BY SETH GALINSKY
AND RUTH ROBINETT
NEW YORK—Thousands of young people, students, middle-class layers, and workers—both employed and jobless—have joined Occupy Wall Street protests here over the last several weeks. Zuccotti Park, a few block's from the Wall Street financial district, has become a magnet for those who are being battered by the capitalist economic crisis and are looking to do something about it.
Some come just for a few hours, others have been camped out in the square for days or weeks. One university student from Virginia skipped classes and hitchhiked to New York to take part. Forty students from the University of Kentucky raised thousands of dollars to join the action for a few days.
United in opposition to Wall Street as a symbol of capitalist greed, participants represent a wide spectrum of political views. Handmade signs abound, often colorfully reflecting its wielder's personal experience: "College degree=Unemployment. Thanks Wall Street," "I am a social worker student who owes $60,000 in loans. I am the 99%," and "F*** your unpaid internship." A smattering of conspiracy theorists and a fringe of rightists are also present promoting their nostrums.
Inspired by the protest, similar actions have spread to cities and towns throughout the United States, tapping into a growing sentiment that something is wrong and needs to change. Under the Occupy Wall Street banner, many have joined in labor protests: from demonstrations in support of laid-off school aides, postal workers, and building workers in New York to rallies backing locked-out sugar workers in the Upper Midwest.
"I used to think the government had my best interests in mind, but now I know that's not true," Fashion Institute of Technology student Steven Robinson told the Militant.
"We need more jobs, cheaper tuition for college, higher wages," said Marcio Martinez, a recent high school graduate.
Stacey Taylor and her husband are truck drivers who came from southern Indiana to join the protests. "We pay our share of taxes and the top 1 percent doesn't," she said.
Occupy Wall Street began September 17 as an open-ended protest in response to a call by Adbusters, an anarchist collective in Canada. Adbusters states it is a "global network of artists, activists, writers, pranksters, students, educators and entrepreneurs" whose aim is to "topple existing power structures and forge a major shift in the way" we live.
The first day of protest attracted about 2,000 people. When New York police wouldn't allow the demonstrators to protest on Wall Street, they set up camp instead a few blocks away at Zuccotti Park, where hundreds slept overnight.
The protest gained momentum after cops arrested 80 demonstrators during a September 24 march and were videotaped attacking several women with pepper spray.
The arrests and police brutality, instead of intimidating the protesters, gave them a boost and won broad sympathy. More started streaming in from all over the country.
In the largest action so far, some 10,000 people joined an October 5 march organized by unions in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Among others, the protest was actively built by groups forming part of the Democratic Party's left wing, including the Working Families Party and MoveOn.org.
The second issue of The Occupied Wall Street Journal, a four-color broadsheet, responded to criticism that the organizers had raised what they are against, but not any clear demands of what they are for. "No list of demands" was the headline of the editorial note. Arguing that the occupation itself is the goal, the paper said, "We are speaking to each other, and listening. This occupation is first about participation."
On October 11, Occupy Wall Street organized a "Millionaires March" up 5th and Park avenues outside the homes of the owners and CEOs of several banks and large corporations.
Referring to a 2 percent New York tax on millionaires that will expire in December, Occupy Wall Street organizer Doug Forand told the press, "This is fiscally, economically, and morally wrong."
"The American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules; that Wall Street is an example of that," President Barack Obama said of the protests. Obama and other Democratic Party figures have been demagogically arguing that the problem is Republican opposition to "sharing" the burdens of the economic crisis.
"So far the Wall Street Occupiers have helped the Democratic Party," said Robert Reich, former labor secretary in the William Clinton administration. "Their inchoate demand that the rich pay their fair share is tailor-made for the Democrats' new plan for a 5.6 percent tax on millionaires." To get the Democrats to fight for the plan "pressure from the left is critically important," he said.
Some conservative politicians and papers have attacked the protests, others have taken a more careful, muted stance.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Republican presidential candidates Ron Paul and Rick Santorum "empathize with the protesters' frustration but they don't agree with all of their goals." But not Republican candidate Herman Cain. "If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself," he said.
Many of those participating in Occupy Wall Street actions around the country are open to working-class politics and are attracted to unfolding struggles by workers.
Socialist Workers Party members have sold dozens of subscriptions to the Militant, hundreds of single copies of the paper, as well as literature from Pathfinder Press, at rallies and encampments in New York and around the country.
These activities have become fertile ground for discussing the need for working people to resist the mounting attacks by the bosses and their government, and to organize a movement that can wrest political power from the exploiters and reconstruct society on foundations of human solidarity, not profit for a few.