As in hundreds of towns and cities around the globe on Saturday, people disenchanted with banking and the world economy gathered on Long Wharf in Sag Harbor to protest what they say is a corrupt and broken system. In sympathy with the four-week old Occupy Wall Street movement, speaker after speaker climbed up on a bench in front of the windmill at the foot of the wharf to express their frustration at the widening gap between the very wealthy and the rest of the population.
Unlike the demonstrations in New York City, there were no arrests or ugly confrontations in Sag Harbor on Saturday. In fact much of the purpose of the gathering seemed to focus on organizational matters for what is expected to be a series of weekly demonstrations, the first several returning to Long Wharf, then branching out to other Hamptons towns.
While many in the crowd carried signs and banners with slogans such as “Wall Street: Buy Stocks, Not Politicians,” “End War, Feed the Poor,” and “The 99% are 100% Fed Up,” a facilitator named Matt — who emphasized he was not the group’s leader — explained rules for speaking, making motions and gaining consensus.
Notably, he explained the way the crowd itself was to become the public address system for each of the speakers. Matt, a veteran of the occupation at New York’s Zuccatti Park, said the system was born out of necessity when demonstrators were no longer allowed to use bull horns or megaphones to speak out over the crowd. The system they devised was for the crowd that could hear the speaker to repeat what the speaker said, so that everyone else could hear. The resulting effect was like an echo sounding out over the walk in front of the windmill.
“It is extraordinarily inspirational to see this where I live,” said a speaker named Ty, one of the day’s organizers. She complained that “for the past 30 years we have launched the one-percenters’ vacations in our backyards,” a reference to the one percent of the population that has the vast amount of the world’s wealth, many of whom have homes in the Hamptons. Many of those in the movement refer to themselves as the 99 Percenters.
“Our schools are overcrowded, our teachers are underpaid,” Ty declared. “I see this as a gesture I hope will become a movement.”
“They are taking away the future from our children,” said Gail, another of the day’s organizers. “I believe they will not be able to survive, I don’t believe the earth can survive as well. I want our children to live a long life with hope.”
The bench was opened to those in the crowd who wanted to speak and a man named Skip who appeared to be in his early 70s was helped up.
“This is a revolution, no question about it,” he said. “But you need to have an agenda. What is it you want to accomplish? Survey after survey shows Congress is the most dysfunctional part of our government. You need to register to vote; it’s the greatest thing you have as a citizen. Just don’t vote for the incumbents.”
“That was a great example of grandstanding,” said Matt the facilitator, apparently something that is frowned upon in the extremely democratic, consensus driven government of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
In some ways, Saturday’s event was more about establishing rules and setting a future course than simply a protest. The event was in fact called the first general assembly for Occupy the Hamptons. Aside from demonstrating hand signals designed to “take the temperature” or check the mood of the crowd on any given subject, Matt explained that decisions for the general assembly were made by consensus, there was no individual leader, and this was not a “top down” kind of organization. Instead suggestions were offered, altered and approved at the whim of the crowd.
“Occupy Wall Street is a leaderless movement,” he said. “At this point, I am a facilitator; if you want to be the facilitator, you can be the facilitator.”
A man named Richard K. stepped up on bench and told how he had joined the group occupying Wall Street last week.
Now retired, he said he was concerned how his family would feel about his decision.
“I have two sons and I thought they may be upset I was doing this,” he said to the crowd. “And I guess they had reason to be upset; one is a derivatives trader and the other is a Wall Street lawyer.”
As the crowd laughed he continued.
“But they were very proud of me, they have great sympathy for what we are doing,” he said. “Even among the one-percenters we protest against there are many who support us.”
Energized, the group — after a series of consensus taking — decided to return to Long Wharf next week.
“Can we meet next Sunday, so that people who work on Saturday can join us,” asked one woman.
“Anybody not feeling it,” asked Matt.
No one was not feeling it. So the consensus decided to continue again on Sunday. It is expected they will be at the windmill “around three o’clock” but specifics will be available on the group’s website, occupythehamptons.org.
“I look forward to having our own march, down Route 114 or on Route 27,” said one woman. “When we’re ready.”