Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with Occupy Wall Street

Up until a few weeks ago, I had never been on an airplane. As part of my quarter-life crisis, I saved enough money to travel to a place I always wanted to go: New York City. While I was planning this trip with my travel companion, Occupy Wall Street was in its beginning stages. In the weeks that followed, I kept track of the protests and actions through social networking websites. As I watched the protesters demonstrate in support of a myriad of social justice issues, I had a growing urge to be a part of it. I knew this was going to be huge.

On October 1st, I marched with almost 3,000 protesters from Liberty Plaza to the Brooklyn Bridge. As we arrived at the bridge, about 2,000 of us took the walkway as the rest spilled onto the road. Almost a thousand protesters I had been walking with earlier were arrested on the road.

We started off at Zucotti Park, also known as Liberty Plaza, the site where a group of protesters had been camping out for the past two weeks in an effort to sustain demonstrations. We marched through the streets of New York City as I heard protesters chant “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!”, “Whose streets? Our streets!”, “Tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like!” and “We are the 99 percent!” The 99 percent referring to often quoted statistic that 1% wealthiest of the population makes more than the 99% combined.

As we marched past the huge buildings and skyscrapers, tourists took photos of us from the double decker buses. We passed by Wall Street and the buildings of big banks, many holding signs with slogans and reasons for participating. The entrance to the New York Stock Exchange itself had been blocked off by police prior to the planned occupation. Anyone wishing to pass through would have to show identification as employees or residents of the area. NYPD officers lined the street near the sidewalks telling us to stay off the street. The officers were docile to us as we weaved through the crowded streets of New York City. I overheard a female community unit officer telling a protester that the banks are all corrupt and she doesn’t blame us for speaking out.

                  

I stopped at Park Avenue and Broadway Avenues to take photos and videos of the protesters. I caught up with my companion down the street. I had planned to stop at that point because I thought they were just going to march in a circle in the city. To my surprise, I saw demonstrators heading for the bridge. I knew I could not miss it. We headed in that direction.

When we approached the Brooklyn Bridge, there was a swarm of us en route to the pedestrian walkway. All I could see was a sea of colorful signs and people walking in front of me. We marched forward as we heard chanting “Whose bridge? Our bridge!” At this point, it looked like all of us protesters were on the walkway as there were so many of us packed practically elbow to elbow. Little did I know, a group of about a thousand had spilled onto the roadway. I did not realize what had happened until we seemed to be blocked right when the bridge is about to cross over the East River. I stood on the tip of my toes and saw that the NYPD was blocking our way onto the bridge. I assumed we were not going to be able to cross.

I was finally able to connect the dots as I saw a huge group of protesters lined on the east side of the bridge. Many photographers were climbing up on the cables to capture a shot of what was happening below. I heard chants saying “Let them go! Let them go!”, “The whole world is watching!” and “Bullshit! Bullshit!” I squeezed my way into the crowd lined down the railing and all I could see was hundreds of protesters and police officers. Since I was unfamiliar with the bridge, I assumed it was protesters in front who had somehow found a way down there. Although I had written down the number for the NY National Lawyers Guild chapter on my hand in case of possible detainment, I started to become concerned that we were next. My worries subsided as we began to move.

The police had cleared the way for us to march across the bridge on the pedestrian path. As I finally got a clear view of the arrestees below, I finally figured out they were being arrested for blocking traffic. We were just fine on the walkway. At first, the protesters on the bridge were sparse as many were still watching or taking photos of what was going on below. Within minutes, I looked behind me and saw at least 2,000 had rejoined us.

We made it across the bridge with no incident. We passed by two wedding photo shoots in progress. Photographers snapped at each opportunity, as to show the juxtaposition of pure American traditions. Bicyclists coming from Brooklyn trying to walk their bikes across the bridge had to push their way through the opposing foot traffic.

The overall vibe while crossing the bridge reminded me of drum circles in Venice Beach back home, except with political chants. There were people playing drums, singing chants and dancing down the walkway. They sang “Hey, hey; ho ho, this Wall Street greed has got to go!” and “Get up, get down, there’s revolution in this town!”

No matter how many different issues, agendas or angles the signs portrayed during the demonstration, there was one clear message: The idea of people over profit. The protest had marked a turning point in the movement.  Solidarity actions and encampments went from about 50 cities to over 1,000 across the nation. President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner made their first public comments about Occupy Wall Street after one of the largest mass arrests in history. The New York Times featured an editorial showing support for the protesters.

Participants seem to be speaking out for themselves and at the same time, giving voice to the voiceless. The actions of the demonstrators in NYC have given courage and a platform for others to speak out around the country and around the world.

Through reading news and Twitter posts on my phone, I read 700 non-violent protesters had been arrested at the roadway. I found through photos posted online later on, many that I had been marching side by side with earlier were detained.

As we departed from the bridge, we broke off from the group to explore Brooklyn. As we sat down in a restaurant on the north side of Williamsburg, the waitress said to me “I notice you have numbers written on your hand, did you just come back from Occupy Wall Street?” I told her we had just come from crossing the Brooklyn Bridge with protesters. She asked me where I was from and I told her I was from California. She said she had heard of people going from Philadelphia or Vermont but not all the way from the West Coast.

“What did you think?” she asked me.

I told her, “I think I just witnessed a defining moment in history.”

    

Amber Stephens
amber.stephens@gmail.com

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