Thursday, April 9, 2009

Angry protests target Wall Street

Angry protests target Wall Street

By Brenda Sandburg

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Their chants echoing off the tall buildings of New York’s financial district, a thousand people marched and rallied at Wall Street April 3 to demand a bailout of the people, not the banks. Protesters called for a real jobs program and a moratorium on foreclosures and evictions.

The diverse crowd of unionists, community activists, youth and students from the New York area, the Midwest and other parts of the country was living proof of a growing and militant mass movement in response to the devastating loss of jobs and homes sweeping the country.

The demonstration, organized by the Bail Out the People Movement, began with a rally at the corner of Wall and Broadway at 1 p.m. on a busy workday. The speakers, representing a broad range of organizations, told of struggles they are waging in their communities against foreclosures, cutbacks in health care and education, and attacks on union jobs and benefits.

“This is the opening of a serious nationwide struggle for a jobs program,” said Larry Holmes, a leader of the Bail Out the People Movement and a co-chair of the rally. Noting that many laid-off people are feeling shame, he declared April 3 unemployed people’s liberation day.

“We’ve got to stop turning our backs on each other, tuning out with our iPods and all those things we stick in our ears to listen to music,” Holmes declared. “Instead of tuning out we’ve got to tune in and demand jobs, demand our right to a home. Every time that we’ve done this we’ve made history. That’s our biggest message: Organize, organize, organize.”

Midway through the two-and-a-half-hour rally, what had been a light rain turned into a downpour as thunder rumbled overhead. People did not leave but braved it out under umbrellas.

The police had put up barricades to keep everyone off Wall Street itself. As the rain let up, several members of the youth group FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand Together) began walking down Broadway, determined to march through the financial nerve center. Converging on the youth, police pushed them onto the sidewalk and then arrested four. They were charged with disorderly conduct. One who had been pushed around by the cops was also charged with resisting arrest. He was held in jail for more than nine hours; the others were released after three hours.

Meanwhile, the police ignored the real criminals, who were in the boardrooms and executive offices overlooking the streets.

Bail Out the People organizers anticipate that many of those who marched on April 3, especially the young activists, will be a critical force in organizing unemployed workers on a massive scale in the coming struggle for jobs. The demonstration was a signal of this growing resistance and drew worldwide media attention. Broadcast and print journalists covering the event included China’s Xinhua news agency, Tokyo Broadcasting, CBC, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Reuters, AP and New York television stations. A photo of the march appeared in the New York Daily News.

Speakers repeatedly denounced the $10 trillion that has been handed over to the banks by the Bush and Obama administrations. New York City Council member Charles Barron said the crooks who received this money “should be looking for bail money to get out of jail.”

While the government has committed this outrageous sum to bailing out the banks and other financial institutions, 4.4 million people have lost their jobs since the economic downturn began in December 2007, more than half of them in the last five months. Millions have lost their homes in foreclosures and evictions.

Just as during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when the homeless set up Hoovervilles, shanty towns named after then-President Herbert Hoover, people have been setting up tent cities from St. Petersburg, Fla., to Fresno, Calif. The Bail Out the People Movement is calling for the kind of jobs program that existed in the 1930s when the Roosevelt government created the Works Project Administration and employed millions of people.

LeiLani Dowell, a member of FIST and a rally co-chair, described how the economic crisis was hurting youth and explained that the hardships they face are inherent to the capitalist system itself.

The other rally co-chairs were Brenda Stokely of the Million Worker March Movement, and Sara Flounders of the International Action Center. Other speakers included Charles Jenkins of Transport Workers Union Local 100; two representatives of the striking Stella D’oro workers; Joe Bullock and Swanzeta Neineni of Baltimore Bail Out the People Movement; Sandra Hines of Michigan’s Moratorium Now! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures & Evictions, Berna Ellorin of BAYAN-USA and Monica Moorehead of Workers World Party.

Following the rally, the Bail Out the People Movement took its message directly to the banks. Marching down Pine Street to AIG, which has received a total of $170 billion in bailout money, the people chanted “Jobs for all” and “Jail ’em, don’t bail ’em.”

Security officers lined up in front of the AIG building and the nearby Bank of America as those inside peered out the windows. Office workers watched the demonstration from a high, glass-enclosed archway connecting two buildings over Pine Street.

After marching through the narrow streets of the financial district, confronting other financial giants like Citigroup, Fidelity, American Express, the Federal Reserve and the New York Stock Exchange, the protesters proceeded to Water Street, stopped at another AIG building, and then went under the Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square for a concluding rally. Four large signs, each with a letter spelling “JOBS,” were prominent in the march.

Organized labor came with their union banners. There were contingents from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, AFSCME Locals 375 and 768, Teamsters Local 808, United Federation of Teachers Locals 2 and 37-901, striking Stella D’oro workers from Bakery and Confectionery Union Local 50 in the Bronx, and New York City Labor Against the War. Others on the march included members of District 1199 New England, Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers/AFSCME, United Autoworkers Local 2334 of Detroit and the Transit Workers Union of New York.

The April 3 march was held on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who called for the right to a job or income for all.

The following day, the United for Peace and Justice Coalition held another march on Wall Street, going down Broadway and ending at Battery Park. The Bail Out the People Movement held a brief rally overlooking the New York Stock Exchange and then joined the UFPJ march as it went by.

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