The evening protest was markedly more diverse, drawing an older and more racially varied group than the morning’s activities. Even the sit-ins took on a more institutional character: a group of 99 Occupy Wall Street protesters including Councilman Jumaane Williams, Councilwoman Melissa Mark Viverito and George Gresham, the president of chapter 1199 of United Healthcare Workers East, were arrested for sitting down on the street at the foot of the bridge. Union leaders also obtained a permit for the march, and many participants wore gear identifying them as members of local unions including the UAW, UFT, CWA and 1199 SEIU.
A woman named Angela Sanchez, who described herself as a representative of 1199, sought out reporters in the crowded square. She told The Observer about her union’s support for the protests. Unlike the original occupiers, the health care workers have very focused demands.
“We’re constantly under threat of layoffs. Right now, they’re threatening to take away our health care,” Ms. Sanchez said. “Everyone’s pretty up in arms that there would be healthcare workers without healthcare.”
As they squeezed out of Foley Square and passed the gates of City Hall at the foot of the bridge, protesters passed 1199 members wearing T-shirts identifying them as “marshalls” for the march who cheered them on. On the walkway leading to the bridge, the union marshalls formed a human gate, standing between the protesters and police officers who lined the road on either side. The march went off without a hitch, and a light projecting huge letters on the nearby Verizon building declared the movement victorious.
“We are winning,” it said.
“Mayor Bloomberg beware; Zuccotti Park is everywhere,” the protesters chanted.
Labor’s support for Occupy Wall Street hasn’t been confined to large protests. Both 1199 and the UFT have provided occupiers office space to hold their spokescouncils and working groups in the aftermath of their eviction from Zuccotti Park.
On Friday, former governor David Paterson had the current governor, Andrew Cuomo, on his radio show and the two discussed the still-growing movement. Governor Paterson discussed the march and the effect union’s were having on the movement.
“I was very happy to see that toward the end of the day when they connected with Union 1199, and the Verizon workers, and the transport workers,” Governor Paterson said. “The fact is, they know how to march, they know how to engage the police, they know the process, and they really brought, toward the end of the day, some reasonable, you know, deliberateness to the group. And it’s amazing, when you have leadership, you can organize a group and you have far less confrontations.”
Unions and politicians might provide Occupy Wall Street with logistical support and institutional credibility, but will a movement that began as a leaderless expression of frustration with the financial industry survive an influx of would-be leaders bearing their own agendas?
At Zuccotti Park on Sunday afternoon, we saw evidence protesters might give a prickly reception to the politicians and union leaders attempting to occupy their movement. Several hundred supporters thronged the now tent-free park. Holiday lights had been strung through the trees but the barricades and police checkpoints still stood.