Unions stand with 'Occupy' protesters

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 10/6/2011, 3:53 p.m.

They filled up Foley Square in Lower Manhattan and the sidewalks along Centre, Lafayette and Worth streets. They were a mix of union members, students, politicians and people who just couldn't take it anymore. They called themselves the 99 percent and they wanted answers. They wanted change. These people gave new life to the Occupy Wall Street protesters.

"We stand with those around the world, like Athens, Egypt and Madrid, who realize that things can be better," said Domingas Derogeiro-Cahango, an Angola native now living in Inwood who came to show solidarity. "It's time that they listen to us."

Who are "they"? It depended on who you were talking to. For some, they are corporations on Wall Street. For others, they are the American government and President Barack Obama. But they all share one thing in common: power. And speaking truth to power was the theme Wednesday afternoon.

"We are not here to defend the rich," said 1199 SEIU President George Gresham to a loud audience. "Being that we are near Wall Street, we know that this is a low-tax zone. We're gonna change all that."

"Tax the rich," screamed State Sen. Bill Perkins repeatedly.

"We're the ones who need the bailout," said Gresham. "We need bailouts in health care. We need bailouts in education."

New York State Democratic Committee member Ronald Savage spoke to the AmNews one-on-one about a resolution that demonstrates what Wednesday's demonstrations were all about. "We just drew up a resolution to raise taxes on the rich," he said. "I hope it makes it to the floor. The mayor and the governor need to be more egalitarian toward the poor and the working class. This protest and protests from around the world show strength in numbers. It's global. The people are tired."

Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer was also on hand. As a man in a position of power, he told the AmNews that he only had one mission while down at Foley Square.

"I'm here to watch and to listen," he said. "I think peaceful protest has always helped change along, whether it was the Civil Rights Movement or the anti-Vietnam War protests."

As the crowd of thousands took to the streets to walk to Wall Street, it was clear that this was more than just a bunch of angry "lefties." This was a battle in a war for the soul of America.

"It's time for us to wake up and realize that this situation affects our daily life," Derogeiro-Cahango told the AmNews. "Obama is not a warrior of the middle class. He is the opposite."

Wednesday afternoon, unions and other groups including the United Federation of Teachers, 32BJ SEIU, 1199 SEIU, Workers United, Transport Workers Union (TWU) Local 100, Coalition for the Homeless, DC 37 and MoveOn.org joined the Occupy Wall Street protesters in a show of solidarity with a movement that advocates on behalf of those who are struggling in today's America.

In a statement on the Working Family Party's (WFP) website that has been widely circulated in emails, the WFP expresses its approval of the disruption and the attention the protesters are bringing to the cause of the poor and working class.