Holding the Park For Everyone
By Joel Chaffee at Nov 08, 2011
Brooklyn was almost without pedestrians as we walked through the 5am stillness. One block from the G train we spotted one of Occupy Wall St's parodic posters, made to look like the MTA's. It read, "Planned System Changes. Occupy Wall St. We are the 99%."
The city was threatening to evict the Occupy Wall St protesters, under the thin guise of "cleaning" the park. In the interim between noticing that the park should to be cleaned and announcing it to the occupiers, some new rules occurred. These included a prohibition on sleeping bags, tarps, and lying down. Effectively ending the occupation.
Solidarity had been requested from OWS, and individuals as well as groups answered, including the Working Families Party, the ANSWER Coalition, and Moveon.org. The AFL-CIO circulated a solidarity petition online. Labor Notes reported that members of "United Auto Workers, building services workers in their SEIU Local 32BJ purple T-shirts, and Transport Workers Local 100" were present. "Everybody's under attack," Labor Notes quoted one union participant. "Nobody's safe."
This labor support is not only based on principle similarities between the groups, but on the Occupy Wall Street Labor Support/Outreach Working Group's participation in solidarity actions with several unions in New York, including Teamster's at Sotheby's and the postal workers.
Arriving at Liberty Park at 5:57 we heard the familiar call and response, "Tell me what democracy looks like / This is what democracy looks like." This was followed by the defiant and ambitious refrain, "All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!"
A posting taped to a pole relates that there is an "#OWS bagcheck" nearby. Wikileaks' truck is idling alongside the park with the news vans, which include Fox 5, ABC, NBC, and CNN. Wikileaks' truck reads, "Top Secret. Mobile Information Unit." The back reads, "Release Bradley Manning." The NYCLU is here, too. And many green-hats from the National Lawyers Guild.
We awkwardly estimate that there are 2,000 people in the park already. OWS had spent the day before and all night cleaning and moving their belongings to off-site locations in preparation for the expected confrontation with police.
People passing the park have mostly positive comments. Variations of, "Looks really clean," and, "I hope they can stay." Police are lining the park, directing traffic. A couple in business attire holds a prescient sign, "Freedom of Assembly?"
Police are on the sidewalk, outside of the barricades. The protesters are so numerous that the barricades seem barely able to hold their swell. At some point a police officer is stationed on each side of the crosswalk, to prohibit people from entering the park. Many people just merrily walk in a wide arc around the officer and into the park, with bemused smiles.
Someone says into their phone, "They're not gonna do it. Bloomberg backed down." Then another says, "It's not gonna happen." When it is announced that there will be no cleaning, the crowd's roar is enormous.
At 6:52 a march of people heads south out of the park on Broadway. A General Assembly is going on but it is often difficult to hear the third wave of the People's Mic repetitions. Some people want to march on Broadway and don't know that other people have already left on a Broadway march.
A laughing group with brooms sweeps the sidewalk near the red cube, for a video. Police on scooters zip by the park, south on Broadway. The scooters whine like a substantive insect.
At 7:50 a group of cops with large helmets on march down Broadway, followed by many cameras and somewhat alarmed and somewhat curious onlookers. This is an intense scene early in the morning for an unprepared individual on the sidewalk on their way to work. Some bustling pedestrians are pissed off under their breath that the protestors don't have jobs and should try to obtain them. The cops stop at 55 Broadway and wait.
Wall Street itself is barricaded, so the marchers have turned down some other street to come around at Wall Street and march on it from the other side.
Gothamist reports that there are 1,000 people on Bowling Green. The cops march back up, north on Broadway. A man stands in the street holding a sign reading, "Resist." He is later arrested near the park. Some police march back up Broadway, some don't. The AP reports that 14 people "who obstructed traffic by standing or sitting in the street, and others who turned over trash baskets, knocked over a police scooter and hurled bottles" are arrested.
We follow back to the park, annoying more commuters. At the park vibrations are positive. It was a victory for OWS when under attack by the city. Later one protestor said, "This is my occupation. I will be here forever." It is estimated that 3,000 people felt the same early on a Friday morning, and that hundreds of thousands did so online, by phone, email, and other actions.
And they held the park. And somehow by holding it, by insisting on the right to it, they demonstrated that the OWS movement isn't about the park at all. What it is about is not for anyone to say, maybe, since it's for everyone.
additional reporting by Eric Severance