As the group of Occupy Wall Street marchers wound their way through lower Manhattan Monday morning, one thing was clear: one year later a movement born out of economic frustration and the hope for radical change had become, in New York at least, one of the occasional inconveniences of daily life.
“It’s an inconvenience,” said one man who worked at One Battery Park Plaza as he watched the protesters go by on a cigarette break. He wouldn’t give his name. “They’re always walking through — they should get jobs.”
The movement has settled into a routine, and a core group of activists turn up every few weeks and have become something of a fixture of life in New York.
Gone are the throngs of frustrated protesters who, for a while at least, captured the imagination of much of the country in 2011, replaced by a rag tag group that residents of New York’s financial district find more irritating – or even entertaining – than revolutionary.
Eric, a tech company employee who lives near Wall Street, said that he’d run into the protesters early that morning while walking his dog. But he doesn’t mind their occasional presence in his neighborhood.
“I don’t know, it’s fun to watch,” he said.
Like the failed efforts to draw massive crowds of protesters at last month’s political conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, Monday’s sparsely attended anniversary march never had a chance of living up to the hype.
Occupiers began the day around 7 a.m., splintering off into groups all around Wall Street while not gaining any access to Wall Street itself, or completing the “people’s wall” (protesters sitting in the street) that had been planned. Barricades prevented the occupiers from getting close to the New York Stock Exchange, and there was heavy police presence throughout the area, with police far outnumbering the protesters.
The disparate groups came together about an hour and a half later at One New York Plaza, where one member of the Tactical working group addressed the audience.
“Mic check! We feel the reason that kind of sucked is because we were doing exactly what we were training not to do,” he said.
“What we just did was get in a big clump with the cops on our ass. That’s okay! We can learn!”
Even smaller groups started to splinter out across the neighborhood again.
Some involved were disappointed; two teenage boys could be overheard muttering to each other on Pearl Street about how “there’s strength in numbers” and “I don’t think it’s a good idea to split up.”
Still, the occupiers haven’t fully lost the capacity to create a stir in the Financial District — according to National Lawyer’s Guild lawyer Gideon Oliver, 70 were arrested over the course of the morning, and four wheelchair activists were arrested in a prime photo-ready moment after trying to block traffic on Broadway with their wheelchairs.
“Insofar as it’s disparate, it’s hard to ascertain how many people are out,” said Sherman Jackson, a member of Occupy’s press team who was “in disguise” in a suit. “I would have hoped for more. We were practically outnumbered by cops.”
But “I can’t say that I‘m disappointed,” Jackson said. “We got what we got. Our tactics today are different from what we’ve had other times.”
Daylight, a chicken farmer from Camroden, New York, who didn’t want to give her last name, said that it “seems peaceful” and that it didn’t matter how big the crowd was; “I think people know that something really bad is coming in the next few years.”
“This whole capitalism thing, they’re just cannibalizing the land we need to grow our food,” Daylight said.