Earlier this year, a call went out from Adbusters to "Occupy Wall Street." What that meant was left up to whoever chose to respond to the call to action. On Saturday, September 17, a few thousand took to the streets in New York, and solidarity actions were held in various cities around the world, including Madison. Two weeks later, a few hundred individuals remain camped out in Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street in lower Manhattan.
Despite being highly committed to the type of on-the-ground activism we saw here in Wisconsin last February and March, complete with our own occupation of the Capitol, I was skeptical of the Occupy Wall Street action. "What do they want?" I wondered. "Why would someone attend without knowing?"
But the protesters provided answers. Those on the ground in New York questioned the control that Wall Street financial interests have on our nation's economy and on our government. They questioned the death of Troy Davis at the hand of the State of Georgia, the need for a nationwide wave of foreclosures, and the drastic cuts to social services.
The experiences of those at Zuccotti Park in many ways mimic those who gathered in the Wisconsin Capitol Rotunda. Rather than an actual microphone for a Rotunda-style "People's Mic," they've used their own voices, repeating the speaker, to provide amplification in a space where megaphones and microphones are prohibited. Where Wisconsin had a command center run by the TAA, occupiers have set up a media center on site staffed by volunteers. As of this week, Wall Street even has its own set of heart balloons, courtesy of a group of Wisconsinites who hand delivered their message of solidarity and staying power to the occupiers.
And like us here in Wisconsin, Occupy Wall Street participants have shared their message via social media, circumventing the paucity of coverage among legacy news outlets. Just as their assemblies have relied on their own voices for amplification, the people on the ground in New York have used the power of direct communication to amplify their voices. Those who can't be there send messages of solidarity (and pizza) -- and then they begin to wonder what more they can do.
Through their people-powered outreach, occupiers have directly connected with people in other areas of the country. Here in Madison, under the banner of Take the Square WI, a people's assembly was held on the Capitol Square to coincide with the start of Occupy Wall Street and other international actions, followed by a teach-in covering everything from austerity to effective civil disobedience to the plight of the United States Postal Service. A planning meeting for an Occupy Madison event is set for today in anticipation of a follow-up gathering on Saturday, October 15.
Madison isn't the only city that has taken the "Occupy" message to heart. "Occupy" actions are springing up in cities across the country. Occupy Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Miami, Milwaukee, even Green Bay are all either off the ground or in planning stages. This widespread support comes despite a nearly complete media blackout of the Wall Street protests, aside from a few pepper spraying incidents.
Last spring, I stood with everyday Wisconsinites, asking our state government to hear us and respond to our voices. Across the nation we saw rallies in solidarity with our cause, spreading our message and steeling our resolve. Now, in New York, people are gathering to ask to be heard, and to point to the disparity in power in both our economic and our political systems. Again, citizens across the nation appear to have embraced the chance to have their voices heard. Where that goes from here remains to be seen.
Occupy Wall Street suggests that the people are demanding to be heard. And like those of us in Wisconsin, they're willing to stay -- to occupy -- until those with the power in our economic and political system hear them and respond.
Jenni Dye is an attorney who lives and works in the Madison area. She will join other Wisconsinites in attending the Occupy Wall Street demonstration next week, and was actively involved in the protests at the Wisconsin Capitol, covering the events via her Twitter account, @legaleagle.