‘Occupy’ the subway! Anti-Wall Street protesters go underground

‘Occupy’ the subway! Anti-Wall Street protesters go underground
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

Who needs Zuccotti?

Occupy Wall Street took its incendiary movement underground at two subway stations in Brooklyn last Thursday as part of a huge day of protests celebrating the two-month anniversary of the first settlement at a once-obscure Lower Manhattan park.

Anti-Wall Street protesters gathered at the Broadway Junction and Borough Hall subway stops at around 3 pm to decry economic inequality but also to urge surprised bystanders to join them.

“We are the 99 percent,” the hundred or so protesters chanted as they marched from Cadman Plaza to the Manhattan-bound 4/5 platform. “So are you!”

Protesters filled up three cars on the empty train, using the “human mic” to share personal stories of economic hardship to win over surprised straphangers who had not planned to be a part of the day’s protests.

“I have owned a business for five years, but I am forced to pay over a $1,000 a month to insure my family,” yelled a protester to the captive audience somewhere between Borough Hall and Bowling Green. “And it prevents us from saving any money. We live paycheck to paycheck. We want health care!”

Brooklynites supportive of the movement tolerated the interruption and the tight squeeze.

“I picked the right train!” said a woman who boarded the 4 train to find it full of protesters. “I believe in what they’re doing.”

For some, the subway protest was a rude intrusion into what is one of the city’s most hallowed rituals — the daily subway commute.

“I’m not so happy to see these people.” said Olivia Tufo from Williamsburg, who not only had difficulty getting to her waitressing job in Lower Manhattan, but then didn’t get much business once she got there. “I made 20 bucks today.”

Lily Turner-Carpenter of Flatbush, a preschool teacher, joins the rally before heading underground with the protest.
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

But the occupiers insist that discomfort is part of the plan for change.

“Inconvenience is a small thing compared to changing the country,” said Noah Fischer, an activist who’s started speaking out loud in subway cars on his own about Occupy Wall Street on his way over to Zuccotti Park from where he lives in Prospect Heights. “There are some moments in this that may be uncomfortable and that’s OK.”

Organizers also said that the subway protest is part of the movement’s attempts to radically redefine the notion of public space.

“The subway is usually filled with people who aren’t talking to each other,” said Fischer. “We need to break this silence — the subway is a public forum.”

The occupiers did not actually shut down subway lines or stations: actually the NYPD came the closest to doing that, barricading off a few entrances and exits near where the protesters exited in Manhattan.

The police made no Occupy Wall Street-related arrests in the subway system last Thursday, according to an NYPD spokesperson, but more than 250 people — including Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) — were arrested in other protests.

The subways may prove to be a viable place to congregate and protest, activists said, as the movement becomes more mobile after Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD ended the occupation of Zuccotti Park in the wee hours of last Tuesday morning.

“Come December, January, February — it’s going to all be about the subway,” said Fischer. “It’s a place for the public to gather all year round. It’s the 99 percent. And it’s warm.”

— with Alfred Ng

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. Follow him at twitter.com/from_where_isit.

Protesters hold a rally inside the Broadway Junction subway station in Bushwick.
Community Newspaper Group / Alfred Ng