Flood Wall Street exceeded organizers expectations, with over 3000 people shutting down Broadway between Exchange place and the iconic Wall Street Bull for eight hours just one day ahead of the 2014 UN Climate meeting.
On Monday, moments before about 3,000 Flood Wall Street protesters stepped off from Battery Park at the Southern tip of Manhattan for what was sure to be a more raucous and less predictable affair that the overwhelming positive People’s Climate March on Sunday, I asked Adam Clayton-Muller of Idle No More what was essential for society to effectively address climate change.
“The root problem,” Thomas-Muller told me “is Capitalism. We are popularizing the fact that we are having a conversation about the radial redistribution of land and wealth on Mother Earth and I think Flood Wall Street has an opportunity to use this as a global teaching moment about that reality.”
Like many Flood Wall Street participants, Andy Bichlbaum of The Yes Men had conflicting feelings about the Peoples’ Climate March, telling me: “I found it a little disturbing that all these people think they are doing something by showing up for the march. It’s good. It gets attention. But if that is where it ends – if that is all there is, then it’s useless.”
Bichlbaum, like many, was at the Flood Wall street event to support non-violent direct action and civil disobedience, telling me that he was prepared to get arrested if the circumstances seemed right. Many in Battery Park, at least in the early hours of the day when the march set off, shared that sentiment.
Tim DeChristopher, who served nearly 2 years in prison for the act of disrupting the auction of public lands in Utah to oil and gas companies and whose story was made into the documentary Bidder 70 told me the power of civil disobedience is in “it’s powerful for creating tensions in society that can cause leaders to actually address a crisis. I think it is also powerful as an educational tool; facts and figures don’t necessarily motivate a lot of people, but when they see people putting themselves in harms way they have a genuine interest in wondering why.”
And so the march set off. An unanswered question lingering in the air was how the NYPD would react. There is after all, a new Mayor in charge (some have even called De Blasio the “Occupy Mayor”).
A tactic like taking the street that had, during the height of the Occupy movement, resulted in police physically attacking and arresting protesters, resulted in little more than a shrug on Monday. The NYPD (as long on no one went near the charging bull or tried to go down Wall Street) seemed content to let the protesters take over Broadway.
In meetings in preparation for the Flood Wall Street event, there was discussion amongst activists willing to get arrested that focused on seizing opportunities to take space, to climb over the barricades- to “rise and flow like water” is how organizer Lisa Fithian put it, and to do so with purpose, non violently, and knowing it would in all likelihood mean one were to get arrested.
For whatever reason the moment to rise up like the water and surge onto Wall Street did not happen in the early afternoon. By 4pm, with the crowd starting to thin, a small group attempted to make a breach, only to be turned back with the usual combination of barricades, chemical spray and fists.
As day turned into night, 102 remained (including a polar Bear and at least two superheroes), defying a police order to evacuate, and were arrested.
Kevin Zeese, an organizer with Popular Resistance, summed up the march and the flood this way: “It really is classic to have hundreds of thousands showing the development of national consensus on Sunday; and then 10% of that number taking it to the streets and mobilizing. That is exactly what we need – on a larger scale – to win. National consensus and a small percentage mobilizing.”
One does not have to dismiss the march as unimportant or irrelevant. Headlines and public discussion a massive scale are important, as is a watershed moment for world leaders to point to as evidence that consensuses on the issue is sealed.
However, without more and more people putting their bodies on the line like the 102 heroes arrested during the Flood Wall Street actions, you can fill tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow with marches and parades and it will be full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing.