For the past three weeks, the NYC General Assembly, a growing coalition of activists, has occupied Liberty Plaza, just a few blocks north of Wall Street. Their stated goal is to confront the gross economic inequalities between the top 1% in this country (who are wealthy) and everyone else. During the nonviolent occupation and street marches, activists have been subject to direct police actions, including the use of mace and mass arrests.
Possibly due to corporate influence on mass media, the Wall Street occupation was not widely reported. Questionable decisions made by NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and the dissemination of pictures and recordings of police actions against the non-violent protesters made Occupy Wall Street international news. Occupations are now taking place in cities across the country.
Occupy Wall Street’s sustained protests have led to the biggest actions to date: a mass rally and march from City Hall to Wall Street. The NYC General Assembly was joined by large unions, elected officials and activists.
Mayor Bloomberg responded to the growing occupation by stating: “The protesters are protesting against people who make $40-50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. Those are the people that work on Wall Street or on the finance sector. We need the banks, if the banks don’t go out and make loans we will not come out of our economy problems, we will not have jobs. And so anything we can do to responsibly help the banks do that, encourage them to do that is what we need. I think we spend much too much time worrying about how we got into problems as to how we go forward. Also, we always tend to blame the wrong people. We blame the banks. They were part of it, but so were Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae and Congress.”
Mayor Bloomberg, in all his finite wisdom, seems to have forgotten taxpayers bailed out Wall Street with $700 billion during the waning days of the Bush 43 administration. He also seems to have forgotten his own role going back to 2003 when in response to constituent complaints, the City Council passed legislation restricting the city from using its $60 billion budget to do business with financial institutions that engaged in questionable practices. Bloomberg vetoed that legislation. The City Council overrode the veto. Bloomberg took the City Council to court and won. In addition, average Wall Street salaries range between $90,000 and $235,000, not $50,000.
NYC General Assembly takes guidance for their nonviolent direct actions from Gandhi, who led his fellow countrymen to confront British control of India, and Martin Luther King. It is King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” that NYC General Assembly stands on: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. . . The purpose of our direct-action program is to create a situation so crisis-packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation.”
NYC General Assembly has issued a list of demands. They demand that Congress pass HR 1489 (“Return to Prudent Banking Act”) that reinstates many provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. Glass-Steagall was repealed by the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 which effectively removed the separation that previously existed between investment banking which issued securities and commercial banks that accepted deposits. The deregulation also removed conflict of interest prohibitions between investment bankers serving as officers of commercial banks. According to the list of demands, “Most economists believe this repeal directly contributed to the severity of the Financial Crisis of 2007-2011 by allowing Wall Street investment banking firms to gamble with their depositors’ money that was held in commercial banks owned or created by the investment firms.”
The NYC General Assembly demands that Congress use its authority and oversight to ensure appropriate federal agencies fully investigate and prosecute “Wall Street criminals.”
The General Assembly is calling for Congress to enact legislation to “protect our democracy” by reversing the effects of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision “which essentially said corporations can spend as much as they want on elections.” This legislation should also “reestablish the public airwaves in the U.S. so that political candidates are given equal time for free at reasonable intervals in daily programming during campaign seasons.”
The NYC General Assembly wants Congress to pass the Buffett Rule on fair taxation “so the rich and corporations pay their fair share and close corporate tax loopholes. They want Congress to completely revamp the Securities and Exchange Commission. They call for Congress to pass specific and effective laws limiting the influence of lobbyists and eliminate the practice of “lobbyists writing legislation that ends up on the floor of Congress.” They want Congress to pass “Revolving Door Legislation” eliminating the ability of former government regulators going to work for corporations that they once regulated, as well as enforce strict judicial standards of conduct in matters concerning conflicts of interest.
Finally, the NYC General Assembly wants the elimination of “Personhood” legal status for corporations. They explain the problem this way: “The 14th amendment was supposed to give equal rights to African-Americans. It said you ‘can’t deprive a person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.’ Corporation lawyers wanted corporations to have more power so they basically said ‘corporations are people.’ Amazingly, between 1890 and 1910 there were 307 cases brought before the court under the 14th amendment. 288 of these brought by corporations and only 19 by African-Americans. 600,000 people were killed to get rights for people and then judges applied those rights to capital and property while stripping them from people.”
The NYC General Assembly was first convened by a collection of activists who had been involved in New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts. That coalition of students and union workers had just finished a three-week occupation near City Hall called Bloombergville protesting the mayor’s plans for budget cuts and layoffs. The NYC General Assembly states, “no one person or group is running the Wall Street occupation entirely.”