Longtime Assemblyman and Kings County Democratic leader Vito Lopez married the Brooklyn Democratic Party with the Occupy Wall Street protests yesterday, leading a delegation of supporters, political allies, unions and community groups over the Brooklyn Bridge to make common cause with the demonstrations.
The protesters marched over the bridge fronted by a police escort, carrying union banners and printed red, white and blue signs–“LIVING WAGE FOR A HEALTHY NEW YORK;” “MILLIONAIRE’S TAX NOW!” and of course, “WE ARE THE 99%”–reminiscent of the mass-produced slogans handed out by Obama for America. The signs were of a far more professional design and stock than the hand-painted ones familiar to most observers of the protests. And although there were no drummers, the Lopez-led marchers repeated the chants we’ve gotten so used to after a month and a half of covering Occupy Wall Street.
“All day, all week! Occupy Wall Street!”
“Shame on Morgan Stanley, shame on Goldman Sachs!”
Mr. Lopez has been challenged by a group of young reformers in his North Brooklyn stronghold who have attempted to remake the county’s Democratic machine into something more open, transparent and progressive. And Mr. Lopez’s wholesale embrace of the Occupy Wall Street protests, which regularly tout their open, transparent, and progressive bonafides, seems like an effort to steal some of his opponent’s arguments.
At the front of the procession, protesters in white “Assemblyman Vito Lopez” sweatshirts declined to speak to The Observer–perhaps because Mr. Lopez had just given a speech (a few speeches, we heard) on the other side in which he decried the media for portraying him unfairly. “It’s because I’m a politician myself,” one woman said, by way of apology.
We didn’t have much luck further down the march. Union members pointed us to other marchers, who turned out to be just as shy and directed us instead to union leaders and spokespeople who were not present. It was a striking contrast to the occupiers, who speak freely to the press–often to their own detriment–and stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that the movement has any leaders.
One protester and union member who didn’t want to be quoted told us he felt Mr. Lopez’s agenda and views are in line with the Occupy Wall Street protest. “That’s my personal feelings,” he said, as an extra hedge. “Not my organization’s.”
How did Mr. Lopez’s speech go over? we casually asked two 20-something members of the retail workers union. “Which one? He spoke for five minutes between every speaker.” And where was Mr. Lopez now? “I would guess he’s at the front,” one said. “Politicians don’t lead from the rear.”
We could identify Mr. Lopez by his “lumberjack shirt,” he said.
In fact, The Observer found Mr. Lopez, clad in red plaid, in the anchor position with his chief of staff. “All we’re doing is showing solidarity for the fact that the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, that’s all,” Mr. Lopez, told The Observer as we stepped off the bridge into Manhattan. He was reluctant to say more. “Write about how this was was a successful march,” he said. “I’m done.”
He directed The Observer to his chief of staff, Leah Hebert, who was also short on specifics. “We want to make a change in Albany,” she said. “We want to make a change in the city.”
Once on Broadway, the union members, joined by Zuccotti Park occupiers and escorted by policemen on motorcycles, picked up their pace on the way to the park. “This is all Brooklyn, right?” one occupier at the corner of the park asked as the new protesters arrived, handing out fliers.
“We got Vito Lopez!” one young man affirmed. “We got city councilmen!” He accepted a flier with enthusiasm. “North Brooklyn and South Brooklyn need to step up to the plate!”