Occupy Climate Change! Hundreds Blame Capitalism at Flood Wall Street Rally

It didn’t bring the hundreds of thousands of the People’s Climate March the day before, but the Wall Street sit-in Monday was striving for a different impact—and a more radical message.

09.22.14 11:40 PM ET

A day after the largest climate-change protest in history drew an estimated 310,000 people to the streets of Manhattan without a single arrest, the “Flood Wall Street” rally brought a few hundred people out Monday under the slogan “Stop Capitalism. End the Climate Crisis.” Before the Occupy-style march was over, at least two protesters had been taken away in handcuffs.

The flooding of Wall Street, such as it was, took place on a small island fenced off by police barricades in the middle of New York’s Financial District. The assembled protesters staged a sit-in around the famous Wall Street bull, which was protected from the crowd by its own barricades. In the middle of the street, the protesters led a series of songs and chants, using the crowd to echo the messages of various speakers.

Slogans about the demise of capitalism mixed with calls to acknowledge the intersectional impact of “heternormativity” and racism on the issue of climate change. One message was clear: Capitalism is causing environmental ruin and must be stopped to save the planet from devastation.

Inside the barricades, small groups discussed strategies and political philosophy while the cops ringed around them checked their watches and directed traffic. Spectators on the street, mainly local workers on lunch break in the Financial District, stopped to listen and take in the proceedings.

One group of onlookers stood out conspicuously. Dressed professionally but in suits and haircuts too bland to belong to Wall Street traders, four middle-aged white men observed the proceedings from the sidewalk. Two of them wore the same pin on their lapel, which one man, who didn’t give his name, identified as an emblem of the Department of Homeland Security. When pressed about whether they were at the protest in an official capacity for the government, the same man pointed at one protester waving a banner from atop a phone booth and said: “Why are we here? You should ask the guy up there what his cause is.”

Jacob Siegel/The Daily Beast

Minutes later, the man whose cause was in question was on the ground, surrounded by police who dragged him away in handcuffs. According to other protesters who had observed the events, the man had refused an earlier police order to get down from the phone booth, but police had left him alone until he began delivering a speech. He was identified by several people as a member of the International Workers of the World, a radical labor union. One protester, Doug Ferrari from Brooklyn, a 30-year veteran of left-wing politics, said police had returned to order the man off the phone booth after he began speaking, but the man had initially refused and then tried to jump down and escape. Ferrari said the man was tackled  shortly after he hit the ground and quickly cuffed and taken away.

Though some protesters at Monday’s march were reportedly spoiling for a confrontation with police to galvanize supporters, the event was largely peaceful. Chants of “fuck the cops” and “pigs go home” broke out after the phone booth incident but never caught on with the larger crowd. Within 15 minutes of the arrest, most talk had returned to fighting capitalism and protecting the environment from corporate predations.

While Sunday’s People’s Climate March drew big numbers with a populist energy buoyed by the presence of celebrities like “U.N. messenger of peace with a special focus on climate change” Leonardo DiCaprio, its politics were too moderate for many of the protesters who turned out Monday.

Jacob Siegel/The Daily Beast

The difference was clear to Sonia Little, who came from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to attend both climate marches. She came, she said, “because I’m a Mashpee Wampanoag native to this country, and as far as I’m concerned, Wall Street greed has been killing me and my ancestors for 400 years.”

While the big march Sunday was meant to raise awareness about climate change among average people, the focus Monday was “addressing income inequality, greed, corporate corruption, and pollution, because of course corporations are the polluters,” Little said.

The smaller “Flood Wall Street” eschewed the big-tent approach and focused on radical politics and aggressive activism. “These people are a little more attuned, more serious, and in some ways wise in terms of how the system really works,” said Joel Kupferman, comparing Monday’s crowd to the previous day’s march.

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Kupferman himself wasn’t marching on Monday. He was at the protest wearing a bright green hat that marked him and several others in the crowd as members of the National Lawyers Guild who were acting as legal observers to prevent police from interfering with protesters’ rights to free assembly. At 1 p.m., about an hour into the Wall Street sit-in, Kupferman said he hadn’t observed any friction between protesters and police. He described the event as “fairly peaceful,” a positive turn he attributed to the “new regime” under New York’s progressive new mayor, Bill de Blasio.

“It’s significant that I was de Blasio’s legal observer when he got arrested protesting the closure of a firehouse in Brooklyn,” Kupferman said. “He’s got a little bit of empathy and sympathy for people and the right to protest.”

Kupferman said that in addition to the protester who had been stationed on top of the phone booth, he was aware of one other arrest, though not what had caused it.

After a long day of protests with only those two arrests, the situation changed when the police ordered the crowd to disperse as night fell. The organizers of the protest, who did not have a permit for the sit-in, refused to leave and police began to arrest them in mass. As of 8 p.m., an estimated 60 to 80 people had been arrested, according to Nick Pinto, a reporter covering the final hours of the protest.