Bronxites join Wall Street protesters

Occupy the Bronx marchers descend on lower Manhattan

Slide show by Anika Anand and Kenneth Christensen
Article by Kenneth Christensen

Last weekend, residents of the Bronx collectively introduced themselves to the Occupy Wall Street protest in Manhattan’s financial district.

“The Bronx is in the house! Say what? The Bronx is in the house!” they called as they marched toward Zuccotti Park, the block-square plaza where demonstrators have camped-out for a month to protest what they see as a financial and political system that serves the rich at the expense of the rest.

It was early afternoon on the second consecutive Saturday that Bronxites, calling themselves Occupy the Bronx, converged at Fordham Plaza, marched along Fordham Road and traveled to Manhattan as a unit.

“There are clear messages coming from the Bronx,” said Omar Freilla, the founder of Green Worker Cooperatives and one of the organizers of the Fordham Plaza rally. “We have a broken economy. It’s not working.”

A native of the South Bronx, Freilla has lived and worked in Hunts Point, and calls the neighborhood “a perfect example” of the gap between haves and have nots, citing the fact that Hunts Point hosts one of the world’s largest food distribution centers, while residents have limited access to quality food.

“We don’t get our fair share of monies,” said Lisa Ortega, who has lived in Hunts Point for 16 years and works with Rights For Imprisoned People with Psychiatric Disabilities.

She said Occupy the Bronx is important because so many issues stem from her community’s lack of resources. Its poverty often undermines participation in organized dissent, she noted.

“A lot of us are losing our homes, don’t have jobs and are so burdened down with stress,” said Ortega. “A lot are not well. They don’t have access to the services that make life a little bit easier to go sleep out in Wall Street.”

Plus, widespread poverty means less access to computers. And a large immigrant community means less proficiency in English. In all, this means information gets around more slowly, said Ortega, and explains why it took weeks for an organized effort to highlight the borough’s problems as part off the larger Occupy Wall Street movement.

Jeronimo Maradiaga, 26, is a Bronx native who works two jobs, but he sees himself in a fortunate position.

“My consciousness comes from a certain amount of privilege. I want to use that privilege to voice concerns of people who can’t be here,” he said.

Maradiaga helped lead his neighbors in animated chants for much of the day. Upon arriving at Zuccotti Park, the Bronx contingent took two laps around the plaza and sang of their borough.

Earlier in the day, Occupy the Bronx grew to more than 100 people, who fanned out to participate in speeches at the north end of Fordham Plaza.

Shoppers and East Tremont locals stopped and watched the demonstrators march to the subway, as they chanted slogans like “We are the 99 percent” and, as they passed banks, “They got bailed out, we got sold out.”

“This is actually one of the first protests to come by my neck of the woods,” said one on-looker, Nelson Beltran, 25. “I just thought it was very interesting seeing the people come together and stand up to finally get their rights back.”

“I think this is the beginning,” said Ortega. “Eventually we all will at some point come out.”

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