Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Occupy Wall Street

Looking up Wall Street at the old Federal Hall and the old Trinity Church in 1789, the year of Washington's inauguration.
Wall Street in 1797, showing the Tontine Coffee House, with the old Federal Hall to the left, and the East River to the right.
The intersection of Broad and Wall Streets at night.
A protester's sign.
Looking down Wall Street to the South Street Seaport.
The George Washington statue in front of Federal Hall.
A police horse, the streets were full of them.
Trinity Church, Broadway and Wall Street.
Looking down Wall Street from Broadway.
The New York Stock Exchange at night.
With all the news about the Occupy Wall Street protests, I decided to take the 4 Train down there and see what action I could find, while discovering the history of this famous old street.  For the most part, I didn't see too much other than a sign up against the Trinity Church fence when I got off the train at Broadway and Wall Street that said, "Michael Moore for President" and another protest group holding a "Don't Tread On Me" flag chanting "End the Fed!" -- two opposite ends of the spectrum. 

Walking around the hilly streets of downtown, it reminded me of the wilderness that was once the old city.  George Washington's statue stands on the spot where he had his inauguration, on the site of the old Federal Hall which stood there from 1700-1812, also where the Bill of Rights was passed by Congress.  At the beginning of Wall Street, at Broadway, a church has stood since 1698, but the current structure dates back to 1846.  Although it's generally accepted that Wall Street was named in the mid-1600s for the earthen wall that guarded the northern boundary of the New Amsterdam settlement, others think it is derived from the thirty Walloon families from Belgium that arrived on the ship "Nieu Nederlandt" in 1624, some of the first European settlers.  However, by the 1640s, Peter Styvesant collaborated with the city government to build a more permanent wall from Pearl Street, where the eastern shoreline was then, to the western shoreline at Trinity Place.

The world's biggest stock exchange started under a buttonwood tree on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway in the late 1700s, where traders and speculators would meet to trade securities.  The group was formalized in 1792, with the Buttonwood Agreement, which traders signed in a promise to charge each other a standard, structured rate.

With the stock market crash of 2008, there has been a hollowing-out of the middle class.  The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, and people are getting fed up.  I don't know what the solution is really -- many people believe that capitalism works, that it is the American way, that capitalism equals freedom.  Socialism, on the other hand, doesn't work all that great, and leads to too much government involvement in people's lives, and in a way they're right.  But I've got to say, a little loyalty would've been nice when I was abruptly laid-off from a job I was very loyal to and then never able to recover.  I don't want to complain too much, but I feel as though these rich Wall Street types have affected my life in a very negative way.  I try to stay positive, but the future sometimes looks very uncertain.

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