New York, NY–After the high drama of #noNato of the May 17th weekend, it was back to grassroots building at Occupy Wall Street with the new summer disobedience school series. I found a great group of dedicated occupiers and new faces in Bryant Park on a very muggy early afternoon at the start of the Memorial Day Weekend, all in all about 200 strong.
Many of them had broken up into smaller groups to march upon the seven banks in the area that are open on Saturdays, with the goal to shut them down for at least a little while. Change thrown to the floor and only very slowly being picked up, serious questions about ethical loan policies and other interactions kept the bankers unusually busy this Saturday until the cops finally intervened and kicked everybody out.
Back at Bryant Park, NYPD’s Community Affairs Outreach group was keeping a close eye on the occupiers, which led to some heated arguments, as some protesters felt unduly singled out. Cooler heads prevailed however, and no further arguments or arrests ensure.
We then all went to Times Square for a convergence with the marching groups from the other banks to raise the People’s Alarm on the State of our Nation.
For once, we didn’t have a massive police presence, as this was a holiday weekend, and marchers had approached Times Square in “civilian mode” i.e. in small groups, not identifiable as a protest march, and not displaying any occupy banners. Contrary to earlier attempts, we managed to take the steps and set up properly to raise the People’s Alarm, a mic check alerting onlookers to the State of our Nation and the economic realities we all face.
Many tourists who had been sitting on the stairs chose to flee rather than join us, an unfortunate occurance, as this was a great opportunity to reach out to them. Still, all remained peaceful despite the oppressive heat and some shouting private security officers.
After the People’s Alarm, the group set out to march through Times Square and back to Bryant Park. Along the way we passed a group of US Navy Sailors, Army Soliders, and Marines who had set up outside the Times Square recruiting station to show off their new toys and uniforms for Fleet Week, the traditional charm offensive by the armed forces leading up to Memorial Day weekend. They weren’t quite sure what to make of us, so most just scurried away or looked on bemusedly. Some Community Affairs Officers tagged along as well, but all in all the NYPD presence was very small.
Still, the ones that did show up were cranky, an officer in plain clothes giving me a hard time for my press pass that, while not issued by the NYPD, was still intended to identify me as a working member of the press (I am a member of the National Press Photographers Association, and as such qualify as a journalist.)
After crossing Times Square the march turned onto 42nd Street to return to Bryant Park for teach-ins, civil disobedience trainings and skill share sessions, as well as outreach to passersby.
I felt the outreach part of the afternoon could have been stronger. There were no info tables or occupiers with “ask me anything” shirts around, as they tend to be at pop-up occupations. These Summer Disobedience School sessions are a great opportunity to reach out to a new community, and should not be missed.
The atmosphere relaxed markedly once everybody was back inside Bryant Park, and the cops realized we were done marching. After a brief session with all participants, people broke into groups to learn more about economics, poetry and other topics; the National Lawyers Guild held a “Know Your Rights” session, which I attended; and the Direct Action group met to plan next Saturday’s event.
Most important take-aways from the “Know Your Rights” session:
- Your rights are, while maintained in the constitution, not treated as absolute during a confrontation. Yes, in court you will most likely succeed in reinforcing them, but a cop may choose, or be instructed to ignore them on the ground. It’s important to strike a balance of standing your ground and deciding what to fight later in court.
- It is important to build a level of trust with a group of other occupiers so you can share your fears and experiences prior, during, and after protest marches, arrests, and major events. It is important to have a community of people you can trust to take care of each other, remind you of the need to deal with any outstanding summonses or other legal implications of your actions that may impact your interactions with police during and after an arrest.
- Know your rights, share that knowledge but also be smart how far you push insisting on them during marches. Sometimes cops are ordered by their superiors to ignore your rights or break the law, so never assume that just because you have a right that the cop you’re confronting a) knows those rights and b) is willing / allowed to grant them to you.
- Work together, know each other to minimize risk of infiltration.
- It was also discussed what cops do with the footage the TARU unit films at protest. Expect it to be stored indefinitely and run through iris scans and facial recognition software.
- The NLG lawyers recommended that if we see TARU film that someone stand in the way of the camera and read the Hanshu Decree to them to make sure they know that we know what they’re allowed to film and what not.
Next Summer Disobedience School session is next Saturday. I’m quite certain NYPD will be present in bigger force and better prepared …
- Julia Reinhart -