Wall Street's unwelcome warriors hang on to protest
- 23 September 2011
- From the section Business
They are the kind of people who would normally find no reason to linger in New York's financial district - people wearing hooded tops, biker jackets and plaid shirts - but for a week they have been camping there.
All are anti-Wall Street protesters, but with barricades and swarms of police officers in front of the New York Stock Exchange the closest they can get to their target is Liberty Street, a good three streets away.
An online activist group called Adbusters organised the gathering and the word spread through social media.
With attention focused sharply on the financial markets and many US citizens suffering hardships undreamed of in the 1980s and 1990s, campaigners thought they could pull in thousands to join them but although the campaign - broadly known as "Occupy Wall Street" - has attracted people from thousands of miles away, only about 50 people are currently involved.
The small numbers have not dampened the group's enthusiasm - but the weather has.
"When it rains, people go home," said Luke Richards, one of the few who has been a part of the group from the beginning.
On the ground alongside their camp, the group has an array of signs spelling out their disparate goals.
They include "Tax the rich", "Another American against corporate greed" and "Peace".
Among those the appeal attracted was at least one man there for personal reasons.
"My family was directly affected by the floating interest rate loans that a lot of Wall Street banks extended," said Jay, a 22-year-old dairy worker from Vermont. "They lost their house because of that."
He has been a part of the protest since the beginning, which he hopes will make financial institutions take responsibility.
Those who have weathered this week's rains in New York are clearly tired by the effort: the ground at their base camp is dappled with sleeping protesters, who are covered in blankets and tarpaulin.
And they are heavy sleepers. Even though the raucous daily protest march past the New York Stock Exchange involves a cacophony of drumming and chanting, several manage to slumber through it.
Protesters chant such slogans as: "Abolish the Fed! Stop building up the debt!"
The parading demonstrators are flanked by a small army of police officers, tourists, members of the media, and people who are trying to get to work.
Over the week some have performed other stunts to draw attention to their pet annoyance, including at one point this week a topless protest to graphically illustrate their view that 1% of the world has the shirts off the backs of the other 99% - a move that certainly engaged passing workers' eyes if not their minds.
Locals may be looking, but they are not necessarily comprehending.
Several passers-by said they did not know why the protesters were there. And they were not overly concerned about finding out.
But the demonstrators are patient. "Now that we have taken the square, we are setting up a platform for public debate," said Vlad Teichberg, a self-described media activist.
He has camped there since Saturday, and plans to stay indefinitely. "I don't know how long it's going to take," he said.
'Stop sending pizza'
Not all those in the area are indifferent.
At least one local business got a big boost from the protest.
Telly Liberatos says that the name of his downtown pizza parlour grabbed the attention of the protesters, and their followers.
Occupy Wall Street put Liberatos Pizza's phone number on its Twitter page, allowing supporters to send pizzas from his restaurant to the protesters.
Orders came from across the country, and from as far away as New Zealand.
Telly described how the movement helped his business to rebound from a recent lull.
He would not give a precise figure on how much Occupy Wall Street helped to boost his bottom line, only to say that it was a big boon - especially after a slow few months. "It was a tough summer," he says.
Liberatos Pizza even named a pie in honour of the protesters.
The OccuPie features a line of pepperoni across the middle, in the shape of a slash, intended to represent protester anger.
But even free, thematic pizza can be too much of a good thing: an online message from Occupy Wall Street said that they had enough food, and pleaded with benefactors: "Stop sending pizza."
If the economy and the markets carry on into further dire straits, some of those currently in the protesters' firing line may find themselves stepping in to take their unwanted slices of pizza.