On the morning of September 17th at 7:15 a.m. I showed up at Liberty Plaza to find it closed by a private “security” force and downtown New York crawling with NYPD, as expected. But I knew the protest would be someplace, and found it over by the orange cube sculpture across the way from the stone bench I slept on during the first occupation of Liberty Plaza last year at this time. A mic check. A set of experiences elaborated by the human microphone. And we were off to block the corners leading into Wall Street and the Stock Exchange, with the aim of at least obstructing the normal operation of criminal banking practices.
And obstruct we did.
I felt alone, just one body in motion, when I showed up, but as the crowd walked down the sidewalks and into the connecting streets of the Wall Street area, I joined in what appeared to me to be an overflowing celebration of our vitality and connection. The brass band played. The guy with the guitar strummed along. We laughed, smiled. Another guy with a guitar and an American flag turned upside down–a signal of “distress” and of course that things are upside down here, and in the world.
We wandered in towards the Stock Exchange, filling the sidewalks. And as we got closer, it became apparent that our numbers were enough to hold the intersection. We flooded in to one intersection, and our flags and protest signs were raised. I looked around. I saw so many cameras, as if everyone were attempting to live this moment in multiple places at the same time–and that’s what it was. We were multiply present, here, everywhere at once, watched and watching, our bodies blocking the street, blocking and obstructing the flow of capital.
When a huge team of very large cops flooded into the center of the intersection, people didn’t resist. We just moved, let them flow past. Standing in the street I thought it wise to try for a piece of curbstone to avoid arrest, and I managed to get my toes up on one, and hang on to a lattice of poles, to keep me up; then, a colorfully dressed, long-haired, older guitar-wielding guy and his wife eased in in front of me; and as the crowd gathered, one cop started barking orders: “On the sidewalk or you’ll be arrested!”
Behind me protesters were laughing at a man in a suit who was trying to get to the Exchange. The guy in the suit was trying to squeeze through, and getting frustrated and nervous. He wasn’t going to get to work. I laughed too.
Then with swift force and violence, as the old guy with the guitar tried to get to the sidewalk 4 or 5 cops grabbed him and forced him to the ground, right in front of me. It was like a traffic accident, when you are in the middle of a moment of violence, it all becomes clear, heightened, and I started a cry, “The whole world is watching!” and the guy behind me started shouting it, and everybody started shouting it. We shouted, “Shame! Shame!” on the cops. The whole world is watching. But they used their testosterone-pumped bodies to block our view, our cameras, to make secret what they were doing to the guy as his wife screamed from the curbstone in a shrill pitch: “He didn’t do anything!”
Then I saw three well dressed bankers in suits just walk right down the middle of the cop-filled street. The cops parted like water before them. Big cops, stepping out of the way.The suits walked as if charmed.
Cops filling the street, parting before bankers, violently arresting protesters. It just made things so immediately clear to me. Things are upside down. They are arresting the wrong people. But I felt satisfied, saw, felt, “knew” and owned the obstruction we had all created: we filled the streets, the cops filled the streets, everywhere things had stopped. We did this. Placing our bodies here, multiply present, we delayed their work, we blocked the bankers.
It’s what Occupy Wall Street began as. And it’s fitting that on our anniversary we show what we are all capable of, again and again.