NEW YORK – Several dozen protesters have been arrested in New York City’s financial district, after they occupied the corner of Wall Street and Broadway to protest what they say is finance capital’s role in perpetuating climate change. The arrests capped an 11-hour march and protest – an event billed as “Flood Wall Street” – in the heart of the world’s financial capital. Organizers claim that the rally included 3,000 people at its peak.
The protest, which took place on Monday, was a smaller companion piece to the People’s Climate March, which had occurred the day before. That march was by far the single largest environmental rally in history, drawing an estimated 310,000 people from all over the world, according to organizers. Police did not confirm or deny the turnout. Whereas that march was designed to appeal to the broadest slice of potential supporters possible, Flood Wall Street is more overtly radical in both its rhetoric and tactics.
Flood Wall Street kicked off Monday morning with a rally in Battery Park, at the southernmost tip of Manhattan. But after a series of speeches from journalists and activists from around the world, and after marchers had received some rudimentary training in civil disobedience, Flood Wall Street went on the move. The first stop was the financial district’s famous Charging Bull statue, not far away. While some protesters sat down and occupied a couple blocks near the bull, others danced, talked, or addressed large crowds through the “people’s mic,” by having others loudly repeat what they were saying.
Shortly before the 4 p.m. closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange, organizers cajoled some of the protesters into moving to Wall Street and Broadway, and trying to occupy the financial mecca. When people began trying to get through the barricades that the NYPD had erected outside Wall Street, the police – who until then had been largely placid onlookers – reacted by shoving them back and using pepper spray.
After that, the mood of the protest changed. More police massed on either side of the block, while some protesters shouted invective at them. But some of those who had sat at the corner of Wall Street and Broadway managed to calm the mood somewhat by inviting people to speak about what had brought them to the march.
That went on for about three and a half hours. As it got chillier, some protesters left, but a core group of a few dozen remained seated in the intersection. At around 7:45, the police formally asked the protesters to disperse. After they refused to comply with multiple requests, the police moved in and began arresting them. The mood of the crowd darkened again: Supporters massed along the sidewalks chanted, “Shame! Shame!” or old Occupy Wall Street chants like, “One! Two! Three! Four! I declare a class war!”
Yet several activists and and veterans of Occupy Wall Street said that the arrests and dispersal proceeded in a much more orderly and peaceful fashion than they had during the Occupy days. One unidentified protester on the sidewalk remarked that the police were downright “mellow.”
Flood Wall Street participants and sympathizers on the sidewalk cheered with each new arrest. A small group of them blasted “Turn Down For What” on a speaker and began to dance. By 8:30, the police had arrested all the remaining participants in the sit-in, filling two buses with them.
Although many of the mainstream environmental groups behind the People’s Climate March officially kept their distance from Flood Wall Street, some of them appeared to be at least tacitly supportive. Organizers for Flood Wall Street would not discuss specific mainstream institutional supporters on the record, but did say they had received some unofficial encouragement. 350.org founder Bill McKibben, one of the leaders behind the People’s Climate March, showed up at the initial gathering in Battery Park for Flood Wall Street and tweeted his support.
“Stop Capitalism. End the Climate Crisis,” is Flood Wall Street’s official slogan, and participants were expected to include many longtime activists and luminaries on the radical left. Former Occupiers were among those who risked arrest, and journalist Naomi Klein, author of the recent book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, spoke before the sit-in.
“[Flood Wall Street] is about trying to take this energy and take the people, the activists that have come to town, and try to put them in the way of business as usual for Wall Street,” said Eric Verlo, an Occupy Denver activist who came from Colorado to participate in both Sunday and Monday’s actions. For Verlo and other participants in Flood Wall Street, Monday’s sit-in is all about targeting the major financial institutions that allegedly pour money into carbon polluting industries.
“Runaway climate change and extreme weather events, such as the extreme flooding that we saw here in New York City with Hurricane Sandy, are fueled by the fossil fuel industry,” said one of Flood Wall Street’s organizers, Michael Premo, in a statement. “We are flooding Wall Street because we know that there’s no greater cause of runaway climate change than an economic system that puts profit before people – and before the planet.”
While former Occupy activists and other Flood Wall Street supporters are explicitly seeking to combat climate change by disrupting capitalist institutions, the march’s less radical participants are also continuing to mobilize. May Boeve, executive director for the environmental group 350.org, promised in a statement that “the demand for action will only grow.”
“This march is just the beginning,” Boeve said. “Today we marched, tomorrow we organize.”
The People’s Climate March even received shows of support from a couple of politicians often closely identified with the financial industry. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. – who is often jokingly referred to as “the senator from Wall Street” – attended the protest. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently fielded a left-wing primary challenge in part due to anger over his perceived coziness with Wall Street, issued a proclamation during the march in which he declared this week to be “Climate Week.”
But according to Naomi Klein and other Flood Wall Street supporters, averting disaster may require doing more than Wall Street and its allies would ever willingly do.
“The fact is, if we’re going to respond to this crisis, we need to break a whole bunch of the free market rules that these guys hold very dear,” she said during an appearance last week on msnbc’s All In with Chris Hayes. “We need to regulate. We need to get in the way of the fossil fuel companies.”