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The Daily Need

In stand-off with police at Union Square, two sides of the Occupy Wall Street movement

Protesters in Union Square on Thursday. Photo: AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano

As part of their city-wide “Day of Action” Thursday, protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement brought the conflict and disorder that have simmered in Lower Manhattan for the last two months to the rest of New York City. They gathered at bridges, subways and in major thoroughfares. Thousands descended on Foley Square, across from City Hall, and on Union Square, the epicenter of so much political and social unrest over the years. As protesters streamed onto Fifth Avenue, snarling traffic and stoking a tense stand-off with police, I overheard an NYPD Community Affairs officer on the phone describe the situation this way: “The city is in chaos right now.”

The afternoon rally at Union Square, in particular, offered an especially revealing look at the two-month-old movement, which has refocused the national political dialogue on the growing wealth disparity between the rich and the poor, the unprecedented levels of student and household debt and the collusion among bankers and their patrons in Washington, D.C. As many have noted, the movement finds itself at a crossroads, having been dislodged, somewhat unceremoniously, from its home in Zuccotti Park. Polls show that many Americans remain skeptical of the movement’s tactics, even if they agree with its goals.

There is, perhaps, reason for them to be skeptical. What I saw in Union Square, and what I saw as the protesters, thousands of them, pushed through police lines, spilling out onto 15th Street and briefly seizing Fifth Avenue, were two sides of the Occupy Wall Street movement. There were protesters who talked intelligently about important issues, even if their views could be considered “radical” by mainstream Americans. And then there were those who seemed intent on provoking violent clashes with the police, storming bank branches and other civilian buildings, climbing up onto phone booths and barricades, verbally harassing officers.

Many protested peacefully at subway stops across the city. At a station in Chelsea, for example, there were about a dozen protesters handing out fliers to the public and chatting amiably with the handful of police officers who had been assigned to watch them. Clergy from the nearby General Theological Seminary, the first Episcopal seminary in the country, had gathered there to offer “spiritual support” to the protesters, or to anyone struggling with financial hardship in these turbulent times.

“We stand against the injustice in the system,” said Robert Solon, an ordained Episcopal priest and student at the seminary. “But God does not stand against any one person.” Solon and his colleagues from the seminary said they had never attended an Occupy Wall Street rally before Thursday. In the eyes of Jesus, they said, there was no difference between the one percent and the “99 percent” who comprise the core of the Occupy movement. People of faith seek justice and liberation for all, Solon said — not only in the afterlife, but “justice and liberation now.” And the church’s role, he said, was to affirm that message. “The church, at a minimum, witnesses to that,” Solon said.

The Union Square rally, by contrast, was more boisterous. Thousands of protesters and students thronged to the pavilion at the north end of the park, chanting through a “human microphone.” As protesters took turns commanding the crowd, others mingled, playing music, distributing fliers and engaging each other in dialogue about social and political issues. Suzanne Collado, a protester who was part of the Occupy encampment’s education working group, was advertising an open forum and rally in Zuccotti Park next week to focus attention on the mounting levels of student debt in the country.

“It’s unfair that students who are just basically trying to become members of this community, our global community, are personally taking on debt that will impoverish them and their families for the unforeseeable future,” Collado said. “You’re talking about people who are fresh out of high school, who are, in that moment, being handed off to private banks who are predatory in their attempts to get people indebted. And that’s straight out of high school.”

As we finished talking, a handful of self-appointed heralds began corralling the rest of the protesters, commanding them to march down to Foley Square. Soon, thousands of people were pushing through police lines, spilling out onto busy intersections and pouring onto 15th Street. At first, when it seemed as though the police were powerless to stop them, raucous cheers rippled through the crowd, peppered with chants of “Whose streets? Our streets!” Lines of NYPD officers flanked the crowds on either side as they snaked onto Fifth Avenue, choking off traffic.

The police, it turned out, had anticipated them, hastily setting up barricades at 14th Street, guarded by lines of police in helmets and wielding batons. Penned in, some of the protesters began to lash out. They tried to storm a New School building, shoving past a security guard at the front door, and attempted to “occupy” a branch of TD Bank. Police swarmed both entrances. Scuffles ensued. Many were arrested. They were clearly trying to seize private property, and in some cases physically instigating the police offers protecting the buildings.

The stand-off revealed a side of the Occupy Wall Street movement that, while small, has the potential to discredit the protests in the eyes of many Americans. When police dislodged the protesters from their home in Zuccotti Park in an overnight raid, the heavy-handed tactics and instances of brutality galvanized supporters of the Occupy movement across the country. Police arrested journalists or blocked them from documenting the operation, conducted unauthorized surveillance in churches, beat protesters who staged sit-ins on public streets. Those abuses earned the Occupy protesters the sympathy of many onlookers. Now, the protesters risk losing that sympathy if they needlessly provoke confrontation, as some of them did on Thursday.

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  • Anonymous

    Not a protest, this is a reaction to poverty and injustice. It can become a literal uprising if the problems in society are not addressed.

  • Nobody

    I agree with a lot of what they are saying; there is injustice with the way our Capitalist Democratic system works. But if the aim of this reactive movement is to tear down and break the system and not make it more equitable within the system then I am against the whole thing.

  • Irene Baur

    While I, as an experienced protester from long ago advocate a peaceful demonstration, I know that as this situation becomes more of a serious problem, you can’t expect people to amicably discuss differences of opinion.  What’s going on today is quic kly becoming a national emergency. This is not just a student demonstration. Countless jobs have been cut, and mass numbers of people have lost their livelihoods, homes, and way of life.I predict that if the powers that be don’t do something quickly to alleviate this situation,
    they will suffer consequences their arrogant selves could never fathom. Wake up 1%, and smell the consequences!

  • Kimberley Taylor

    Well thank you Sal, for your nitpicky view of the dangers of becoming violent. Don’t get me wrong, I am absolutely against violence of any kind. But, I must say, your article reads like it’s stretching to find fault. The police setting up barricades against the marchers could definitely get some dander up, don’tcha think? 
    It’s shameful to see a public news source spreading propaganda like this. The people’s movement is here to stay and you better get used to it. Stop with the fear mongering and focus on the TRUTH that there are always going to be some bad apples in every group and that an overwhelming number of Occupiers are devoted to a peaceful transition to a truly democratic society.
    We the people are waking up, on the move and will not be defeated!


  • Onesadie

     Police should deal with violant individuals but protect peaceful demonstraters.
    Masses of people can only be pushed down for so long.
    Eventually, they must push back. I’m truly sorry that some mainstream folks,
    who have had the good fortune to weather the economic crises with minimal pain
    cannot understand the pain of others who have been robbed of their future. I am
    sad every time I heart someone decrying the small number of vandals who have
    infiltrated the OES movement but ignore the illegal actions of the police
    against peaceful demonstrators.

    OWS represents a world wide awakening.  Stand up for a better future for all.

  • Cherokee234

    To bad it has come to this. In my lifetime I have not seen this happen in the United States. It’s always other countries who are televised with people in the streets protesting. How long was the greed and corruption to go on? All the get rich schemes came tumbling down and the ones who are accountable do nothing to make a difference. It’s all about power, greed and who has the most. And, who will stop at NOTHING to keep what they obtained by whatever means they used. When in the history of man did land/real estate not have something to do with over powering, slaughter, slavery, and the trail of tears. Someone, just learned to disguise it better until the balloon busted.
     Quite possibly there are people with money who are protesting too, because how else does one get heard? There has to be enough people with money who earned it honestly. They know they can’t stand at the corners handing out cash but until our jobs are kept in this country and our American citizens have jobs this will continue to escalate. The majority are involved b/c they want to work and feed there families. Why is this so hard to figure out? 

  • Franklin Stone

    It is impossible to impose equity within a system that is based upon inequality. Capitalism doesn’t work, it ignores people, the environment and create homeless and improvised people. Our Democratic Republic, enables that by re-enforcing the idea that people cannot govern themselves and they should just pick someone else to it. We are creating a new economic system but we need consensus, we are creating a new inclusive form of democracy and we need consensus their too. Come to the General Assemblies in your city and participate in real democracy. You are a leader.

  • Franklin Stone

    Why is it okay to ignore the structural violence and focus on the repercussions of physical violence caused by it?

  • Ah

    I agree..clearly it is the police being overly aggressive..if the perspective was taken that the police,the government all work for the people then they are our employees..hence why if our employees are not effective they get pink slipped and then tossed out to find a job that will tolertate being abusive and not capable of serving the people..this is what is wrong..power is out of control and when the people call it out the weaklings(apply to whoever it fits) wrangle in chaotic defense.

  • Ivan Rivera

    Thank you Kimberley for your comment, that is exactly how I read the article. Sal must be part of propaganda machine that is trying to stop this movement that has gone global. Can so many people be wrong? Shame on you Sal G.

  • Anonymous

    “And then there were those who seemed intent on provoking violent clashes with the police, storming bank branches and other civilian buildings, climbing up onto phone booths and barricades, verbally harassing officers.”
    Police are civilians too. Members of our armed forces are not. It’s an important distinction, and one police forces nationwide have worked years to try to erase.

  • Baraco1 AKA Aunt Joan

    Sal Gentile has never been exposed to true financial and social loss. That is really obvious in his narrative. His journalistic coverage is attempting to be equal, but isn’t there. His anti-movement leanings come through rather clearly for those of us who lived through the rhetoric and vitriol against those participating in the Civil Rights Movement that began in the mid-1950′s and extended through the decade of the 1960′s. Add to that what we who are now over fifty years of age, remember all too well of the news casters, local politicos and national media folks of the anti-Viet Nam war years, and it’s almost painful to recognize young Mr. Gentile’s bias.  Dear Sal, go out, as Bobby Kennedy did, to mingle with, and learn from the most disaffected in our country. I suspect your attempts at professional journalism, as well as your personal soul experience, will reflect deep education and much higher quality reporting.

  • John Ross

    Violence is used to discredit the whole demonstration, and this has happened so many times through history, the violent ones should know better, and maybe they do, because it’s a standard tactic by “agent provocateurs”, hired thugs who deliberately instigate trouble with the police to give them an excuse to break up the demonstration and throw people in jail. Peaceful protest has always been far more effective in accomplishing its goals, as so well demonstrated by the great civil rights movement.

  • Ysjl

    Cherokee, you’re so right! It was bound to happen eventually–this simply can’t continue. So much greed; it is despicable. Perhaps the best chance we have to see REAL change is if this movement spurs a change in lobbying/campaign finance reform. We need the big business $$ OUT of Washington, and our representatives need to represent us again, the ones who elected them. No more laws/tax breaks, etc., as repayment to big Corp donations. How could we EVER have allowed this in the first place is really beyond me! Couldn’t anyone see this coming? Well, they just didn’t want to…it’s all about making the big bucks now, whatever & however they can. Just repulsive, really.

  • JanniePie

    Really, like what happened at Kent State? How old are you? when civil unrest/protest can only express itself by civil “disobedience” then something has already gone very with our laws and constitutional rights! What about the Revolutionary War and Taxation without Representation? We are not being fairly represented by our government nor the financial institutions to whom they have come to represent!

  • Jon Adams

    The system probably has to be broken down.   People haven’t reached that point of realization yet.

  • Silvergrl

    There were protesters who talked intelligently about important issues,
    even if their views could be considered “radical” by mainstream
    Americans. Really? Radical? Loosing my faith in NPR to be a sound voice in the media.  Kimberly responded best. Thank you Kimberly.

  • JackKJohnson

    This is PBS, not NPR.

  • John Ross

    Let’s try to be specific. Exporting U.S. factories to Mexico, China, the Phillipines, etc for low wage labor should be illegal and stopped. Illegal immigration into the USA should be stopped at the border and family planning education encouraged everywhere, so with a smaller population labor would be scarce and wages would rise.  I agree with the Occupy demonstrators, but they need a World view to gather wider support to actually bring about social change.

  • John Ross

    I believe in the equal sharing of income and labor. If that were the law of the land everything would change. No rich and poor, no white collar versus blue collar, no management versus labor; instead everyone working together to produce the goods and services the people need. There are two ways to help make this happen:

    1. Peacefully reduce the human population with family planning education in which each and every woman is guaranteed the legally protected right to decide if and when to birth her child. Then labor would be scarce and wages would rise.

    2. Every corporation and every community should be responsible for safely recycling 100% of all human-generated waste products, all the garbage, sludge, junk, chemical waste, smoke and fumes. That would save the environment and put all the unemployed back to work while they trained for better jobs. All this would make getting rich impossible. 

  • Covelosid

    Yes, That sounds Idyllic, if everyone thought that way. But they don’t. Its been a tower of babel from the beginning. Maybe on the eve of destruction, after we are long dead this could happen. But I doubt it.

  • Deano

    I am a mand of 68 and have been a student of history and biblical propphecies since I was a small boy. The things that are happening from civil unrest to finances and the marches or should I say riots are now a reality as the bibble said they would come. All f the things that are happening all over th eworld and here at home are prophetic. IT is what the bible calls end time events. Events that would happen just before Jesus keeps His promise and comes back. There are many terrible things immediately ahead. If you are interested in what this is leading up too I will show you where to find it for yourself. Just ask 

  • John Ross


  • Bigtodd

    You are missing a huge FACT!! The sharing of income and labor has failed EVERY TIME it’s been tried. It’s called COMMUNISM or the new term SOCIALISM. It also kills the true spirit of any FREE human being to be the best they can be at what ever endeavor, career, hobby or lifestyle they choose. In your world…what would be the point. I’d rather be homeless under a bridge but, “FREE” to make a change…MUCH MORE THAN BELONG TO A COLLECTIVE OF FORCED MEDIOCRITY!!!! Put down the cool-aid and read a history book!!

  • Thunder

    It is important that we flex our Patriotic muscle, though in a wise fashion. There may come a time for stronger measures if the powers that be choose to ignore or to continue running our country in the ground. There is much at stake and if the American dream of self reliance, only accepting help when needed without a sense of entitlement, and building your life on your own terms is the heart of what it is to be American. To do this you must educate yourself on the true history of America (check out so that you know the desired form of government is a Republic and not the socialist democracy we currently have. Learn why Liberty is a deeper expression of our God given rights than the freedom which now seems dispensed through government. The founders knew that that a democracy was nothing but mob rule, and that our rights/Liberties were given of God…READ the Declaration of Independence and you will see this for yourself.

    And after we have learned the beauty in the original design, we can start to sing America’s songs and speak her language thereby fanning the flames of justice, cooperation, justice, and excellence in all areas of life. After this is achieved then we can agree on our goals and begin to speak with one voice…loud, clear, and true.This land is your land, this land is my land, from…..,This land was made for you and me. (Sing this often along with America the Beautiful)God bless you all~

  • Kathie Lou Eldridge

    I have been part of occupy Wall Street in Jackson, Wyoming hardly a bastion of liberalism.  We are a diverse group of al all ages and ideas.  What unites us is the idea of government ‘”for the people of the people and by the people” .  These protests have been along time brewing.  Declining wages, working harder and having to sacrifice your personal life just to survive, unemployment people working two jobs with a college education and not being able to make it,  brew discontent.  We want a government that responds to the common good not the uncommon greed.We don’t want to be ruled anymore by big oil, big agra, big pharma, big banks, and big insurance. We refuse to be ignored

  • Bill

    The Occupy idiots (OIs) are the result of years of participation trophies. In previous generations, the kids had to work hard to earn a trophy and they were proud of what they earned and other kids knew what it took to earn a trophy and only some wanted to put out the effort to earn one. The child who work hard during practice and played hard were not differentiated whatsoever, and the OIs took notice. Now fast forward to today, the OIs are learning that life does not hand out participation trophies and there are winners and losers and the losers are now whining and want their participation trophy for not putting out any effort or succeeding.

  • Guest

    We are trying to do something good for the greater society, so if you cannot protest peacefully please step down and let us do what we are here to do

  • mother of th

    Well said!

  • Flhxrider

    They should be protesting Congress and the White House, last time I checked wall street does not pass legislation.