Where Do We Begin?

People's History Is.....

Of course there isn't just one view of American history. As Howard Zinn, who wrote A People's History of the United States observed, there's the version written by the Founders of the government, the landed gentry/philosophers/generals whose version of history is generally taught in schools. There's the perspective of the traders, the banks, the businessman, whose version we could say dominates the media today. And then there's the People's point of view, the fisherman's, the farmers', the factory workers', the service economy worker's point of view.

Taking the People's POV in this city, like everywhere, means starting before colonization. It means asking why Mannahatta was first colonized and governed by a corporation. It means fully grappling with the origins of American economic power, how it was that Wall Street grew to become the country's economic and governance nerve center, neverendingly prone to corruption.

To do this means to fundamentally question the transactional, extractive view of land and animals (including people), asking why it is that certain people have been, or continue to be, displaced, why others are driven to take their land and settle in their place, and why the few so frequently hoard resources for themselves at the expense of the many. This questioning process often ignites a desire to undo the consequences of putting a monetary value on land, water, and people, commodifying our resources and even ourselves.

If we are to make a complete and genuine commitment to actually undoing these consequences, then we can begin the process of unsettling Wall Street.

Several years ago Rebecca Manski started researching and mapping resistance movements and protests, as well as the forces that continuously prompt them, in the Wall Street area. During the occupation of Liberty Square/Zuccotti Park, Rebecca was a member of the Occupy Wall Street press team, which was mostly comprised of seasoned activists from the alter-globalization, eviction-defense, climate justice, and HIV/AIDS queer liberation movements. As part of an effort to deepen the expertise of the predominantly younger activists who spearheaded Occupy Wall Street, Rebecca decided to lead walks in order to foster the activists’ sense of their place in the larger radical legacy they were a part of.

Employing her background in historical research, Rebecca began by excavating histories of resistance in the area and quickly learned that, not only was Occupy Wall Street not the only movement to occupy the financial district, but the region surrounding Liberty Square had long been a locus of resistance of all kinds. The below article, published by Salon.com, is one of the early outcomes of her initial research into the Wall Street area.
Brooklyn Bridge march, October 2011, just before the first mass arrest of the movement [Credit: Rebecca Manski]


Occupy Wall Street was far from the first uprising at the heart of the capital of capitalism. 

It won't be the last.

By Rebecca Manski
September 17, 2013

....Zuccotti Park was first called “Liberty Plaza” for good reason. It’s situated in a neighborhood that has been the site of struggles for liberation ever since European colonists first arrived. Occupy added one more chapter to an area already steeped in a history of resistance.

‘Bloody’ Green
On the eve of the American Revolution, the Sons of Liberty tore down the statue of King George at the center of Bowling Green, a few blocks south of Wall Street. They then lopped off the crowns topping the fence surrounding the park and headed to Federal Hall to read the Declaration of Independence. It was no accident that Occupy Wall Street held its first assembly at Bowling Green, a place with profound revolutionary resonance.

Bowling Green is also where the privatization of land and the carving up of the commons began. At this spot, 150 years before the American Revolution, representatives of the Dutch West India Company met with native Lenape leaders and brokered a deal over the island of Manahatta. As the Lenape nation understood the arrangement, they had granted the newcomers the rights to steward the region for a period of time, to access its resources, to cultivate the land, to fish and hunt there, and to oversee the waterways. The colonists, however, meant to secure permanent claims for their company, and they immediately built the city’s first fort right at Bowling Green.

The struggles for liberation and freedom for colonists and those they colonized moved in very different directions. The words “liberty” (Latin, libertas) and “freedom” (Greek, eleutheria) both mean “unlike a slave,” but their meanings were once essentially opposed. U.S. historian David Hackett Fischer explains, “Liberty meant privileges of independence; freedom referred to rights of belonging.” A European pioneer or immigrant in North America sought liberation from her or his place of origin, while an African or native person in North America sought the freedom to return home and re-root, to reunite with family and community. When slaveholders began to separate African family members as a matter of policy in 1712, they provoked the first coordinated slave uprising in New York history, the Maiden Lane Slave Revolt, right around the location of today’s Federal Reserve, about a block east of Zuccotti Park.

Within a few decades, no more than three black people were legally allowed to meet face to face unless they were at labor. But nevertheless free and enslaved blacks and poor whites mingled and planned daily at the white-owned Hughson’s Tavern on the waterfront, by Liberty Place and Trinity Place. At the time, poor white workers, unable to compete with the uncompensated labor of enslaved blacks, had some reason to support the struggle against slavery, so the specter of white-black collaboration terrified those in power. When a series of 13 fires erupted in the Wall Street area — the most significant of which was set within the walls of Fort George, the home of the governor — authorities believed the fires were part of a conspiracy hatched by poor whites and blacks to burn the city, kill wealthy white men, rape their wives and daughters, and elect a poor white as king and a freed slave as governor.

A street of many walls
Most of this history has been overshadowed, however, and what Wall Street now means for most people is the embodiment of U.S. capitalism as the home of the New York Stock Exchange. The Stock Exchange was established in response to Wall’s Street’s first financial crash, the Panic of 1792, and probably also in response to the demonstrations accompanying it. That crash landed at least one Wall Street crook, William Duer, in jail; hundreds of workers and merchants gathered in front of his new home — the debtor’s prison — threatening to disembowel him.

Occupy Wall Street was thus far from the first uprising at the heart of the capital of capitalism. Since the 1960s, LGBT rights and housing rights advocates, feminists, and environmental activists converged on the Wall Street area at least once a decade. In 1967, for instance, the Youth International Party — the Yippies, including Abbie Hoffman and Candice Bergman — scattered handfuls of dollars from the Stock Exchange’s visitor’s gallery down to the trading floor and did a dance proclaiming the “Death of $.” The year after that, on Halloween, a New York coven of 13 activists with the Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell — WITCH — whisked down to Wall Street to hex the financiers; the Dow dropped five points the next day. 1979 saw an occupation of the streets around the Stock Exchange by tens of thousands of people protesting the nuclear power industry — part of a campaign that halted the construction of new plants in the United States.

In the 1980s, the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power — ACT UP — organized “a coordinated, comprehensive and compassionate national policy on AIDS.” In 1987, hundreds of ACT UP activists strangled traffic at Trinity Place and Wall Street, disrupting business-as-usual for those profiting from the AIDS crisis. Two years later, ACT UP members infiltrated the Stock Exchange, chaining themselves to the VIP balcony, tooting mini-foghorns to drown out the opening bell as they unfurled a banner that said, “Sell Wellcome,” referring to the Wellcome pharmaceutical company. They successfully jammed up trading, and within days Wellcome cut its AZT retroviral drug prices by 20 percent.

Same streets, new walls
Today, in the United States and many other parts of the world, there are no longer castles to set afire, no vertical walls protecting the feudal rulers. The mansions of the 1 percent are often out of sight and, as the Zapatistas say, their walls stretch over our heads to ensure that we stay below. Given that global economic power today trumps the power of any particular state, attempts to confront it by electing a slightly better president, or even by toppling a corrupt regime, may be futile. The best way to break through, as the Zapatistas also say, is to push from every direction — horizontally.

There is nowhere else to go — no new lands to colonize, no more physical frontiers to pioneer. But our own societies have been colonized, and we are put to work extracting the last of the world’s resources for the benefit of the 1 percent. The tents in Zuccotti Park appeared when America’s economic frontiers closed in on Wall Street and people came to take back what was stolen from them. For a moment, at occupied Liberty Square, we saw clearly that while a great deal divides the 99 percent, what we share is even better than a fight for national autonomy or individual liberty, it is a global struggle for freedom from displacement from our homes, the freedom to re-root and reunite our human family....

If we understand that Occupy is not a brand, an organization or a self-designated group of individuals, but the continuation of a long struggle against the forceful imposition of poverty for many and wealth for a few, then the purpose it represents has only begun to manifest itself.

Originally published by Waging Nonviolence

Jennie Bob, Lenape woman in Oklahoma circa 1915


After researching and mapping resistance movements in the Wall Street area, Rebecca started to house her research in Google maps in order to make better sense of the relationships between these resistance movements, their impetus and their impact. Soon she decided to build an interactive series of maps that could be utilized by teachers, with the intention of creating a digital platform with virtual tours and curricula to which students and teachers could actively contribute in an ongoing basis, contributing their own research and walk routes, as well as adding to and fact-checking the existing map layers. The aim was to encourage students of all ages to actively and physically engage with the roots and consequences of inequity, to learn from the ways that others before them have reacted to these inequities, and to take action now to shift these inequitable dynamics.

Decolonizing cultural production

That early effort has since evolved into a potentially broader project, the Decolonial Mapping Toolkit, in conjunction with Rebecca's collaborator, Patrick Jaojoco. Taking the Lower Manhattan area as a model microcosm they aim to:

1. Create dynamic, collectively-edited, intersectional maps of anti-colonial and other resistance histories;

2. Work with like-minded educators and designers to model the decolonization of the mapping process;
3. Utilize these intersectional, overlapping maps as a platform for popular education programs and artistic interventions in public space.

Rebecca met Patrick Jaojoco when a collective he was a part of put out a call for decolonial walks in honor of the Palestinian Nakbah. Coming out of a curatorial program -- in particular out of a seminar on decolonization and cultural production in the Anthropocene -- and increasingly frustrated with the limits of political interaction through exhibitions (even exhibitions about people, colonial histories, and movements), Patrick began working on a framework and platform for collective confrontations of the spaces through which we all move.

From there, he gathered a group of like-minded artists, architects, urbanists, scholars, and members of the general public to considering histories of place not only as a curatorial methodology but also as a mode of decolonizing our spatial relationships with the built environment. This loose collective, which eventually came to name itself the Decolonial Mapping Front, together came upon a two-pronged approach to not only decolonizing our spatial relationships, but also decolonizing the mapping process itself. As a tool, cartography has been an inherently colonial method of defining and claiming space in an increasingly territorial world. They eventually put together working groups to propose the creation of a dynamic, online map that would be constantly edited, added to, and changed to decenter the professional cartographer and instead focus on the spatial experiences and histories of groups affected by colonialism and its legacy. This map would then both spur and feed off of public programs ranging from participant-led walks to artist interventions to collective action.

Along with a Lenape walk leader, Rebecca answered the call, offering her usual “People's History of Wall Street” walk in a new form. Why step in in honor of the Nakbah? Before moving to New York, she had lived in Palestine, doing media and advocacy work for five years. In the two years prior, Rebecca had spent several months on and off doing refugee relief work with Syrians, Afghans and Iranians in the squats of Athens. Furthermore, for her first five years on this planet, she lived in the contested city of Jerusalem. There was never a time she didn't think in terms of walls, borders, liminal spaces, zones of indistinction, and the Commons.

In programming their first walk together in May 2018, Rebecca decided that rather than focusing on histories of resistance from the days of Manahatta, she would also dig into research on the history of Little Syria - the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian neighborhood that was originally displaced to make way for the Battery Tunnel and demolished once and for all to make way for the World Trade Center. She would also reshape the walk to make it as participatory as possible. This was something Rebecca had experimented with in a range of ways in the past and this provided an exciting opportunity to create a template for future participatory walks. She generated the content, questions, images and activities for four facilitators to split during the upcoming Unsettling Wall Street walk and met with Patrick regularly to discuss the participatory framework.

Coming together to develop the Decolonial Mapping Toolkit

Soon after the walk, Patrick and Rebecca met and decided to take her existing maps further, through the Decolonial Mapping Toolkit. In the early stages, the project will treat Lower Manhattan as a microcosm, but they see their original digital map layers as providing a replicable model that can act as a guide for people interested in “decolonial mapping” of locales globally. The goal is to begin with a richly layered map which is constructed with such integrity and strength that it can inspire aligned projects.


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