The speech Sanders delivers in Washington Square Park Wednesday, like the ones he has given for months, makes clear how he has gained their support; it’s laced with the same grievances and demands the protesters made five years ago from their encampments in lower Manhattan and elsewhere.
“How could it be that in this great country today the top one tenth of one percent now own almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent? How could it happen that the 20 wealthiest people in America now own more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans? How could it happen that one family — the Walton family of Wal-Mart — could own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of the American people?” Sanders asks the crowd.
Before they can hear him speak, though, supporters have to wait in line. The thick queue to pass through the park’s single, fortified opening snakes past Solomon Seagal, 28. Seagal is standing on Thompson Street scowling at people as they nearly trample on the dozen or so spray-paint-splattered Guy Fawkes masks arrayed before him on the sidewalk. Seagal was involved with original 2011 protest in Zuccotti Park; the masks he’s hawking are just a selection of “plenty” he says he has leftover from back then.
Volunteers are walking up and down the same line with a heavy stack of The Battle of New York broadsheets in their arms, each heap a small fraction of the 150,000 copies that rolled off the presses earlier that day. The Battle of New York, financed by an Indiegogo campaign that raised $67,000 in just 12 days, was put together by the same group of editors, writers and designers whopublished the Occupied Wall Street Journal during the protest.
Just as the Occupied Wall Street Journal was designed to fill a vacuum activists perceived in the coverage of the Occupy protests, co-editor Allison Burtch says The Battle of New York is designed to act as a kind of counterweight to the publications she and her colleagues feel are prematurely counting Sanders out. It’s about showing that Sanders’ political revolution is happening.
“Bernie Sanders says, ‘When I’m president, I can’t do it alone, I need a political revolution’ — that’s why we came and said, ‘We’re here.’ That was the thing about Occupy: We weren’t protesting power. We were speaking to each other,” Burtch says. That is also why it grates her to hear people characterize The Battle of New York as ‘a Bernie paper.’ To Burtch, “This is actually an exercise in showing our power.”
The test will be making sure the people showing up for Bernie in Washington Square Park also show up for him at their polling places Tuesday — and it’s a test for both Sanders’ campaign and for the onetime Occupiers who are supporting him. One of the big hurdles Sanders will run up against is New York’s onerous voting restrictions, which are some of the worst in the nation. The state has no early voting, no same-day registration and strict rules about absentee voting, and it’s the most difficult state in which to change one’s party affiliation; existing voters hoping to change their party affiliation (you must be registered as a Democrat to vote in New York’s closed Democratic primary) had to do so way back in October. All these factors will make it more difficult for Sanders to translate his massive New York crowds into massive New York margins.
And margins matter. It’s not enough for people like Burtch that Occupy helped set that stage for Sanders’ run. “The world is still fucked up. I don’t think Bernie Sanders would be here without Occupy or Black Lives Matter, but that doesn’t mean that the lived reality for the majority of people’s existence has changed,” she says. It’s great that Sanders is taking up Occupy’s causes, but he has to be elected and he has to effect change he’s promising, she says. “I’m not just trying get a message out there. I want material change for people.”