Holding signs, shouting chants and standing in solidarity with other Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the country and globe, about 100 Long Islanders rallied outside the entrance to Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove Friday afternoon, perhaps the busiest shopping day of the year, protesting against corporate greed, consumerism and big banks’ hold on the U.S. economy in a gathering dubbed “Occupy Black Friday” by organizers.
Some passing motorists honked in support of the protest, while others zoomed past, eager to take advantage of Black Friday sales. Children, grandparents, concerned residents, union members and workers from a nearby Verizon store joined a consortium of various peace and justice groups at the rally, organized by the Suffolk Peace Network and occupying the south entrance of the mall at Route 25 and Middle Country Road for several hours, beginning at noon.
The protest was one of dozens taking place across the United States and in several other countries on Black Friday, a day when retailers offer discounts and bargains for consumers in the hopes of increased sales leading into the holiday shopping season.
“Show me what democracy looks like!” boomed supporters, echoing a popular call-and-response chant borrowed from Occupy Wall Street protestors at Zuccotti Park, the longtime encampment of the movement in Lower Manhattan, which police recently stripped of its tents.
“This is what democracy looks like!” they yelled, along with “We are the ninety-nine percent!”
Though many of the participating groups hold rallies throughout the year, explains Susan Perretti, a Setauket resident, local activist and member of the North Country Peace Group, Black Friday has significant importance.
“Part of the Occupy message is to stop feeding the corporate beast,” she tells the Press from the rally. “People come and spend all their money and ring up their credit cards, and then afterward s they’re suffering, because they can’t pay the bills. And they’re trying to decide whether they pay their rent or their health insurance.”
“This is a good time for us to be talking about it,” she continues. “[As] they’re beginning this holiday push.”
Longtime Setauket resident and host of WUSB 90.1 FM’s “Lunch on Thursday” radio talk show Bill McNulty, also in attendance, agrees.
“[This] is a gathering of the 99 percent,” he says. “We’ve assembled on this day because it is Black Friday, when the population sort of goes berserk over what the empire offers, mainly material goods. It’s the 99 percent that has been unable—because of job loss, foreclosures and the collapse of the financial markets and all the rest of it—to satisfy its material needs.”
Not only against corporate greed, he McNulty adds, the rally is also being held to proliferate messages about ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ending the foreclosures of homes and promoting tighter controls and regulations on Wall Street and the stock market, among other causes.
“The beauty of this movement is that it’s uniting people across all sorts of life: those who have been foreclosed, students who graduate with huge loans and no jobs and the working people, whose wages have been flat since the 70s,” he continues. “All of these people are here and we’re acting in a way, we hope, which will keep this movement going—because the politicians aren’t listening. They are elected by us, but don’t serve us, so there has to be another pressure, another force exerted, to promote… systemic change that will promote the well-being of the population, the 99 percent.”
“We know that it is corporate greed that is at the basis of it all,” explains Charlotte Koons, 77, a member of Code Pink Long Island, her voice drowned out by the intermittent honking of passing cars. “We changed the dialogue, and that’s what we’re here to get people to understand.”
“It’s wonderful,” she adds. “It’s a great day. I’m 77 years old and just so hopeful. I’m going to be very hopeful.”