Occupy Wall Street will mark its first anniversary on Monday by attempting to blockade the New York Stock Exchange and re-launch the movement against what it sees as inequality, organizers said.
The social protest movement has seen a steep drop in support since it was founded a year ago, when hundreds of people camped in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street to protest bank bailouts and what they called the ruling “one percent.”
But activists promise to make a comeback on the September 17 anniversary, about six weeks before Americans decide whether to reelect President Barack Obama or bring in his Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
About 250 of them already marched on Broadway Saturday in an opening salvo of anniversary celebrations. Police said several people were arrested, but declined to give an exact number. The New York Times put the number of those detained at at least 15.
The arrested, according to the paper, included a woman who tried to burn an American flag and got into an argument with a man who tried to stop her.
“This first year anniversary is the opportunity to put our concerns, the concerns of the 99 percent of the people, on the top of the agenda again,” Chris James, a 26-year-old student from Brooklyn and one of the organizers of the upcoming event, told AFP.
The highlight of several days of street action will be a “people’s wall” at the NYSE, said Dana Balicki, a spokeswoman for the group.
“We want to bring people down to the belly of the beast,” she said. “That will be a pretty substantial act of civil disobedience.”
In addition to staging a sit-in outside the heavily guarded building, there are plans to conduct policy workshops and training session in civil disobedience.
“There’ll be a mass of people converging on the Stock Exchange to deliver our message: that we’re the 99 percent and we’re not going to take it,” 31-year-old Balicki said.
Balicki said Occupy leaders have learned from past mistakes and are ready to get around any police crackdown.
Occupy’s camp in Zuccotti Park last year spawned similar protests in cities around the world as the movement tapped into widespread resentment over the economic slump, persistent unemployment and anger at Wall Street practices.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire entrepreneur, was initially tolerant.
However, after authorities cleared out the increasingly squalid tent camp, new attempts to protest were quickly overwhelmed by police, who regularly made dozens, occasionally even hundreds, of arrests.
Since then, the movement has failed to make good on promises to return as a significant force. Notably, efforts to make an impact at this week’s Republican convention in Florida have fizzled out.
But Chris James denies the moving was waning.
“Occupy Wall Street has been growing even if we were not on the news,” he said. “We have people from all the country and some of them are here.”
Last year’s protests brought together activists from major US cities like Chicago, Seattle and Portland. There were supporters even from Spain and the Netherlands.
“Last year people gathered spontaneously, and it was a chaos which it was good,” recalled Sara Blom, a 30-year-old Dutch anthropologist and filmmaker, who brought to New York a film about Occupy Amsterdam.
“It was a good kind of chaos at the beginning, but now it feels like either it has to be structured or it is just going to disappear,” Blom continued.
“It has to attract more people, not only the people that are already familiar with an alternative lifestyle. It has to be more diverse.”
Balicki said “some really good tacticians” were at work on ensuring that the upcoming return to the streets won’t be immediately quashed.
“We’re learning from our past organizing mistakes and making it a little more difficult to get bottlenecked-in and squeezed by the cops,” she said.
Organizers at the media-savvy OccupyWallSt.org site said that their protests are more relevant than ever.
September 17 “marks the beginning of year two of Occupy Wall Street and four years since Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy, helping catapult our global economy into a new phase of disrepair,” a statement said.
“No complaints from the rich one percent — they’re still rich. They’re insatiable unless we push back.”