Letter: To the ULU Marxists from a participant in the Occupy Wall Street movement

A letter from a student at New York University (NYU), Cecillia Gingerich, who was a member of the University of London Marxist Society while studying in London in the spring of 2010. She is now a participant in Occupy Wall Street and in her letter gives a first hand account of her experience of the movement from the beginning.

She describes how she narrowly escaped the mass arrest of the 700 protestors on October 1st and the impact that had on the movement in the following days. Now the unions have joined the protestors on Wall Street, along with walk-outs from high schools and colleges, which Cecilia has participated with students from her own university. This article contains footage from a special General Assembly held in Washington Square.

To: The Members of the University of London Marxist Society,

It has been twenty-three days since the group known as Occupy Wall Street established an encampment in New York City’s financial district. While it began when a couple hundred youth who, unwilling to accept a future of indefinite unemployment and debt, decided to occupy a park near Wall Street, the movement has since grown in size and diversity. With similar occupations arising in cities across the nation and the endorsement of many prominent labor unions, both the media and federal government are finding it increasingly difficult to ignore these democratic demonstrations of discontent.

Occupy Wall Street A

My first physical encounter with the movement occurred on September 24th, one week after the occupation began. I came upon a rally of protesters in Union Square who had marched up from Wall Street, and watched in horror as only minutes later their peaceful protest dissolved in chaos and violent arrests. It was clear from the incident that the management of the New York City Police Department did not sympathize with the protest, and it led me to suspect imminent conflict when I witnessed the same officers gathering plastic handcuffs before a march the following week. Only later did I discover that I had evaded the mass arrest of over seven hundred protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge by mere minutes.

However, the police department’s use of excessive force only served to draw attention to the movement, and soon thousands of people were attending daily General Assemblies in New York and other cities. The primary criticism of the movement shifted to its lack of a singular demand. The mainstream media delighted in reporting on the “confusion” of the protesters, providing lists of their requests ranging from the end of foreclosures to the end of the financial sector as a whole. Yet to a Marxist—and indeed it seems to the majority of protesters—it was obvious that what was being collectively objected to was the system itself: capitalism, and all of its consequences. The term “class warfare” began to resurface, and the protesters’ most popular chant, “We are the ninety-nine percent!”, suggests a growing class consciousness that has been absent in the nation for decades.

Occupy Wall Street BStill there remains room for leadership and increased organization. This void was partially addressed on October 5th, when university students and labor unions from across New York City participated in a solidarity rally by the tens of thousands. Students staged a late afternoon walk-out from classes, with the contingent from my own private university consisting of over a thousand participants. I was pleasantly surprised by the event’s organization, which clearly identified the need to combine the student and labor movements. Our foremost banner read “Students and Labor Unite!”. Tomorrow [Tuesday October 11th], a group of students from my university will help to keep that relationship alive by joining local strikers on their picket line.

Yesterday, an Egyptian man named Mohammed spoke to a crowd of a couple thousand at a special General Assembly held in Washington Square Park [See video below]. He had participated in the Egyptian revolution last spring, and called now for the end to “capitalist domination”. While the future of the movement remains uncertain, I cannot help but be hopeful. At one point in his speech Mohammed quoted Karl Marx, stating that we “have nothing to lose but our chains.” As I recall those words being repeated around me in a “human microphone” comprised of thousands of voices, I am excited to see what the future may bring.

To the Arab Spring, European Summer, and American Fall!

In Solidarity,

Cecilia Gingerich