Thousands of protesters gathered in Foley Square today as part of Occupy Wall Street’s largest event to date. Unions from the Transport Workers Union, SEIU 1199, and the United Federation of Teachers all joined the protest to voice their discontent at what they call a bailout of Wall Street, while working-class people are left to suffer under a system of austerity.
Ayman El-Sayed, a member of the nurses union, said he came to the protest to stand in solidarity with the Liberty Plaza activists. El-Sayed is having difficulty finding steady work in New York City, but he still tries to protest in between job-hunting.
“I come before work, I come after work when I can, but I find this Occupy Wall Street movement is important because it will help future workers: better benefits, get better jobs, get more stability, and not be neglected by their government, which bails out banks instead of bailing out workers.”
El-Sayed mentions the negative consequences of the city’s budget cuts, including the closing of the 400-bed St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, which sealed its doors back in April.
“I wanted to be a nurse to contribute to my community, so I could pay my mortgage, pay my bills, raise my kids, but also help people and help my community,” he explains before addressing the media’s negative depiction of some of the protesters as pot-smoking hippies engaging in an endless drum circle.
“God bless these youth who are out here, because while I’m at work, they can hold it down till I can get off work and come down and stand with them. Everybody plays a role. Even if some of them are hippies, they’re Americans. They have a right to speak their opinion. I don’t care how they dress or what they do,” he says.
El-Sayed mentions he doesn’t believe either political party represents his interests, or “normal working people’s interests.” In fact, he’d like to see an independent movement grow from OWS. “I believe in third parties. I just hope we can build something out of this movement here—an alternative to the two-party system”
Witnessing OWS’s evolution over the course of only a few weeks is truly something to behold. In the first few days of the movement, it was extremely difficult to find accurate information about what the protesters stood for, or what was planned for the movement that day, let alone over the span of a longer arc. Now, Liberty Plaza is neatly divided into sections: the greeting desk where you can see the day’s schedule; the supply drop-off area where supporters can leave clean blankets, sleeping bags, and clothing; and then there’s the food and media centers. The group even has a press team that mingles during events to address any questions the media might have.
OWS also has its own newspaper now, the Occupy Wall Street Journal, available as a .pdf file here, though some observers have criticized the publication for its almost entirely male perspective.
While many unions attended the event in an official capacity, I ran into a couple young men who attended the protest sporting their union gear, even though their own local hadn’t voted to officially throw their weight behind OWS.