I was in NYC on the day the “Occupy Wall Street” protest march began and was fortunate to be in the area when the main march passed. This image shows the line of police drafted in to keep the peace whilst allowing people to go about their business as normal.
The original protest was initiated by Kalle Lasn and Micah White of Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist publication, who conceived of a September 17 occupation in Lower Manhattan. The first such proposal appeared on the Adbusters website on February 2, 2011, under the title “A Million Man March on Wall Street.”
Lasn registered the Occupy Wall Street web address on June 9. That same month, Adbusters emailed its subscribers saying “America needs its own Tahrir.” White said the reception of the idea “snowballed from there”. In a blog post on July 13, 2011, Adbusters proposed a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, the lack of legal consequences for those who brought about the global crisis of monetary insolvency, and an increasing disparity in wealth. The protest was promoted with an image featuring a dancer atop Wall Street’s iconic Charging Bull statue.
Meanwhile, several similar proposals were being explored by independent groups, as reported by journalist Nathan Schneider in his book Thank You, Anarchy: Notes from the Occupy Apocalypse. Thousands of people, organized by a group of labor unions marched on Wall Street 12; the online collective Anonymous attempted an occupation on June 14; activists planned an indefinite occupation of Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., which eventually became known as Occupy Washington, D.C.
On August 1, 2011, almost a month prior to the major media event, a group of artists were arrested after a series of days protesting nude as an art performance on Wall Street. This event may have inspired or triggered the major event to follow. This was a protest by the 49 participants on American Institutions and was titled “Ocularpation: Wall Street” by artist Zefrey Throwell.
Then in an unrelated incident, a group called New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts (NYAB) was formed, which promoted a “sleep in” in lower Manhattan called “Bloombergville,” in July 2011, preceding OWS, and provided a number of activists to begin organising. Activist, anarchist and anthropologist David Graeber and several of his associates attended the NYAB general assembly but, disappointed that the event was intended to be a precursor to marching on Wall Street with predetermined demands, Graeber and his small group created their own general assembly, which eventually developed into the New York General Assembly. The group began holding weekly meetings to work out issues and the movement’s direction, such as whether or not to have a set of demands, forming working groups and whether or not to have leaders. The Internet group Anonymous created a video encouraging its supporters to take part in the protests. The U.S. Day of Rage, a group that organized to protest “corporate influence [that] corrupts our political parties, our elections, and the institutions of government,” also joined the movement. The protest itself began on September 17; a Facebook page for the demonstrations began two days later on September 19 featuring a YouTube video of earlier events. By mid-October, Facebook listed 125 Occupy-related pages.
The original location for the protest was One Chase Manhattan Plaza, with Bowling Green Park (the site of the “Charging Bull”) and Zuccotti Park as alternate choices. Police discovered this before the protest began and fenced off two locations; but they left Zuccotti Park, the group’s third choice, open. Since the park was private property, police could not legally force protesters to leave without being requested to do so by the property owner. At a press conference held the same day the protests began, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg explained, “people have a right to protest, and if they want to protest, we’ll be happy to make sure they have locations to do it.”
The Occupy protesters’ slogan “We are the 99%” refers to the protester’s perceptions of, and attitudes regarding, income disparity in the US and economic inequality in general, which have been main issues for OWS. It derives from a “We the 99%” flyer calling for OWS’s second General Assembly in August 2011. The variation “We are the 99%” originated from a tumblr page of the same name. Huffington Post reporter Paul Taylor said the slogan is “arguably the most successful slogan since Hell no, we won’t go!” of the Vietnam War era, and that the majority of Democrats, independents and Republicans see the income gap as causing social friction.
The slogan was boosted by statistics which were confirmed by a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) report released in October 2011.