Overnight at Occupy Wall Street

Beating the Street: Is 'Occupy Wall Street' the Battle of the Battery, or the Bonfire of the Humanities Majors?

The idea of occupying Wall Street originated with an email blast by the lefty magazine Adbusters, best known for not accepting advertising. Adbusters is based in Vancouver but two-thirds of its readership is in the U.S., and in July senior editor Micah White and writers called for a 20,000-strong extended occupation on Wall Street, with the hope that Americans, complacent in the throes of a going-on-five-year recession, might adopt some of the outrage and effectiveness of the Arab Spring.

“We’ve been kind of watching the Egyptian uprising and the Spanish uprisings and wondering, why aren’t Americans also rising up against the financial fraudsters that are ruining people’s lives,” said Mr. White, who lives in Berkeley and has not ventured to New York for the proceedings. “I think we wanted to catalyze a people’s democratic spring in America.”

The email went out to Adbusters’ 90,000 subscribers.

“The basic model is to combine the Egyptian Tahrir uprising with the Spanish acampadas,” Mr. White said, referring to a string of extreme sit-ins across Spain in May and June. “You hold a symbolic space and you hold people’s assemblies.”

Of course, the protesters aren’t technically holding a space on Wall Street. Liberty Park Plaza, also known as Zuccotti Park, is two blocks away from Wall Street, where police regularly patrol the barricaded area around the New York Stock Exchange, a security measure implemented after Sept. 11.

“Adbusters put out the call, but they had no idea what they were talking about,” said Guy Steward, an 18-year-old unemployed New Yorker in thick glasses and a blue bandana. He read about the local effort on Tumblr and has been involved since the first day. “They’re a bunch of Canadians. They were like, ‘Go set up tents on Wall Street!’ You can’t set up tents on Wall Street. You’ll get shot.”

The grassroots New York City General Assembly, a scattered but competent body of activists, sprang up Aug. 2 and starting hammering out logistics through a series of hyper-democratic meetings in which everyone is given a chance to speak, every proposal is voted on, nothing happens without consensus (reached when there is no outright opposition to a proposal), and individuals are not bound by the group’s decision. The process is painstaking, but it worked—the group picked a place and the memo spread via Twitter, Facebook, Reddit and word of mouth.

The protesters now hold General Assemblies twice a day. There are three key components to the meetings: the “human microphone,” in which the people closest to the speaker repeat his or her words in unison for the rest of the crowd; the “stack taker,” who manages the list of people who want to speak; and a set of hand signals that include “spirit fingers” to indicate assent and arms crossed in an X to indicate a question or objection.

On Monday after the march and pep talk by Mr. Moore, the crowd was feeling especially empowered and optimistic. “Mic check!” yelled a blond woman in a black tank top and yoga pants. “MIC CHECK!” the audience bellowed back. Lately, most of the business at the General Assembly has involved proposals for the formation of new committees. On Monday night, various protesters suggested an animal rights committee, a translation committee, a committee for “matching volunteers with tasks” and a diversity committee (most of the protesters are young, white English speakers). The “vision and demands” committee was slated to speak Monday night, but could not finish its highly anticipated proposal in time. “I must say—” one audience member said.

“I MUST SAY,” the crowd repeated.

“I am disappointed—”


“That we still do not have—”


“A list of demands.”


Sure, there is an abundance of inarticulate hippie-types on hand, ever ready to assume the modified lotus and ostentatiously meditate. And yes, The Observer was forced to relocate to McDonald’s to write because three young men on the plaza wouldn’t stop crowing about how they were tripping on acid. But some protesters have managed to tow a more compelling line.

On Aug. 23, an activist—actually a reporter, who asked to remain anonymous because he was concerned about running afoul of his editor­—launched wearethe99percent.tumblr.com, which contains some of the stronger arguments for the Occupy Wall Street movement. “It’s time the 1 percent got to know us a little better,” the site says, referring to the nation’s richest percentile. Readers submitted pictures of themselves holding up signs. “I’m an unemployed college grad living with my parents,” read one. “Working 67 hours a week but can’t afford to buy school supplies for my daughters,” said another. “I’m 18, a college freshman. My dad has been unemployed for over two years and nobody is hiring. I haven’t been to the doctor’s since I was 14.” Most of the people pictured are 23 or younger. Student debt, health care and persistent unemployment are recurring themes.

The kitchen started serving coffee, juice and fruit at 6 a.m. as dawn broke over the plaza. Earlier, Mr. Steward had remarked that some pictures “made it look like a hobo camp,” which was exactly how the scene must have appeared to the business-attired professionals who were starting to appear on the sidewalk. At the west entrance to the plaza, a protester was sleeping in a chair with his mouth half-open, knees splayed apart, his head completely lolled to the right. Next to him was the orange poster bearing the day’s official agenda.

Correction: This story originally referred to Micah White as editor-in-chief of Adbusters; he is a senior editor. The Observer regrets the error.


  1. As a former finance profession­al and lawyer, I tell you YES, the system is predatory, rigged against the middle and working classes, and the time is now to collapse it.

    Wide-scale DEBTORS’ REVOLT — DEFAULT-EN­-MASSE is the answer, or at least part of it. 

    I am helping lead this effort, and our momentum grows. Join us. Walk away from your debt ‘obligatio­ns’, and help speed up the desirable collapse of the banking and predatory-capitalist system. Rebuild from there, under fair rules – responsible capitalism that recognizes the need for a economically strong workforce and middle class.
    DEBTORS’ REVOLT — DEFAULT EN MASSE.   The critical mass is closer than you think. 

    1. John says:

      Walk away from debt?  Let’s hope the next time you need a car loan, an apartment, a computer, and you need credit, they do a little google search on you. 

  2. Anonymous says:

    #occupywallstreet is about as messy as it gets which makes it one of the most beautiful things I have witnessed in a very long time.  Jordan is on point.  Given the relentless pursuit of better margins a good majority of the 1% have a legal obligation to drain as much $ as they can out of the other 99%.   The 99% is drowning in debt sitting in a house that’s underwater on a stained couch in front of a flat screen with a running APR of 25% .  But the 1% of the 99% have gotten off the couch and have said, enough!  These grotesque, tattooed, smelly, foul people you see have been backed into a corner, have nothing left to loose and have coming out swinging.  The example of this 1% is going to pull more of the 99% off of the couch and then watch the fuck out.  
    Bloomberg has been prescient enough to see how this will unfold.

    Granted, it’s easier to choose to come out swinging when your choices are limited, but it still requires some stones to directly place yourself in the way of ridicule and potentially  harm. 

    I not only have respect but great admiration for these people for choosing to fight back.   I planning on bringing some deodorant and proudly demonstrating with them.


    1. Mreichard7 says:


  3. Rebecca Migdal says:

    Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing
    exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the
    well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. -Herman Melville, novelist and
    poet (1819-1891) 

    1. Mreichard7 says:

      These protestors are not poor; nor are they w/o housing.  Merely spoiled, rude, disrespectful beings who think they’re entitled to everything free with no consideration for anything but their own desires.

  4. jackie snow says:

    It’s a stack taker, not Stacktator.  That makes it sound like there is some anarchist skeletor taking notes down at the assemblies.

  5. ke says:

    Correction: The chant is “banks got bailed out, We got sold out!” Not, as the article reports, “Let’s get bailed out…”

    1. Anonymous says:

      fixed. also, apparent it is the ‘stack taker’ not the ‘stacktator.’

  6. sick of hypocrites says:

    Michael Moore is a Millionaire. He believes that millionaires should be paying more taxes. He should lead by example .Why wait for the gov’t to legislate a tax increase. He can donate his fair share to the U.S Treasury or take less deductions on his tax return. But of course he won’t. Just another hypocrite.

    1. payup says:

      UncleRUSH Russell Simmons 
      Please raise my taxes. I will not accept a country that neglects the poor and the most vulnerable. #OccupyWallStreet

    2. Mreichard7 says:

      As is Buffet, who continues to owe $2 BILLION plus to the IRS.  Do as I say guy…

  7. Who did the awesome illustration?

  8. We all know each other has the ability to be critical. What about the ability to accept a different point of view for the sake of broadening our thoughts and possibly changing our mind and agreeing? Often times people speak of the same notion with varying vocab. The devil is in the details.