Passerbys stop to look at the collage of posters at Liberty Plaza that is part of the Occupy Wall Street protest that began on September 17 (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Today is day 5,” read a sign in the midst of thousands of people camping out at Liberty Plaza yesterday, steps away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange. It’s been a week since the Occupy Wall Street protests began, and the protesters show no sign of backing down, pledging to continue on for months if necessary. Young students, New Yorkers, the homeless, the poor and jobless college graduates have all banded together in a long overdue reaction to the financial crisis that continues to impact America.

Julien Garret, one of the organizers of the protest, gave me his assessment of the protesters. “We all have different personal and political demands, but the one thing that unites us all is the realization that the system in this country isn’t working and the young and the poor are being asked to pay the price,” he said.

Protestors gather at the General Assembly at Liberty Plaza, a daily meeting held to faciliate Occupy Wall Street (click to enlarge)

Occupy Wall Street takes its cue from the Arab Spring revolutions, specifically the uprisings at Tahrir Square and the use of social media and cyberguerilla warfare to motivate the masses. Spearheaded by off- and online social activist groups Adbusters and Anonymous Hackers, Occupy Wall Street is born out of an internet culture that has also been transported to the streets. Small groups of protest organizers huddle around computers set up in the middle of Liberty Plaza, a tangle of wire and cables swimming at their feet.

A democratic process and peaceful attitude (including sobriety, one protester mentioned to me) are the focus of the movement. The protesters hold a daily General Assembly at Liberty Plaza during which anyone and everyone is given the stage to propose suggestions or create committees to assist in the movement. Yesterday, facilitators and organizers also reviewed guidelines to avoid being arrested during the protests — five protesters had already been taken into police custody by 12:30 pm on Wednesday.  The vibe of the Assembly is just as much political as it is poetic and performative. When someone gets up to speak the entire crowd repeats their words, chanting in unison.

A detail of the poster collage at Liberty Plaza

Hundreds of posters — flanked by one topless lady holding a sign that says “I didn’t say look, I said listen” — also line the sidewalk at the far end of the plaza. The posters, many made of cardboard, are being created by anyone who feels like picking up a pen or paint brush and sharing their story or political viewpoint. Laid out like a patchwork collage, they are chillingly similar to the AIDS Memorial Quilt that was first displayed in front of the National Mall in 1987 and became a startling marker of how many had died from the disease.

A topless protestor says listen, but don’t look. (click to enlarge)

The Occupy Wall Street posters enact the same type of visual and artistic protest as the Quilt. It allows those who have been devastated by the financial crisis to invade the very site of economic injustice and create a platform for themselves amongst the banks and corporations that prefer the silence of middle and lower class voices. Despite the naked woman’s rebuke against looking, these posters are a reminder of the importance of visibility for the disenfranchised and the power of seeing their struggle laid out in images and text. Passerbys, many of them Wall Street employees, were clearly affected by the power in this movement and many stopped to contemplate the posters and their messages of economic hardship.

Although there are sure to be cynics and those who disregard Occupy Wall Street as a hippie or hipster camp-out, the movement and its poster collage have initiated a new visual discourse, or a type of oral history, for the crisis. For now, the streets of downtown Manhattan are lined with the images and voices of activism.

Check out Occupy Wall Street’s Facebook page or Twitter for information on upcoming rallies and events.

Liza Eliano is Hyperallergic’s editorial assistant by day, and bad TV fanatic by night. She recently graduated from Barnard College with a BA in art history and a newfound love for girl power. She was...

5 replies on “A Report from #OccupyWallStreet: Signs & Inspirations”

  1. It is perhaps selfish, if not flatly misinformed, to think this
    financial crisis belongs to the youth.  As a 41 year old, I and many of
    my friends are suffering severe underemployment and teeter on
    homelessness.  It’s perhaps a bigger risk for the middle age set because
    we are less likely to be rehired into meaningful work as there still
    exists ageism (though ignored as a relevant topic) in the work force. 
    This economic failure affects everyone without prejudice to age, as the
    HR departments and the protest speakers seem to think.

  2. Thanks for this. I was genuinely curious so looked into this further and learned that many people are attending/supporting in shifts. That I can see. Probably not unlike the two artists you mentioned. 

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