Occupy Wall Street Takes the Upper East Side

Fifth Avenue at number 838 is a massive building, overlooking the southeast corner of Central Park. Blocks from the world-famous Plaza Hotel, the only people likely to pass by this block are extremely wealthy. See, New York is a de facto segregated city, by race, by income and by power status. No one who lives on this block or any of the blocks near it is poor, middle class, upper middle class, or even quite well off. The people who live on this block are all extremely rich.

Many of them acquire their wealth on a stock market that yields the biggest returns while people in other neighborhoods, perhaps in other cities or states or countries, suffer starvation and misery to generate profits for bosses. But this does not compel the tenants of 838 Fifth Avenue to change their building's façade, where the words from Mark 12:31 are engraved: “LOVE THY NEIGHBOR AS THYSELF.” Perhaps they mean “neighbor” in a very immediate sense. In any case, the irony was not lost on the people who stopped outside the building Tuesday and chanted those five words back to the imposing stone wall.

Roughly 500 protesters, their chants and signs mirroring those deployed by the growing Occupy Wall Street movement, took to the streets on Manhattan's Upper East Side, home to many of the finance and media plutocrats the movement seeks to hold to account for the ruination of America's economy and politics.

The group, diverse in ethnicity, age and organizational affiliation, chanting, indignant and demanding justice, must surely have looked strange to passersby, who are accustomed to encountering primarily visitors to the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, along, of course, with the denizens of the buildings on these streets. Here, the “and so are you” rejoinder to the “we are the 99 percent chance” becomes obsolete.

The marchers were greeted along the way by friendly faces, in the figure of the building services personnel, doormen and construction workers in the private employ of the 1 percent, some nodding along with the groups' drumming, some raising fists in solidarity and one even shouting, “We love you!” from a second story window to marchers passing below.

The group stopped outside the apartment buildings of, among others, News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch; oil tycoon David Koch; and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase & Co., which recently donated $4.6 million to the New York City Police Foundation (the New York Police Department lately having employed brutal tactics against Occupy Wall Street protesters), a move emblematic of the unsavory force the interests of extreme wealth exert on the functions of government that is the target of Occupy Wall Street's ire.

Increasingly, though, Wall Street is not the only anti-corporatist occupation of note. The Upper East Side march came a mere matter of hours after 100 protesters at Occupy Boston were arrested, having defied the Boston Police Department's orders to vacate their encampment. The Boston Police Department apparently misunderstands the concept of an “occupation,” but no less than it understands the stimulative effect official backlash has on the protests.

It's difficult to imagine what “the revolution” would look like, if not for thousands of nonviolent protesters disrupting business as usual across more and more cities across the United States. No longer is “the movement” a massive anti-war march every few months, as it was in the early to mid 2000s or black block antagonists making noise in front of summits at is was in the late 1990s. Now, in 2011, it's nearly constant, unrelenting occupations, rallies, marches and agitation in the very places where the plutocrats work and live. And far from looking as though it's going to drop off, the phenomenon is growing.

The American ruling class would do well to consider the “No justice, no peace” threat as serious, because, for the first time in a long time, it is.