The Surreal Estate

Perspectives on Tenant Organizing from the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board

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Occupy Wall Street: Our Perspective

Two weeks ago, Occupy Wall Street formed as a group of unidentified youth with unclear demands, poor media attention, and with no support from local New York politically left groups.  Mostly it was an inconvenience to us at UHAB, with Wall Street blocked off to prevent protesters from getting too close to the NY Stock Exchange.  Rather than dissipate with time and rain and mass arrests, the protest has grown in bodies, energy, and perhaps even credibility.  Following the infamous occupation of the Brooklyn Bridge that led to over 700 arrests, Occupy Wall Street has become a force to be reconciled with.

What are their demands?  Who is organizing it?  How long will they stay out there?  Walking down Broadway past the protesters, one can hear the snickering of bankers and corporate folks.  “They’re just mad because they can’t get jobs” I heard one banker laugh to a friend.  “They say it’s a movement.  A movement,” joked another.

But to me, the exciting part of Occupy Wall Street is that it is a movement- and a growing one.  The organizing structure of the protest is through a General Assembly, in which anyone is able to speak their minds, participate in the consensus decision making process, or join a working group.  Rather than begin the protest with a list of demands and top-down strategies, Occupy Wall Street is working on forming its demands collectively, and in the meantime allows people the opportunity to experience real democracy.  Art supplies, a library, the constant flow of free food, and donated tents and sleeping gear is readily available to any and all who enter the plaza.

Over the past week, celebrities such as Cornel West, Russell Simmons and Susan Sarandon have shown up to demonstrate their support for the protest.  The labor and left movement is also begining to back the protest, lending experience, local knowledge, as well as more concrete ways to show solidarity against corporate greed.  Today protesters are joining the Teamsters Local 814 to show support for the unionized art handlers who have been locked out of Sotheby’s for 8 weeks while struggling to negotiate for improved conditions.   New York teachers this weekend participated in a “grade in” in which teachers from all over the city went down and graded papers in the plaza to show their solidarity with the protest.

As an organization that works against banks with irresponsible lending practices like New York Community Bank, UHAB understands Occupy Wall Street’s stance against corporate greed.  Through our organizing, UHAB envisions a type of world other than one where banks and wealthy investors profit while damaging communities.  Unions, immigrant rights groups, and other politically left groups of New York are putting their energy behind Occupy Wall Street, and are organizing a march on Wednesday at 4:30 from City Hall to Zuccotti Park.  We will be there marching!  Will you join us?

To follow the movement, visit www.occupywallstreet.org. To see the faces behind the protests, visit wearethe99percent.tumblr.com.

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