Occupy Wall Street came to Brooklyn today with dozens gathering at Grand Army Plaza to bring the movement to their own borough.
“It’s just time to bring the message to more people—we need to start expanding,” said Brian Merchant, a 28-year-old freelance journalist who was one of about 75 people who showed up to a “general assembly” Thursday night to help organize the Occupy Brooklyn movement.
Kenneth Barrett of Prospect Lefferts Gardens came to today's protest with his wife, Carman, and two children, Kai, 4, and Gabriel, 2.
“I’m concerned about mass unemployment and this austerity that doesn’t seem to apply to investment banks,” he said.
The 32-year-old was laid off from his architecture job in 2009 and was unable to find another position.
“I sent out a ton and ton of resumes and only got two responses,” he said. Finally, he decided to get an MFA in writing, which made him eligible for student loans.
The family is making ends meet by severely cutting back. Carman and the kids have health insurance but Kenneth does not. And luxuries like vacations, cable and eating out are a thing of the past.
“Every expense has to be really thought about,” he said.
Today’s rally was peaceful, without any clashes between the protestors and the some three-dozen police officers at the scene.
Shortly after the 11 a.m. start, when there were only about two dozen people, protesters stood in a circle and shared their reasons for being there. To be heard (since microphones aren’t permitted) the crowd would repeat what speakers said to allow everyone to hear it—a somewhat tedious, but also powerful technique.
As more people gathered around noon, the crowd held signs out to passing cars urging them to honk in solidarity while an ad hoc klezmer band that—when asked gave themselves the name “9th Tenticle” on the spot—entertained the crowd. Later a group created a giant octopus out of blue trash bags.
In the end, the crowd was quite diverse, with parents and babies, middle-aged couples and retirees joining the expected twentysomethings at the circle.
Joy Fields came from Bay Ridge with her husband, Fred, and kids, 2-year-old Fritz and 6-month-old Felix.
“We’re trying to be good people and to be good citizens. And to be a good citizen you try to make things better than they are now ... you don’t defend what is,” she said.
The message of the Brooklyn movement is the same as across the river: that 1 percent control too much wealth and have too much political power.
“The 99 percent has gotten short shrift. The 1 percent, they have not only too much wealth, but undue political influence and they are disrupting the way democracy is supposed to function,” said Merchant, one of the organizers.
Jesse Chanin, 27, a high school English teacher who lives in Fort Greene, said she was moved to come to the protest not just because of the cuts to school funding, but because of her students.
“The way that a lot of my kids and their families are forced to live in this country is unethical in a country with so much wealth,” she said.
To get the message across, some dressed like the cartoon version of the wealthy with top hats and tiaras. Others held makeshift signs written on the backs of pizza boxes flattened cardboard boxes.
Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz stopped by to show support, both for the right of free speech and assembly and for the mission of the movement.
“I share a lot of those sentiments,” he said, citing the disparity of wealth, the struggles of the middle class and the migration of jobs overseas as some of his top concerns.
He said he would support a longer Occupy Wall Street-style occupation in Brooklyn “as long as it is done peacefully and respectfully.”
In the end, Brooklyn's first occupation was relatively short: At about 1:15 p.m. the crowd began to disperse, with a large group heading to join the protest in Washington Square Park.