As the Occupy Wall Street protests enter their fourth week, demonstrators on Tuesday took their message uptown, marching through Manhattan’s tony Upper East Side on a route designed to take them past the apartment buildings where some of New York’s most prominent billionaires own homes.
Several hundred protesters—and a seemingly equal number of reporters, photographers, and television cameras—started on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue before marching and chanting their way up Park Avenue. The march was organized by Strong Economy For All, a coalition of union and community groups; United NY; and the Working Families Party.
The protest was reportedly in the works before anti-Wall Street demontsrators descended on Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan last month. But the march was done in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street and capitalized on the momentum and interest generated by that movement, with protesters from lower Manhattan, who call themselves the “99 percent,” joining a tour to see how the other “1 percent” lives.
But where the Wall Street protesters have been criticized for being fuzzy about what they were demanding, Tuesday’s march was, in large part, about a very specific issue—New York's so-called millionaires' tax, a 2 percent levy set to expire in December. “New York State is about to give a tax cut to the richest of the rich,” Michael Kink, the executive director of Strong Economy for All, told the assembled crowd before the march began. “This tax cut can’t happen.”
Nearby, demonstrators carried printed signs with MoveOn.org logos and slogans like “school budgets get slashed to increase their stash” while others held aloft hand-drawn cardboard signs with messages like “We will take our country back” and “You greedy rat bastards, you sold our country down the river!”
Setting off shortly before 1 p.m., the marchers charted a path that took them to the apartment buildings of several the city’s wealthiest residents, including News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch, activist oil magnate David Koch, New York Private Bank & Trust CEO Howard Milstein, hedge fund manager John Paulson and JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. Fact sheets handed out by organizers noted the net worth of each of those men and the benefits they’ll get when the tax law expires at the end of the year.
“We’re visiting different billionaires on the Upper East Side and saying that instead of cutting funding for schools and health care and infrastructure, we should be making sure that everyone pays their fair share,” said one of the protesters, David Bates.
As they strolled up Park Avenue in fits and starts, some demonstrators chanted now-familiar slogans while, further back, a jazz band played as people sang along, “Occupy, shut it down, New York is a people’s town!” Throngs of police, in uniforms and in suits, made sure the protesters didn’t spill into the streets or disrupt traffic along the route too much. The New York Police Department said last week that it has spent $2 million on overtime since the protests began last month.
Even as the Occupy Wall Street movement grows and spreads, some of the protesters expressed concern that joining forces with unions, community groups, and other organizers will distort their original message, as inchoate as it may have been to some.
“I’m afraid that when you get the unions involved and all these other people involved they start to take it over and have their own corrupt political agendas,” said Kenneth Goldberg, a photographer who said he’s been with Occupy Wall Street since the beginning.
Bovary Taritas, an Occupy protester from Indianapolis, agreed. “I definitely feel that the movement is in danger of that type of thing happening. I think that politicians and some of the special interest groups, like MoveOn.org for instance—these can delegitimize what it is that we are doing,” said Taritas. “Occupy Wall Street is about the fact that our government has failed us and it is no longer a true democracy anymore. Power has become something that people can buy.” That message, she said, has helped the movement take hold in other cities across the country.
For others along the route, the protests and chants represented something much less weighty. “There’s never a dull moment in New York,” said Patrick Meyer, a doorman at 750 Park Avenue, as the crowd passed by. “This is a little excitement to break up my monotony.”