They came by the thousands, and then the tens of thousands. As the crowd swelled in Foley Square massing for a march to Wall Street, I was most struck by its diversity. They were young, old and middle-aged; black, white, Hispanic and Asian; college kids, professionals, workers and the unemployed. They had come to march on Wall Street, called by 15 of New York’s largest unions in an act of solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement in Liberty Park.
They were rimmed by the massive, impersonal edifices of a government they felt no longer cared about them – and they were preparing to confront the banks and speculators further downtown who had hijacked the state for their own private interests. They spoke with a diversity of voices and held signs covering a spectrum of demands. But it could all be summed up in one word: fairness.
I talked with a bus driver, a nurse, a retired teacher, a salesman and an actor. (Check out my slideshow of the event to see photos.) Here is some of what they told me:
Dorothy Ahmahd, an RN sporting a T-shirt of the National Nurses Union, said, “Nurses are supporting this movement because we see a lot of our patients who once had jobs, but are no longer able to pay for health care. We know this country’s deficit is being balanced with cuts from poor people who can’t pay.” What does she want? “Taxation across the board so our patients can get good health care – no more loopholes for rich people or corporate America to slide through…” and Medicare for all.
Jesse Mendoza is a bus driver in the Bronx, who characterizes himself as “the upper poor,” struggling to make it even though he has a job. He wants an end to the fight against workers. He said his union had seen more than 700 station agents laid off recently, as well as bus and train operators, and feared that give-backs extracted from other public sector unions, like the CSEA, were coming next for him.
Bill Buster is an actor and union member (AFTRA). He lives in the neighborhood of Liberty Park where the Occupy Wall Street protesters are encamped and started getting involved by bringing food to them. Then he was shocked into action when he witnessed the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge last Saturday. Dressed in a suit and tie, he was outraged at the media’s portrayal of the protesters: “It’s just been insulting and patronizing the way the mainstream media has singled out only the young who they can portray as hippies; they do not portray the senior citizens that are involved with us; they do not portray the professionals; they’re taking all the cheap shots they can.” Declaring the movement welcomes “Republicans, Democrats, conservatives, who are all impacted because they live in this country,” he added that he knew bankers and Wall Street lawyers who were active in the protests after having lost their jobs.
But perhaps the retired teacher summed it up best. Telling me, “the system is broken and we are no longer providing the promise America always has,” she held up a hand-made sign saying, “Economic Justice 4 All.”