Billionaire’s March Occupies the Upper East Side


Yesterday at noon, protesters gathered at 59th Street and 5th Avenue (just across the street from the Plaza Hotel) for the Billionaire’s March, a picket of the homes of five of New York’s richest men: Rupert Murdoch, David Koch, Howard Milstein, Jamie Dimon, and John Paulson. Separate from yet in the same vein as Occupy Wall Street, the Billionaire’s March protested a proposed tax cut for New York’s wealthy residents. At each home, protesters would symbolically present each billionaire with a (fake!) check for five billion dollars from the “99 percent” — five billion dollars being the number they say the rich will gain from tax cuts at the end of this year.

The march went up 5th Avenue, crossed over to Park and went up to 94th Street, and then headed back downtown to 86th Street and 5th Avenue. There seemed to be a few hundred protesters.

From the outset of the march, media made up at least an eighth of everyone in attendance. Masses of news crews, including those from NY 1, the New York Times, MSNBC, and CBS News, surrounded the march organizers. Said organizer Michael Kink, “Our country and economy are on the wrong track. We want to make sure it’s everyone that is benefiting, and put money back in the hands of the 99 percent that need it.”

Film producer Lynn Gottlieb, as a self-proclaimed member of “the 1 percent,” had a slightly different perspective. “There are people with a conscience, with social responsibility,” she said. “People are ready to pay more taxes. I am ready to pay more taxes. I want to pay more taxes.”

We spoke with organizer Jonathan Westin, who told us, “It’s not right that the wealthiest New Yorkers, the millionaires and billionaires, are getting this tax cut in December. It’s important that people come out and protest, show their anger.” We then spoke with organizer Lynn Sanchez, who is also a public school parent. “I’m here for the cuts, the layoffs,” she said. “I was at a press conference in front of City Hall on Monday that showed how school aides are getting cut. Services are being cut from our children. There are higher rates of homelessness. It’s getting very expensive to live in New York today.”

The march began at 12:50. Shouts of “We are the 99 percent!” could be heard down the block. Other popular chants (also heard at Occupy Wall Street) included “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” and “Tax the rich end the war!” On the first block of the march we ran into a group of adorable elementary schoolers on a field trip, chanting away. Other notable sights included a doorman on Park Avenue high-fiving protesters, and a topless woman shouting, “Titties for entertainment, not protest!” Perhaps she meant to chant it in reverse?

At the home of each billionaire, the five billion dollar check was presented, along with a few words from the march organizers on each billionaire, i.e. “Howard Milstein has 35 acres of land in Niagara Falls he refuses to develop! John Paulson made five billion dollars in the last year!” Cries of “Come out and play, Jamie!” could be heard outside of the home of Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase. Each billionaire was, presumably, at work.

The Billionaire’s March and Occupy Wall Street are obviously linked, yet the Billionaire’s March took a different approach. The march was organized, with specific destinations, targets, and spokespeople. The idea of it, even if it was not fully executed, was to protest against one specific thing (tax cuts for New York’s rich). The Village Voice‘s Harry Siegel described the cops as looking “bored.” People stayed on the sidewalk, and while there were some blockages, traffic wasn’t particularly disturbed. The march also had some religious support, with both a pastor and a minister speaking.

Protester Jeffrey Wilson said, “This is a much more popular spot than down on Wall Street. Even tourists really get to look at the protest.” While this blogger initially thought it seemed more combative to go directly to the homes of those being protested against, it’s not like these guys were actually home. Aside from the disturbing report of a nanny being harassed, people on the streets were largely left alone.

Mayor Bloomberg had words against the pickets.”Jamie Dimon is one of the great bankers,” said Bloomberg. “He’s brought more business to this city than any banker in (the) modern day. To go and picket him, I don’t know what that achieves. Jamie Dimon is an honorable person, working very hard, paying his taxes.” It may be worth noting, separately from Bloomberg’s opinion, that the billionaires protested against — even the evil Rupert Murdoch — have given millions in charitable contributions.

On the way out of the march, three girls in school uniforms asked, “What’s the 99 percent?”

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