We were at the Red Cube by 7:15am, joining hundreds of other Occupiers and supporters for the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Liberty Square itself was barricaded, a dozen or so people inside – I assumed Occupiers, since what neighborhood resident would be trying to enjoy their park this early on a Monday with so many barricades and police about?
The brutalization of random protesters was rampant throughout the day, apparently as another tactic by the NYPD to punish political dissent, and intimidate those not brutalized into leaving – and to intimidate those who were not there in the first place from ever coming to a subsequent protest or event.
The day began for my group (me, my girlfriend, and friend, who all trekked in from Brooklyn) similar to last year’s #N17 action. We left in a column from the Red Cube and marched down Broadway to Pine & Nassau. Some Occupiers sang parody lyrics to the tune of the Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated,” including lines like, “Hurry hurry hurry / Get me out of jail / I am an occupier / I can’t afford the bail / Oh no no no no / Ba ba ba / I was incarcerated.”
Police lined the streets facing protesters, who mostly stayed on the sidewalks. A saxophone-playing Occupier played The Star Spangled Banner. Protesters massed on all four corners of the intersection. As the song reached “the land of the free” climax, a glitter bomb was popped over Nassau Street. An arrest most of us couldn’t see occurred in the intersection. Chants of “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Then the saxophone played and we sang, “Which side are you on? Which side are you on?” Someone berated the police about how Bloomberg would be stealing their pensions and laying them off soon enough, and then they’d be on our side.
An occupier Mic Check’d saying, “If they block the streets here then go around!” But those of us who were attending and not wanting to be arrested didn’t know where to go around to – we were trying to be witness to those participating in the traffic-stopping sit-downs, as planned and announced on the S17 website.
The Amalgamated Bank (a Union-owned bank; and the bank I switched to from Chase last autumn) on Broadway greeted the day’s protesters with a large poster in their window: “Amalgamated Bank supports the UFT and the Occupy Wall Street Movement.”
By 8:15am, we decided to go find the Labor protest contingent, slated to begin at 8:30, and started heading back up Broadway. But this proved difficult with police lining the sidewalk (on the street). Particularly so because the police themselves relentlessly insisted that we “Keep moving. If you don’t keep moving you will be arrested for obstructing pedestrian traffic” even as they themselves impeded more pedestrian (and vehicular) traffic than anyone else. (Many Occupiers were sure to let the police know about this with chants of “You are blocking pedestrian traffic! You are impeding pedestrian traffic!”) One female protester called out, “The NYPD shuts the city down for us. Great job, boys!” I was reminded of May Day 2012, when police were so concerned that protesters would shut down the Williamsburg Bridge that the police themselves shut down the Williamsburg Bridge. Obviously who shuts it down is more important than that it is shut down at all.
As we marched north on Broadway on the sidewalk, spirits were high. A band of horns and percussion had everyone clapping and feeling good; spoons were used on scaffolding to accompany the band. And right on time the police entered the sidewalk, waded into the crowd to randomly grab a protester, slam them to the ground, and arrest them. This split the march into two as people recoiled from the brutality. Several white-shirt police with macabre faces lunged at us, grabbing a protester next to me by his backpack and slamming him to the ground, and then a blue shirt cop jumped on him, then cuffed him. I had no doubt that he was grabbed instead of me because he was black, young and male – and I was let alone because I was a white male.
It was at this moment that I felt a peculiar failure as a protester: I didn’t grab my fellow protester from the police and try to pull him back to me. In the split second between being grabbed and being thrown to the ground, he looked at me and said “Help me out!” and I didn’t do a thing. Should I have grabbed him back and probably been arrested myself? I don’t know. I know I should have gotten his name and followed up with jail support, but in the chaos I lost him and did not. The money I was able to contribute later was a minor penance for this failure, which I partially blame the police for creating (he had done nothing to warrant the arrest, after all) but mostly just myself, for not knowing enough going into the action and not being confident enough to know what I should and would be willing to do at any given moment. I hated the police for having created this situation, but that is a futile waste of time and energy.
Wall Street itself was barricaded at Broadway, with police behind the barricades, in front of the barricades, and on the street. Protesters were attempting to move their way north, but the police suddenly cut the march in two, separating me and my friend from my girlfriend. Several people were brutally arrested. The police pushed us north onto the sidewalk, and then stopped. Then they came at us again and pushed us further and further north, until we were practically to Pine Street.
I began calling my girlfriend over and over waiting for her answer, fearing she’d been brutally arrested. Finally she answered the phone and we re-convened. She told me that the police had been pushing her from behind to move south, and she’d told them she wasn’t going to push the people in front of her just because she was being pushed by the police. She told them she wasn’t going to hurt someone else just because the police were pushing her. Then a protester near her was thrown to the ground and arrested. The police continued to push her, and she asked them if her moving south was more important than the brutal arrest going on right in front of them. The police told her, Yes, it is more important. She told them they had fucked up priorities. They told her to move.
Eventually we found our way to Bowling Green, where hundreds of protesters were gathering. An enormous Debt Bubble was pushed from hand-to-hand over the top of the crowd. We set out to peacefully march around the bull, which was at least triple barricaded by this time, as well as lined with police on foot and on scooter. We were pushed back almost immediately, and ended back where we started. The immense resources going to protect this bull are always astounding. Protecting the bull from what? An occupier straddling it? Graffiti? What other harm could befall it? It is as though the city fears that Occupiers “taking the bull” would mean the downfall of the whole establishment. Is there a secret self-destruct button on there?
Back at Bowling Green near the Museum of the American Indian, some musicians playing guitar sang songs I didn’t know and some I did – including a rousing cover of Sublime’s “What I Got,” which rang true and pure over the OWS crowd: “Loving / Is what I got.” Signs in the crowd hailing the Love Generation, or Time For Love, were, like the Troggs song says, all around.
I felt transported in time, as though it were 1968 and 2012 at once. It was like I’d imagined the 60s generation, and I was no longer wishing it was the 60s – I was ecstatic to be alive today, to be alive to witness and participate in OWS.
At Bowling Green several people spoke using the People’s Mic, including Rev Billy, and Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein, who said that the world was “on a breaking point. It’s time to change the breaking point to a tipping point” for the movement. Helicopters overhead lowered as though to drown us out with their noise, and then elevated again.
Taking a break for a seat, some coffee and a salad in a nearby lunch counter, we overheard some exhausted-looking protesters needing ibuprofen. We provided some from our pockets, glad to be helping.
In the afternoon protesters swarmed into Liberty Park. I was surprised the police had allowed anyone in at all. And of course the population was diverse: young and old, whites and blacks and Latina/o and etc., LGBTQ, the disabled. I spotted again the French fellow who’d kept shouting over police brutality all day, “This is a peaceful protest, thank you!” I spotted at least three city council-members. And perhaps best of all, plenty of people who supported OWS even though they had serious problems with it. It is a place of solidarity, but also a place of disagreement and debate.
For about an hour, I stood in the midst of the drum circle (complimented with sax and trumpet; drummers banging on drums, staircase-handles, the ground, etc.) and joined Occupiers in the jubilee of celebration. As someone announced after calming the drummers into quiet, “The greatest thing we have done is meet each other.” The number of actions, groups, events and change that come from us having met each other can probably never be quantified – which means Wall St will never understand or respect it. But it is an amazing achievement.
I and a few other ebullient, celebratory souls led the chants over and over, familiar ones like, “Banks got bailed out / We got sold out!” and “An / Anti / Anti-capitaliste!” But mostly the one refrain: “All day / All week / Occupy Wall Street!” The refrain, repeated so many times, took on new and different meanings. For one, the initial meaning: Occupiers occupying Wall Street non-stop demanding change. But further, it also meant: We support the movement that is Occupy Wall Street, and we support it all day and all week. Or: There is a movement called Occupy Wall Street, and it exists all day and all week; it exists in me right now as I stand here in the midst of my fellow Occupiers; and it exists in me as I move through the world making decisions and taking actions; it exists in me as I try to learn about the world and better the world; it exists in me and changes me, and I change it. And in Liberty Square it exists within me and all around me, palpably.
A drummer, taking a momentary break, reminded the crowd via the People’s Mic: “All you need to solve all these problems is to love each other. And that’s the truth.”
-Joel Chaffee -