OCCUPY LONG ISLAND
The same day thousands of protesters swarmed Times Square, a steady stream of motorists passing the intersection of Hicksville Road and Sunrise Highway in Massapequa blew their horns. Not because of the usual gridlock, but in support of about 100 protesters dancing, chanting and lining the road holding signs like “honks for jobs” and “honk to tax millionaires.”
Simultaneously, about 70 miles away in Sag Harbor, a crowd about the same size gathered around the windmill at Long Wharf for what was dubbed “Occupy The Hamptons,” the first Long Island protest evoking the Hooverville on Wall Street.
“Jobs not cuts!” they chant in Massapequa to the beat of a lone tom-tom drum, making a festive show of their First Amendment rights for passing rubberneckers.
“I taught [English as a Second Language] students about the great American way of life and I’ve seen it erode over the past 15 years,” says Lisa Oldendorp a retired teacher with MoveOn.org’s Nassau Council, who organized the roadside rally and beat that drum.
“It’s time they tax Wall Street and tax millionaires so the president can create jobs,” she adds.
Job creation, taxing the rich, supporting the occupiers and opposing the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling that legalized unlimited corporate donations to political campaigns were among the common themes at the rallies on LI and in NYC. There were some common attendees as well.
John, a teacher and veteran who declined to give his last name, said he was among the estimated 700 arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Oct. 1—the event ended the media blackout on the then-two-week-old Occupy Wall Street. He spent 23 hours in jail afterward, although his experience was admittedly atypical since he wasn’t carrying identification.
“Until we know who buys the senator’s lunches, nothing can change,” he says, staying on message with his sign that read “End corporate personhood now!” Despite his arrest, he’s since rallied at Zuccotti Park weekly.
Likewise, at Occupy the Hamptons, a young man from East Hampton who had been living in Zuccotti returned home for the day to help get the rally rolling. The organizers who gave the initial push say it will return Sunday, Oct. 23, laying the groundwork for a weekly general assembly moving forward.
“We’re taking a very organic approach,” says Ty Wenzel, a Web designer and author from Springs—currently penning a novel based on a Turkish revolutionary—who helped organize the Sag Harbor event. “It’s so corrupt here it’s almost transparently laughable, yet everyone acts like everything’s fine,” she adds, pointing to the 2009 multi-million-dollar scandal in East Hampton that has left the township reeling financially and forced the last supervisor’s resignation.
But Sag Harbor and Massapequa is just the beginning of a local movement. Facebook groups have popped up for an Occupy Mineola event on Oct. 22, Occupy Mastic-Shirley on Oct. 25 and Occupy Levittown, which is online only. Two longtime activists are hoping to harness that energy under one umbrella: Occupy Long Island.
“We are going to help to organize all of the college students on Long Island and help them to decide for themselves exactly what it is they’d like to manifest,” says Peter Maniscalco, a co-organizer in that plan with fellow activist Scott Carlin, of Hampton Bays. “Being that we’re organizers we can serve as mentors.”
Maniscalco, whose activism goes back to protesting the Vietnam War in the ‘60s, occupied one controversial sliver of LI long before it was cool. He camped on the beach overlooking the Long Island Sound in the ‘80s during the fight to close the defunct Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant.
Two days after the rallies on Sunrise Highway and on the East End, an estimated 3,000 union members rallied on the lawn and steps of the Theodore Roosevelt Legislative and Executive Building in Mineola. Their cause was more inspired by comrades in Wisconsin, Ohio and Maine, but some labor leaders aligned with the Wall Street occupiers.
There were some borrowed chants, such as “This is what democracy looks like!” although this protest was far more focused on the issue of the Nassau County budget and the draconian proposals to fill its projected $300 million gap by Oct. 30. Protesters from across the labor spectrum were riled by County Executive Ed Mangano’s pending legislation that would allow him to break union contracts.
One union leader even suggested a type of “Occupy the Nassau Legislature” to get their point across.
“The CSEA is ready to get our sleeping bags, bring our bottles of water and our bag lunch and sit in on this legislature,” declares Nick LaMorte, the Long Island regional president for the Civil Service Employees Association. “If that’s what it takes.”
But where will it all end?
“I think it’s premature to ask where it’s going,” says Ron Kuby, a well-known NYC attorney who is representing Kaylee Dedrick, who was pepper-sprayed on Sept. 24 by an NYPD deputy inspector while she was protesting peacefully, and Felix Rivera-Pitre, who was allegedly “sucker-punched” by a deputy inspector on Oct. 14. Kuby is following the footsteps of his mentor, famed attorney William Kunstler, who defended “the Chicago Eight” after the riots at the Democratic National Convention in 1968, and joined his firm in 1982.
“In the 1960s the anti-war protests had one demand: end the war and bring them home,” says Kuby. “That was very easy to demand but very hard to achieve.”
“Right now it’s a movement. It’s not a set of programs. What happens to it, where it goes, we will just have to see. Already they have utterly changed the national conversation in one month. That, in and of itself, is an amazing achievement.”