Several hundred PSC members were among the thousands of people who rallied at Foley Square and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge on November 17, showing their support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement two days after police shut down the group’s encampment at Liberty Park.
“I’m here to be part of the resurgence of protest and optimism,” said City College Professor of Architecture Alan Feigenberg. “The theme of the 99% and the broadest united front has really been encouraging.”
“The youth have woken up. There’s no putting a cap on this thing,” said Roopali Mukherjee, an associate professor of media studies at Queens College. “OWS has shown not only that something should be done; it can be done.”
The labor-backed march across the Brooklyn Bridge was the culmination of a day of protest and actions across the city that began early that morning as waves of protesters tied up the Financial District while seeking to shut down the New York Stock Exchange. There were also teach-ins and student-led general assemblies at several CUNY campuses, speak-outs at subway stations in all five boroughs and a student-led rally at Union Square.
Dozens of labor and community leaders, including PSC Treasurer Mike Fabricant, were arrested at the end of the day when they sat down in an on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was one of many direct-action protests organized that day at bridges across the nation, calling attention to America’s crumbling infrastructure and the need to create good jobs through increased public investment.
Fabricant told Clarion that the seven hours that he and his fellow arrestees were in custody helped build closer ties for the future, as they discussed organizing work in the different social movements they are each a part of. “It helps you to more fully understand the scope of the work going on around the city,” he said of their jailhouse conversations.
Adam Tripp, an adjunct who teaches economics at Bronx Community College, was arrested during the morning protest for sitting down in the street a few blocks from the Stock Exchange. He was glad to be released later in the afternoon, and headed to Foley Square rally in time to join the PSC contingent there.
At the Union Square rally, Mazal Ben-Moshe told Clarion that she has a personal reason for marching against tuition hikes: she was forced to postpone her first semester at the Hunter School of Social Work this fall after imposition of a $300 tuition increase that she was unable to pay.
“We’re sick and tired of being told that CUNY has to be operated from our pockets,” said Ben-Moshe, 27, who worked as a telemarketer for four years to save money to return to school. “We have more than enough money in this country and in this city, especially to help students go to school.”
Teach-ins on were held on November 17 at several CUNY colleges, including Queens College and York. OWS-style General Assemblies were also held at Queensborough Community College, Brooklyn College, and the Graduate Center.
“Queensborough students don’t usually do something like this, so it was really special,” William Marsh, an assistant professor of English, said later. “This is the first time for many of them that they saw something that was democratic and that amplified their voices.”
On December 1, the New York City Central Labor Council (CLC) held a “March for Jobs and Economic Fairness,” with several thousand union members marching from Herald Square to Union Square. The CLC demonstration was clearly influenced by the Occupy protests, with many banners evoking the OWS slogan, “We are the 99%.” Occupy Wall Street activists organized in support of the CLC march, and invited the marchers to join them in continuing down Broadway to Liberty Park.
The November 17 and December 1 demonstrations showed that relationship between OWS and the labor movement is important to both, and is still evolving.
“Occupy Wall Street has enjoyed so much success in part because of the defiant tactics they have adopted,” commented Alex Vitale, an associate professor of sociology and acting chair of the Brooklyn College PSC Chapter. “The labor movement has been trying to build on, or emulate, that success, and the willingness of numerous labor leaders to risk arrest in a direct-action protest may be a sign of things to come.
“The relationship between these two social movements is a work in progress,” Vitale continued. “So far it’s mainly been helpful to both.”