Occupy the Subway

By Lennin Reyes

Bronx Journal Reporter

At 2:45 p.m. on November 17, six police vehicles were stationed in front of the 161st Street/Yankee Stadium subway station while foot patrols jockeyed for positions, preparing for the Occupy the Subway protest, due to begin at 3:00 p.m.

Occupy the Subway was a citywide protest meant to share the personal stories of the occupiers and people of the community that stand in solidarity with them. The subway protest was one of four events scheduled for the National Day of Action. The plan was to begin the day at 7:00 a.m. with a protest at the New York Stock Exchange, followed by the Occupy the Subway protests, where protesters were to meet at several transportation hubs across New York City. From there, protesters were to converge on Foley Square in City Hall for a rally at 5:00 p.m and take the Brooklyn Bridge by storm for a march there after.

Four Occupy the Subway protests were planned in the Bronx at Fordham Road, at 3rd Avenue and 138th Street in Mott Haven, at 163rd Street and Southern Boulevard in Hunts Point, and at 161st Street and River Avenue at Yankee Stadium. At Yankee Stadium, about 20 protesters showed up. The rest of the sites had a similar turn out. Some were unimpressed with the small crowd. “I am surprised at the abysmal turnout,” Columbia University journalist Laura Keller said.

Others disagreed. “Any turnout is better than nothing,” said Cary Goodman of the 161st Street Business Improvement District. “However, I feel that politicians should be joining us in the protest.”

Regardless of the turnout, the Bronxites took to the subways and made their cases adamantly to the rest of the passengers. As they moved from the Bronx to Manhattan, they shared the personal stories that brought them to the Occupy movement. After each person spoke, the next was ready to step up and share through the peoples’ microphone. Once downtown at the Wall Street station of the 4 train, they emerged to a mob of people congratulating them on their arrival & directing them to a jam packed Foley Square for the biggest OWS rally yet. The police estimated upwards of 32,000 people were at the rally including students, workers and the unemployed.

The day before, Latino leaders held a press conference on the steps of Bronx City Hall to voice their support of the OWS movement and to encourage Latinos to get involved.

Ulises Gonzales, 30, a substitute lecturer at Lehman College, echoed that sentiment.

“Tienen que organizerse major,” said Gonzales. “Todos sabemo que estamos en problemas, que hay demasiadas ventajas para los ricos. Es importante que los latinos se involucren mas. Somos la mayoria de esta cuidad si queremos que nos hagan caso, hay que estar ahi.”

“They have to organize themselves better. We all know that we’re in problems, that the rich have too many advantages. It’s important for Latinos to get involved. We make up a majority of this city. If we want people to listen to us, we need to be there.”

Some of the protesters were from the Retail Action Program, a group asking for better relations between merchants and customers, along with improved wages for workers. Others, such as Minerva Morales, were from the Coalition of Educational Justice. “There are 40 kids in each class,” said Morales. “There have been cuts in extracurricular activities and after-school programs. Our group hopes to restore these programs for the 2012 budget.”

On campus reactions were mixed to the subway event and the OWS movement in general.

Professor Martin Muntzel, who teaches chemistry at Lehman College, said the subway protest could prove effective, even if disruptive.  “If there’s a little bit of bad behavior mixed in with a little extra civil disobedience and some arrests, it gets more media attention,” said Muntzel. “And, they need all the media attention that they can get.”

“To me it’s getting played out, said Jessica Bernstain, 23. “At first I really supported what they were doing, but now I think they’re being a nuisance to NYC.”

“OWS is a necessary nuisance and has only gotten stronger due to the actions of Mayor Bloomberg,” said Melina Rodriguez, 22, an office manager at WHCS (Hunter College Radio).

“I think people should understand that even if their commute is disrupted for a day, the greater cause is what is more important,” said Rodriguez. “These protesters put themselves out there at the risk of being arrested or injured for everyone in this country who is undervalued by our government and the corporations who shadow it. So while many go to work and become frustrated or upset because their commute is 10 minutes longer, they should see the overall good that can come from this.”

Some were discouraged by the low turnout at 161st.

Many of those interviewed concurred with the 1% versus the 99% premise of the OWS movement.

“I agree with the protest and the march against banks and major corporations,” said Armando Matos. “People have had enough with the corruption in the financial world. It’s like corporations are dictating government policies with the help of politicians. The spread of Occupy Wall Street will create a necessary tension and spread the need to have a voice for the disadvantaged in the lower and middle class. ”

The ever-widening gap between rich and poor is detrimental to the livelihood of many Americans, said Melina Rodriguez. “It’s nice to see something that counteracts the Tea Party. It does have its weak ends, considering that they don’t have a concrete list of demands. It has put in people’s minds and mouths issues surrounding our government, our economy and the general instability of our world. Americans seem to live in a bubble. Well, the bubble has holes now and everything is disrupted.”

Others agreed with OWS motives, but not the methods.

“Sure, they are rich and could afford to pay more taxes, but they way you’re doing it, going into people’s work or messing with their jobs, it’s counter-productive,” said Robert Webster, a Lehman student and Bronx resident. “That’s like asking somebody in front of the line if you could get in front of them. It’s not going to happen that way. You’re going to have to wait your turn.”

It shows unity amongst the people and it is a good start, said Joseph Moscat, 27, a mass communications major at Lehman College.

“A lot of the people right now that are protesting, they have a place to stay and eventually they might find a job,” he said. “I understand they want something better. They want more. But there should be movements like this for people who have nothing at all.”

Additional reporting by Phineas Azcuy, Angelina Feliciano, Erica Roche, Alison Greaney, Laura Guerrero, Heather Mangal

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