Editors note: We revisit the occupation of Duarte Square on D17 today as activist Mark Adams prepares to serve forty-five days in jail after a judge handed down a guilty verdict this week stemming from his arrest in Duarte Square. We will have more coverage from solidarity actions happening right now later today. This story was originally published on We’ll Die When We’re Dead.
New York, NY – This past Saturday, December 17th, was the three-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Back in September, people began sleeping in a privately-owned public space a few blocks away from Wall Street in protest of the gross economic malfeasance the investors on Wall Street, the higher-ups at big banks, and the United States government has perpetrated against the American people, and people throughout the world. Whether or not you agree with OWS’s tactics and all of its beliefs, you can’t help but read the paper, watch the news, or look at your bank account and realize that, to quote the signage of one protester, “Shit is fucked up and bullshit.”
While I’m an adamant supporter of Occupy Wall Street, as anyone who has read this blog will likely know, I’ll admit that I was conflicted about the plans for D17, the anniversary celebration. OWS was going to take over a space that was not public, was fenced off, a space whose owners made it very clear that they did not want to be occupied. The owners of Duarte Square, Trinity Wall Street, have helped out OWS in the past, providing shelter and office space, food and some verbal support. This further complicated things in my mind, OWS was not quite biting the hand that feeds it, but close.
Do churches owe a movement that is committed to social equality anything? Trinity Wall Street is an Episcopal church that also happens to own about a third of the land south of Canal Street in Manhattan. They are equal parts church and corporation, like so many other mega-churches throughout the United States. A Christian church, you would think, would be committed to little more than the words of Christ himself, words like “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” or “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you are making it a den of thieves” or “sell what you possess and give to the poor.” And while Trinity doesn’t owe anybody anything, you’d at least think that following Jesus’s words would be important to them.
OWS weren’t asking for money, or shelter, or anything, really. They wanted to set up tents on a piece of concrete that no one uses and is fenced off from the public. An actual presence is important to the movement, a place to meet and gather and discuss and call home. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that a church, supposedly devoted to spreading God’s message of helping the poor etc., would give up a scrap of land, of which they own billions of dollars worth, to create a home base for a movement they supposedly ideologically agree with. But that was too much to ask.
Not much happened between noon and 3pm on D17. Me and the handful of friends I was with hung out in the cold, talking, milling, and eventually Eric and I were asked to hold a sign on the side of the road, “Tune in to 99.5 FM/Follow the revolution.” 99.5 WBAI worked in conjunction with OWS, broadcasting a series of performers, including Lou Reed, from their studio. Protesters were encouraged to bring radios so that everyone could have a party in the park. This worked and didn’t, but it was done in good spirit.
At about 3pm, we headed to a Starbucks to warm up and use the bathroom. I was wearing an OWS button on my coat that someone had handed to me weeks earlier at another event. The cashier saw it, clapped her hands with glee, smiled, and didn’t charge me for my coffee. We waited nearly an hour in the immense bathroom line and when we made it back to the park, nearly everyone was gone. We thought the police had cleared them out.
From a ways down Varick Street we heard a loud but muffled “WE. ARE. THE 99%!” The protesters had gone a-marchin’. When the march returned, they took the square.
Banners held by protesters concealed two small sets of staircases. The staircases were put up against the fence, and the first to climb them was retired Episcopal Bishop George Packard, followed by dozens more. I chose not to occupy the space, I didn’t want to get arrested and knew that those who did go in, would be.
But that didn’t spare me from getting roughed up by the police. As the crowd chanted “BLOOMBERG’S ARMY!” and “FROM NEW YORK TO GREECE, FUCK THE POLICE!” you could see the anger in the police growing. No one wants to feel like they’re anyone’s lackey, and it surely didn’t make them feel good to know that Bloomberg himself claimed the NYPD were his army recently. As police attempted to clear the sidewalk on Grand Street where the stairs were going up, I was pushed multiple times by an officer, a nightstick held by both his hands and pressed across my chest. Behind me was a police van that I was repeatedly pushed into. “There’s a fucking van behind me! Where am I supposed to go?” was what I had to yell, over and over, before he let me go. And minutes later, on the park side of Duarte Square, I came across a man being hassled by riot-geared cops who wouldn’t let him near the fence to the Square. “What law am I breaking?” he kept asking them. He showed identification and was an assistant to the NYC Attorney General. A whiteshirt refused to give the man a straight answer and turned his back. The man tapped the whiteshirt on the shoulder and a swarm of riot-geared foot soldiers grabbed the man and threw him, multiple times, into me. I was pushed in the process, too. A stream of obscenities flew from my mouth and a friend held me back, thank God. Not that I’d ever touch a cop, because they are untouchable as this whole scene proved, but if a cop decided that I was out of line, all of my rights would’ve dissolved with the crack of a baton.
I didn’t shoot this video of George Packard being taken to jail, because I wasn’t arrested that day, but he points out that Trinity doesn’t want to help OWS because the people who can afford to lease land that Trinity owns won’t do business with Trinity if they help OWS. It’s disgusting to know that a church even worries about doing business with anyone. I’m no Christian, so what churches do in general I find odd and strange, but in my mind, the last thing a church should ever worry about is pissing off its business partners, or even having business partners in the first place. A church shouldn’t have business partners. A church should be there to a) worship their god and b) serve the community. Why else are they given tax-exempt status, if not for being a charitable organization?
It’s really too bad that Bloomberg’s Army has also become Trinity’s army, as well as the army of all those who oppose the common man and the struggle for financial and social equality. Though I’m not a Christian, I’m reminded of the Centurions in the Bible. While the Pharisees, the Jewish religious leaders of the time, the ones who believed in strictly following Rabbinical law but also loved making a buck, called for the execution of Jesus, it was the Centurions, Rome’s army, who carried out the orders, who dragged Jesus through the streets, who tortured him, who hung him on a cross to die and then gambled for his clothes. But it was also a Centurion, Cornelius, who was the first Gentile to convert to Christianity. I wonder who the first convert from the NYPD will be? Because they’re with OWS, they’re part of the 99%, whether they like it or not. It’s only a matter of time.
Duarte Square wasn’t taken that day, and OWS still does not have a physical base that’s open and transparent and welcoming. But that’s ok, for now. The few thousand who showed up on Saturday despite the cold have shown that the movement is still alive, even though corporations, church corporations, and their minions have tried to crush it.