I’ve been eagerly following the activities of the brave folks who are occupying Wall Street. Rather than dying out by now, as I heard people predict in the beginning, the movement is growing–both within New York City and all over the nation. On Saturday in New York, some six thousand protesters marched down to the Brooklyn Bridge, with nearly a thousand breaking off from the walking path and blocking traffic, chanting, “Who’s bridge? Our bridge!” Almost eight hundred people were arrested. Conflicting reports abound regarding police activity, but many agree that police actually seemed to cooperate in facilitating bridge access for protesters, and then trapped them on the bridge in order to arrest en masse. By yesterday, nearly all had been released and many returned undaunted to Zucchotti Park. And the movement continues.
Across the nation, Occupy Wall Street efforts have popped up–Occupy New Orleans. Occupy DC. Occupy Chicago. Occupy Los Angeles. Occupytogether.org details the list of “Occupy” movements, and as of my last visit, there were over seventy US sites–some specific city events like the ones listed above, some representing the entire state (Occupy New Jersey, Occupy Iowa) and some on college campuses (Occupy Oklahoma State). The movement has also gone international, with sites in Canada, Japan, Australia, Mexico, and 10 European countries.
I have been wanting to get involved, and my chance arose when Teachers Unite (http://teachersunite.net) planned a grade-in for Sunday, Oct. 2 at Liberty Plaza. Teachers were invited to bring their work and grade in the park, as a way to express solidarity with the protest against corporate greed, protest the privatization of education/defunding of public ed (among other educational issues), and make transparent that the work of teachers extends far beyond the “regular” work day–the latter a response to the recent widespread demonization of teachers for their exorbitant salaries, ridiculous benefits, and (*gasp!) job security.
I met a few fellow NJTAG (New Jersey Teacher Activist Group) members in Newark and we headed over to Wall Street via the path. As we approached Liberty Plaza, I could hear it before I saw it–Occupy Wall Street announced its presence with the beating of drums and the strumming of guitars. Walking through the actual park to the agreed-upon meet up location, I marveled at the number of tents, tarps, and sleeping bags–and the makeshift kitchen set up in the middle of the square, complete with a team efficiently washing dishes. We finally arrived at the northwest corner of the plaza and were met by the welcome sight of bright fluorescent signs bearing messages like “TEACHERS AT WORK,” “WALL STREET GETS AN ‘F,’” and “SAVE PUBLIC EDUCATION.” Two teachers had strung together a garland of paper apples, each containing a positive phrase regarding education and educators, and were busily decorating a tree with the festive adornment.
After contributing a few signs of our own– “NEW JERSEY TEACHERS GRADING” and “TEACHERS SUPPORT #OCCUPYWALLSTREET,” piles of papers emerged from backpacks and grading began (I brought along my reading for Monday night’s class, in solidarity with my current teacher friends). I don’t know how much grading actually got done due to the frequent (but mostly not unwelcome) interruptions. CNN, various student groups, and local media appeared asking for interviews. Mark Naison–aka “Notorious PhD”–performed his “Achievement Rap” to the beat of a local drummer. Gawking tourists formed a semi-circle around us that made concentration impossible. Passerby who happened to be teachers stopped by to chat. Teachers talked to one another about what was happening in their schools and with their children–the young middle-school teacher next to me kept proudly sharing his seventh grade students’ essays, encouraging me to read one particular student’s work–which I happily admired and read aloud to my friend Brian, sitting on my other side. But the true highlight of the day was a singalong–I’m not sure if the folks who led it were teachers, but we all enthusiastically joined in. We sang Peter, Paul, and Mary’s “If I had a Hammer,” ”Solidarity Forever” (to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic), “Whose Side are You On,” “This Land is Your Land,” “This Little Light of Mine,” and then, for good measure, we sang “If I had a Hammer” again. My personal favorite was “This Little Light of Mine,” because it lent itself to customization so well. After the first few verses, Sam, a local teacher who had stepped in to lead this particular song, began shouting cues for each subsequent verse. For example: (Sam) “All over Wall Street!” And in response, “All over Wall Street, I’m gonna let it shine…” (Sam) “In New York City Schools!” (Everyone) “In New York City Schools, I’m gonna let it shine…”
It was a truly inspiring day. Plans are already in place to go back next weekend for another teacher action, this time a “teach-in” offering a critical view of the impending celebration of Christopher Columbus. What does Christopher Columbus have to do with Occupy Wall Street, you say? As I said to a young man yesterday, who asked me what the actual goal of Occupy Wall Street was, in my humble opinion, a large part of it is about a national consciousness raising. Our citizens must stop taking information offered to them–whether by our politicians or textbooks–at face value. Period. And the movement continues…
For more information regarding the agenda of Occupy Wall Street and the unanimously approved “Declaration to Occupy Wall Street,” created at the daily General Assembly on 9/29, which succinctly outlines the issues of Occupy Wall Street, visit