I went down to the "Occupy Wall Street" demonstrations a couple of times. I had read hostile reviews from the right-wing press, and the more mainstream press seemed to be saying that the demonstrators generally weren't sure what they wanted.
There were basically no demonstrators at the New York Stock Exchange. They were at Liberty Square, about 6 blocks away. I would estimate there were a couple of thousand of them. Many sleeping bags lay on the ground, so I guess a lot of the people had come a long way.
The demonstration didn't seem to have obtained appropriate permits, so they weren't allowed to use audio amplification. The speaker would yell a sentence, then people 30 feet away would repeat it, then people 30 feet further on would repeat it again. It didn't seem to me to be a good way to come up with nuanced insights into macroeconomic theory sufficient to get us out of the recession and bring the jobs back. The second time I went there they had a video screen where the speaker's words would be typed.
At least 85% of the demonstrators were under 25. Generally, the young people lacked concrete suggestions about specific policy changes, and the few ideas they had were half baked. I went around, generally asking people "What are you demonstrating for? What do you want?". Several people obviously were unprepared for anybody to ask them that and felt a bit put on the spot. People with signs, however, generally had a lot to say.
One kid had a sign saying "Jail guilty bankers". I asked him what laws he felt the bankers had broken. He said that Obama had said that no laws were broken by Wall Street in the mortgage meltdown, and the kid wasn't satisfied with that, he wanted an investigation. I remembered seeing some congressional hearings on TV a couple of years ago, I think investigations did occur. I told the kid I felt a lot of home buyers applying for homes had illegally exaggerated their incomes, pretending to be able to afford houses they couldn't, but that obviously wasn't what he was looking for. I excused myself and moved on.
I tried to seek out people who looked old enough to buy a beer without getting carded and talk to them. They tended to be hippies / radicals, and they tended to interpret the demonstration as being in support of whatever the individual hippie or radical in question wanted.
Of course, people would ask me who I was. I told them I was a computer programmer for Wall Street, that I voted for Obama and intended to vote for him again next year, and give him money. When I engaged with people, I generally took the point of view that the best course of action was to support the Democratic party.
During the 2 hours I was there, there was no friction between the cops and the demonstrators.
I did talk for a long time with one demonstrator, Robert, who was about 50 and had been there for most of the demonstration. He had been arrested while blocking the Brooklyn Bridge. He said the demonstrators had been walking toward the bridge, but the sidewalk crossing it was too narrow for the large crowd, and many of them spilled over onto the roadway. The police warned them that if they continued they would be arrested. Robert wanted to commit an act of civil disobedience and deliberately proceeded forward. The demonstrators reached the middle of the bridge before the police descended on them with nets and arrested several hundred of them. Robert said the first hundred all heard the warning that they would be arrested, but the several hundred following were too far back to know. He felt it was a setup, because when the police finally did arrest them they were ready with nets and vans to cart them away in.
Afterward I thought about it, and I'm not sure it was a setup. With a large crowd consisting of young people and old radical hippies gathering, demonstrating for an unclear purpose, it would have been prudent and appropriate for the cops to have arrest vans in the wings somewhere, and when the demonstrators started crossing the bridge roadway, the vans would have been called, but it would have taken time for them to reach the spot, by which time the demonstrators would have reached the center of the bridge.
Robert said the fine was $100, which he didn't consider to be anything unreasonable.
I talked to one guy who was promoting a "socialist constitution". He said the existing constitution was "based on slavery". I asked him if he wanted to overthrow the existing constitution. He said yes.
I didn't talk to any union people. It was largely random chance I didn't run into any, but I wasn't seeking them out. My own biggest misgiving about supporting the Democratic Party is that they are trying to make it easier to form unions.
They had a 2 page newspaper, "The Occupied Wall Street Journal" that I bought. Robert had told me that some politicians had been volunteering to talk at the demonstration and the organizers had rebuffed them. Unions, however, were welcome aboard, the newspaper contained endorsements from a bunch of them.
The term "99%" was bandied about a lot in the newspaper. Occupy Wall Street is claiming to represent 99% of the population.
I don't think "Occupy Wall Street" will amount to much. There isn't a clear consensus, agenda or party platform. It's mostly a bunch of kids who don't know anything, who are poorly organized and unrealistic. The older radicals aren't offering anything new, just leftist solutions that this society's been rejecting for a long time.