Occupy Wall Street: Seattle Redux?

As in the anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle in 1999, today’s nationwide Occupy Wall Street actions come in many shapes and sizes. There’s the enraged confrontations we’ve seen around Wall Street itself. There are the pre-arranged arrests we’ve seen in the banking district of downtown Los Angeles. There are permitted rallies sponsored by unions, which, as evening falls, will shift their locales to bridges around the nation in an attempt to loop the rebuild-the-decaying-infrastructure issue into the mélange of progressive causes that OWS champions. There’s an action for every mood and strategy –- though some strategies make a lot more sense than others.

This afternoon, activists from unions (most particularly, SEIU) will march across bridges in Chicago, D.C., Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, L.A., New York (the granddaddy of all urban bridges, the one-and-only Brooklyn), and damn-near any American city that has a creek, an overpass, and union members. As with this morning’s action in Los Angeles, there may be some decorous, pre-arranged arrests. Clearly, these actions have been conceived to win the allegiance of constituencies such as the hard-hats, who may support OWS’s message but be less than thrilled by OWS itself.

The question is whether these actions will rate more than a paragraph or two at the bottom of the stories about this morning’s demonstrations around Wall Street, in which the arrests were anything but orchestrated and the confrontations more fierce. The coverage of Seattle, where the sporadic outbursts of vandalism eclipsed the peaceful mass occupation of the streets and a massive labor demonstration, suggests that whatever bleeds will lead the coverage of today’s actions as well. Still, there will be a lot of less-confrontational demonstrations in a whole lot of cities today shortly before those cities’ local evening news goes on the air, so there’s bound to be some coverage showing the more broad-based and strategically savvy side of the movement. At least, one can always hope.

Seattle Redux II: Get Bigger, or More Intense?

Today’s demonstrations are showing a progressive movement marching in two distinct directions. The bridge demonstrations that are beginning to happen in at least three dozen major cities –- many of which include the active participation of building-trades unions, the organizations of America’s hard-hats -– are calibrated precisely to win the allegiance of working-class Americans who may have no particular affinity for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. Though it was SEIU that initially promoted today’s mass demonstrations at the bridges, calling for a jobs and infrastructure program in particular, a much wider range of unions, with pedigrees distinctly less left than SEIU’s, have joined in.

The bridge-building demos –- building a coalition to build bridges, among other things –- mark an attempt to build on the OWS movement to create a more energized mass with broad public appeal; the demonstrations at Wall Street this morning seem calibrated to have almost the opposite effect: escalating direct confrontation with Wall Street, which means, with the people who work there and the cops who have to clear them a path. Historically, confrontational intensity eclipses more strategic goals and tactics in movements that are home to both –- at least, in media coverage and public perception. Which means, this is a tricky day for the American left –- one step forward, but quite possible more than one step back. 

Slideshow

Occupy Wall Street Day of Action

After a dramatic eviction from Zuccotti Park Tuesday that resulted in a court decision banning Occupy Wall Street protesters from camping at the park, the protest movement launched a Day of Action Thursday to celebrate its two-month anniversary. A morning attempt to shut down the New York Stock Exchange was unsuccessful but marches from Wall Street to Union Square Park drew thousands of protesters. In an afternoon press conference, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said that the day of action had caused "minimal disruption" to New York City. By nightfall, protesters again began marching to Foley Square.

Seattle Redux III: Over the Bridges

Yesterday, I noted that most of the press coverage of the national day of action called by Occupy Wall Street would focus on the morning’s clashes between demonstrators and police around the New York Stock Exchange. On the day after, I feel obliged to point out what those stories missed – above all, marches on (and over) bridges in dozens of cities and towns across the country yesterday, featuring the odd-couple pairing (but now united by a common antipathy to American big business) of OWSers and construction workers.

So: In Pittsburgh, 700 people from the unions, churches and the OWS movement, marched over the Greenfield Bridge, chanting “Give me a job and I’ll fix it!” (the bridge, that is). In Iowa City, IA, demonstrators marched on the Park Road Bridge with signs that read, “This bridge needs work. So do we.” Milwaukee, Los Angeles, Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Miami, Detroit, Baltimore, Portland and Washington were among the other cities where demonstrators from unions, church groups, and the respective cities’ Occupy movements marched to bridges demanding jobs and, for all the vagueness that has sometimes marked OWS, with the very concrete demand for bridge (and by implication, infrastructure and general national) repair.

The biggest demonstration marched on one of America’s two most iconic bridges. A crowd estimated by police to be in excess of 30,000 people marched from New York’s Foley Square to the Brooklyn Bridge, where nearly 700 demonstrators were arrested protesting Wall Street’s growing fat while our bridges are growing shaky.

(The other most iconic bridge, of course, is the Golden Gate.)

By any measure, then, yesterday was a day of mass action all across the nation, involving vastly more people than those who’ve occupied parks in various American downtowns. Just in case you missed that from the news coverage.

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