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Occupy movement spreads to Buffalo

The Wake

By James Riley III
On October 25, 2011

Two weeks ago I wrote about my trip to Wall Street and what I saw on the ground at Zuccotti Park. Since then, things have changed for me personally and for the "Occupy" movement as a whole. The reason I write that is because of Buffalo.

I make no bones about it. Buffalo is my favorite city. From the busted parking lot across from Mohawk Place where I was robbed, to the abandoned rotting hulks floating in the lake, it's dirty, it's mean and it always feels like home. Forget about New York or L.A., cities like Buffalo, Detroit and Cleveland really are too tough to die.

When I arrived at Niagara Square on a hot October Saturday, the spirit of the crowd was almost as different as night and day from the spirit in New York. New York had an almost festive spirit about the place, with people singing songs and dancing. In Buffalo, the air was acrid with outrage and discontent at their state of affairs.

At the dawn of the 20th century, Buffalo was a city on the rise. It rose up on Lake Erie's shoreline like a shining gem. By the 21st century, it had become a dried husk of a city.

What I saw in both cities was a population who was tired of this country's money being heaped in a pile and set on fire. The differences lay in how the two cities act on that outrage.

One of the things about the crowd in New York that set it apart from Buffalo or one of the other occupied cities is many of the people are out-of-towners. They came for whatever reasons compelled them (be it outrage, solidarity, God told them to in a dream or just to get laid) from all over the country. The people who came out to "Occupy Buffalo" are from Buffalo.

It is their home, for better or worse, and many of the protesters were older people who have watched that home get slowly ground into dust. As the jobs dried up and companies closed plants, they saw drugs and crime infect the neighborhoods like a festering sore. For too long, the good people of Buffalo have grown cold and cynical.

Enter the Occupy movement. Here is a large, leaderless and energetic protest that is rallying against the very forces that stripped them of their home. In New York, many of the people I talked to told me they came out on their day off. In Buffalo, I was told time and again by folks that they came out because they couldn't find a job.

As they rallied in Buffalo, the ambulances and fire trucks rolled by and honked in support and the police regarded the whole thing with far less suspicion than their counterparts in Manhattan. The cynic in me thinks the power structure in Buffalo isn't afraid of the protest, but there is a tiny glimmer of hope in me saying they just might be on the people's side.

The first night the Occupy Buffalo group stayed all night, Boston police rolled into one of Boston's protester camps in force as well. At 1:30 a.m., 200 state and city police marched into the over-flow camp of the Occupy Boston protest and began beating people, many of whom were from the Vets For Peace organization there on sight to protect the protesters.

I remember checking my messages that night before bed when I saw all these frantic notices pop up on Twitter and Facebook. Someone had a link to a live feed from above the park, so I sat frozen as I watched the boot drop on those people. The next three hours were spent reading post from the ground and trying to make sense of it all.

Since then, Occupy movements have sprung up all over the globe, from England to New Zealand. Rome's protest has already turned violent, leading to protesters clashing with police and burning cars. For now, all of the violence in this country has been from the police toward the protesters, but for how long?

The baby-boomer generation built this financial Tower of Babel into the heavens, I am afraid it will be mine that gets scattered to the four corners of the earth. Support the movement or don't, but whatever you do, don't be caught asleep when the other shoe drops.


By James

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