On 17 September, 5,000 people arrived in the financial district of Manhattan in New York, bearing banners, tents and sleeping bags. They had been drawn in by the idea, originally mooted by the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters, of occupying Wall Street and demanding economic justice. The proposed occupation was described as “a fusion of Tahrir with the acampadas of Spain”, making clear that it was inspired by the Arab Spring, and in particular the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt that brought down president Hosni Mubarak, as well as the radical 15M movement in Spain that has involved over six million Spaniards, and has shaken the country.
In New York, the police denied the would-be occupiers access but, undeterred, they held a people’s assembly at which it was decided to set up camp in nearby Zucotti Park (renamed Liberty Park by the occupiers). At the time of going to press, six weeks later, they’re still there and the occupation has lit a fire which has spread around the world as tens of thousands of people unite to condemn their governments’ economic policies and to call for justice.
In the UK, activists had set up camp in Manchester in early October, and they were soon followed by London where tents were pitched by St Paul’s cathedral after access was blocked to the stock exchange.
At first supportive, St Paul’s soon started exerting moral pressure on the occupiers by saying they had to close the cathedral because of safety concerns and were losing £22,000 a day in revenue as a result. As more and more people arrived, a second camp was started in Finsbury Square nearby. Occupations also sprang up in Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Norwich, Nottingham and Newcastle. In the US, occupations are taking place in many cities including Chicago (where 175 people were arrested as the police tried to clear the site on 15 October, and 130 were arrested the following Sunday), Detroit, Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington DC.
In New York, over 700 people were arrested on Brooklyn Bridge on 1 October. Other occupations have sprung up in Athens, Hong Kong, Manila, Melbourne, Sydney and Tel Aviv.
As of 15 October, there were said to be occupations and protests taking place in over 1,000 cities in 82 countries. Each one is autonomous, but most have collective decision-making, shared work, communal kitchens, teach-ins and actions. Starhawk describes Occupy Oakland thus: “It’s like a small village in front of city hall, with tents crammed together, a big kitchen, a media tent, a library and free school, a long list of meetings for each day, a calendar for the week – really a model of how these things might go.”
On Sunday 9 October, over 2,000 UKUncut protesters (including doctors and nurses) blockaded Westminster Bridge in central London (see left) in a three-and-a-half-hour protest against the health and social care bill. (Organisers claimed over 3,000 protesters.) According to UKUncut, if the bill is passed, hospitals will be effectively privatised. There were no arrests on Westminster bridge, but a group of 64 activists moving off to Lambeth Bridge were held for an hour.