most important thing is the energy of the young people who are not cynical, who think they can make change.”


Kimberly Devi Milner

Staff Writer