Gabriel De Los Santos, a veteran of the Occupy Wall Street movement now stretching into its second month, showed up at the first Occupy the Bronx rally at Fordham Plaza last Saturday. He held a hand-written cardboard sign, a replica of dozens he had created and distributed during the past month. It read: “Land of the Free? Hypocrisy.”
Sporting a backwards Suicidal Tendencies baseball cap, sleeveless black Cannibal Corpse T-shirt and a faint wisp of a mustache, De Los Santos is 15-year-old student at Lehman High School who lives just blocks from Fordham Plaza. He was one of close to 100 people who attended the rally — evidence that the Occupy movement is spreading, not only to the outer boroughs, but to locations around the world. Similar Occupy-type rallies took place last Saturday in Chicago, Rome, Sydney, Tokyo and Hong Kong, according to the New York Times.
The movement, which is loosely focused on remedying income inequality for the “99 percent” of Americans who are not rich, has been criticized for lacking a clear objective. But attendees at the Fordham rally, which was initiated by Fordham University students and alumni, weren’t concerned with coming up with a list of demands. They were focused on growing an all-inclusive movement guided by direct, grassroots democracy.
The Occupy movement doesn’t have “leaders,” but they do have “facilitators” who foster dialogue and discussion, by literally using the power of human voices. Everyone at the rally, called a “general assembly” or “GA” in Occupy-speak, was given an opportunity to talk and participate. Speakers took turns and spoke in short bursts, which the rest of the group repeated loudly.
Erik Maldonado, a poet who lives in Kingsbridge and performs under the name Advocate of Wordz, talked about the need to spread the Occupy movement into the Bronx.
“We must occupy space in the Bronx,” he said, pausing to allow for amplification from the crowd, “to let them know we are serious.”
Like many others at the rally, Maldonado didn’t start participating in the movement until Occupy Wall Street was nearly two weeks old. He went just to check it out and found people throwing around a “lot of ideas,” the most important being that the “voice of the people must be heard,” he said.
Maldonado wasn’t concerned with the movement’s lack of definitive answers or demands. The point of the movement, he said, was to create a community out of the entire 99 percent and find common ground that everyone can agree on — then come up with the answers.
A man in his 20s named Ferdinand who has family in the Bronx but mostly stays in East Harlem, said he joined the movement late after hearing about it on the Internet. “At first, I was skeptical,” he said. “I didn’t know if it would be for real. But it is so simple, it is brilliant. People all over the world are involved.”
After passing by Zuccotti Park, the public park near Wall Street where the occupiers have set up a makeshift community, Ferdinand spent a couple of nights there, taking advantage of the free food and working in the community’s library and sanitation departments.
“It just kept getting better and better,” he said.
Elliott Liu, who works at a community garden in the Bronx, says he was inspired to join the movement after seeing police fail to dislodge the occupiers during the first week. He said friends of his — from dishwashers to computer guys — were abuzz with the movement. Liu and others have formed a “People of Color” working group (there are dozens, if not hundreds of working groups within the Occupy movement) and passed out fliers to events the group was hosting.
While the general assembly spoke and worked its way toward a consensus on when they should leave and walk to the train, which they would take down to Zuccotti Park, a group of people handed out Occu(pie) for sustenance.
Maldonado recruited members to a “media team” he had created. “We can’t rely on the major media to cover this correctly,” he said.
Someone told the GA about a rally later that day in Times Square, where dozens would end up being arrested.
Looking on quietly was Fordham University student Louie Valencia who is working on a PhD in history, specifically, the history of peace movements during the 1960s. Valencia was reading in Union Square a couple of weeks earlier, when he saw police aggressively and violently chasing down protesters. Since then, he’s been showing up at Zuccotti Park periodically, occupying space and being part of the movement.
As a Bronx resident, Valencia was pleased to see the movement branching out to his borough. As a student of history, Valencia said the Occupy movement, which started last spring in Tunisia, was “not something that’s passing.” Some 1,700 protests all around the world were scheduled to take place that Saturday, he said. “That’s kind of huge.” As far as he knew, he said it was the “first time this [type of movement] has happened worldwide.”