Where is Occupy Now?
June 1, 2013. Answer: Turkey.
Gliding down Broadway last Saturday, the blazing-red Mark di Suvero sculpture known to arts professionals as “Joie de Vivre” and to Occupy Wall Street as “the Weird Red Thing” comes into view. The scene is familiar. Facing west, I see white-shirt cops on Broadway and Liberty and the Imperial Walker-esque NYPD surveillance tower perched in the lower right corner of the park. More friendly are the falafel and juice stands lined up on the left. The 33,000 square feet of public/private space formerly known as Zuccotti Park pulses with energy: men and women waving red flags, shouting in unison and singing spirited songs in Turkish.
It is day one of #OccupyGeziParkNYC, an American offshoot of the Turkish #OccupyGeziPark, that began as peaceful sit-in demonstration against a shopping mall slated to replace Istanbul’s last major public square. The protest quickly morphed into a Tahrir-like movement to oust Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. Tens of thousands of protesters in Taksim Square were tear gassed, arrested in the hundreds, some beaten and killed by the police. Within hours, a solidarity group called #OccupyGeziParkNYC had begun to organize a response. There were even those from the OWS movement who flew to the action, like Justin Wedes, a member of the communication working group in Zuccotti. “The revolution has just begun,” he tweets, the first of a day, in seemingly hundreds he sends out. (He also files regular posts at Animal NY).
This converged last minute with a planned OWS re-occupation or “homecoming” action for June 1 which I was attending. Since the eviction of Liberty Square on November 15th2011, big days of action such as May 1st (M1) or the September 17th anniversary (S17– we activists convert important dates into codes to make them sound ominous) partially fell into the shadow of the original Occupy season. Each big march provided proof that the movement is still here but dwindling. You’d see many familiar faces from the glory days of the park, but a reunion just does not equate to a movement that can take on Capitalism. Especially a slightly dysfunctional reunion. Occupy was slowly fragmenting into groups (though impressive ones); big moments where Occupiers came together were becoming less and less convincing.
Saturday felt different though, and it looked different, too. I saw very few familiar faces in the park, now filled with Turkish protesters. “It’s exciting” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me, speaking of the new upbeat energy in Liberty Park. This energy flows in from elsewhere causing creative hybridized memes to pop up like wildflowers. OWS posters from 2011 have been re-tooled for Turkey, yellow “Occu-tape” is wrapped around trees to highlight the eradication of green space in Istanbul, those famous ragged cardboard signs are scrawled in Turkish. Someone bangs a pot with a spoon in the protest style of the Quebec student movement or “Casseroles.” Others hold signs that say “Turkish Spring,” harkening back to Egypt and Tunisia. It’s as if all the movement memes from the last couple years have ended up in a common whirlpool.
By noon, the park was so packed that all I could see of the movement were those squeezed up against me. I made my way through the dense crowd to catch a better view from Zuccotti’s northern wall (hallowed site of the speakers’ area in the very first OWS general assemblies). There I met a Turkish woman in her fifties, Lutfiye Karakus, a nurse from Staten Island, who has been in the US for twenty-one years. She’s part of the 99%, having lost her home to foreclosure, and watched the American Dream slip away. She made it out to Liberty Park once in 2011 to join the protest.
This time, she tells me tales of Turkish corruption where the 1% straddle the financial and political lines, similar to the impetus for Occupy Wall Street. Luftiye was enraged at the Turkish media blackout, including even CNN Turkey, during the protests and police violence. “The police sprayed tear gas in people’s eyes and blinded them,” she told me.
The focus on Turkey– with red crescent flags, pictures of Turkey’s modern state founder Ataturk, and chants of “Turkiye! Turkiye! Turkiye!”– may seem strangely nationalistic for an Occupy movement. But Occupy doesn’t espouse a singular political view. The activist and anthropologist David Graeber reported from among the different political players in the planning stages before September 17th; not only Anarchists, but members of the Democratic Party and quite a few Ron Paul followers. (One of the “bottomliners” of the Declaration of the Occupation of New York City was a big fan of Ayn Rand). And then once the movement went viral, hundreds of cities interpreted Occupy differently, from Oakland’s militant style to El Paso’s protests against the government.
After we parted ways, I began to wonder why Lutfiye and her Turkish community decided to use Occupy to raise their voices. A few years ago, she had participated in a large Turkish protest outside the United Nations. Why head down to Lower Manhattan this time? “Because they’re not appealing to the UN” Occupier Marisa Holmes told me. She believes the slowness of a bureaucracy is unappealing to many, particularly now that there’s a little Occupy-inspired Anarchism in the air. Appealing to fellow citizens directly may be more effective than the state, and Occupy is building a platform for it.
That’s exactly why it’s exciting. For one, the “Occupy” meme itself can be interchanged with other locations and causes like Legos (Occupy Gezi Park, Occupy the SEC, Occupy Museums, etc).
Second, it offers tools for communication, whether through social media mutual aid efforts or offline “social software”: the hand signs, and the people’s mic, which allow large groups of people to project their voices without speakers or microphones.
Third, Occupy serves up a toolbox of direct action tactics: the long-term holding of space (Tahrir Square, Liberty Park, and Frank H. Ogawa Plaza) shorter-term occupations (a 2011 sleep-in at Lincoln Center, a 2012 occupation at the Berlin Biennale, and last month’s occupation of the Ludwig Museum in Hungary) and spectacular actions (just today, Occupy Gezi crowdfunded a full-page ad in the New York Times).
Finally, Occupy offers a form of horizontal organizing which discourages the centralization of leadership. These tactics have diverse roots, from the Zapatista Movement of the 1990’s to Spanish Anarchists. But this time, an unprecedented ability to socially network makes it possible for these tactics to flow in bursts of energy across the globe, and also to rapidly morph and develop in a co-authored but connected way: kind of like the Internet.
Circulation is happening offline as well, as occupiers travel the globe to exchange movement experiences and tactics. Hundreds of occupiers, for example, attended The World Social Forum (WSF) in Tunis as part of a group called Global Square. Their attendance, fellow occupier Marisa Holmes told me at Zucotti, took the form of an occupation. “They didn’t know how to relate to us.” she said, explaining this was in part due to a generational clash and in part due to an entrenched vertical leadership. Still, group met every day, and over all, Marisa concluded that “It was really great for us.”
I got that sense from other occupiers as well, but it’s important to remember that these movements have a darker side as well. Damage to the body can easily occur during protests, as police violence is common. Activists can lose jobs or damage professional reputations by standing up for strong political positions. The time and risk required in the heat of a movement can destroy relationships; a member of Occupy Museums went through a divorce, partly due to her strong commitment to the movement in 2011. Activists have power struggles with other activists, and most of all, exhaustion. Most of us have gone through some form of movement trauma.
At this point, Occupy Wall Street increasingly operates within totally separate networks. When the Turkish community began to thin out that evening, the tribe reconvened in little clusters to discuss re-occupation. I heard many woeful tales about power struggles, people’s Occu-nemeses, their banishment from groups, or just sense of burnout. Although there was a 6 PM assembly to discuss re-occupation organized by a group called Occupy Town Square, it became clear that any sort of large consensus wasn’t going to happen.
These may sound like big problems, but they don’t define the movement. It just means that the movement is moving along in stages. To name just a few of the many efforts in the last 9 months, Occupy Sandy has figured out a new model to provide direct relief to those affected by global warming-fueled catastrophes. Strikedebt has come up with ingenious new economic proposals such as the Rolling Jubillee, a crowdsourced fund to buy up personal debt, and it’s produced a manual for debt resistance. Occupy the Pipeline is putting up a spirited fight against fracking. The group I’m in, Occupy Museums, is launching Debt Fair: an experimental art fair spread throughout the streets of New York City that invites collectors buy art in exchange for artists’ debt.
These projects flow naturally from a view of the world you acquire by fatefully stepping into the public squares. But they take a tremendous amount of energy. As we enter the long-haul, this practice can seem like a heavy burden to bear.
Yet on June 1st, I remembered something that is actually totally obvious: Occupy is no one’s burden. It’s an uncontrollable open source project where all responsibility is shared, and in that way, I see Occupy as an alternative model for culture. For a generation, the private sector has been encroaching on the public, reenforcing the mentality that we must achieve individual goals at all cost to shared resources. As depicted in mainstream entertainment and news organizations, we are people who distrust strangers and associate the public realm with poverty. Occupying a park challenges these assumptions through practice. Serving food in a park, chanting, or organizing actions with people you just met points toward a culture based on shared, rather than private, space. There’s a sublime feeling of connection with fellow protesters anywhere in the world.
From its inception, it was a perfect storm of talent, wisdom from past movements, catalyzed by economic and political shocks. It’s always had a random quality: the name and initial call itself was coined by a Canadian magazine, Adbusters, who didn’t even show up to their own party! I have learned to suspend disbelief as the protest unfolded differently than any script I could imagine.
Yet another chapter is unfolding as thousands of Turkish protesters fill Liberty Park on June 1. This time however, the novelty has worn off, and Occupy is looking like a permanent part of our post-crash reality: a direct democratic forum for citizens to highlight and link political situations globally. And, as I stood there looking at a poster of Ataturk printed out on foamcore and decorated with yellow Occu-tape, I had another thought: Occupy just may be ahead of the curve.
Read more stories from the resistance in Turkey by clicking here.]]>
I noticed people running around near the main stream media–live streamers. I started asking questions: who are you? Why are you filming? Where does your work go? Lorenzo Serna explained that he was streaming. This grabbed my attention. Then, Bill Boggs at the press tent handling PR was loaded with intensity. Then Hero Vincent was doing some kind if Skype chat. I started asking all of them questions. This led to meeting Justin Wedes and Priscilla Grim and Flux and Haywood Carey–and Tim Poole. Of course, Jesse Lagreca made a splash with the Fox News people. I knew this was the angle for my film: the media people. They had a job to do. Help drive a story. Whether it was filming, editing, getting out a press release or a newspaper, this was new, exciting, living media happening from Zuccotti in the rain, snow. Anybody getting out a story to the world with this feverish energy was exciting, and to me, the first time in a long while in New York City that media wasn’t old, stale and redundant!
I made a 40 minute film that was almost live. I made some good friends and they shared with me some great video that I couldn’t film alone. I needed a team of 5 camera people 24/7 .
I made a film that mirrored the days and nights of Zuccotti. Raw, fast and real, I wanted the sound rough. The shaky camera from when I was shoved. Zuccotti was not a glossed-over filtered fantasy. I am a hard New Yorker, and this energy was real. The OWS media team is brilliant. From the Direct Action to the graphic artists to Sophia writing the Spanish paper, I tell the story of many people. Personal, yet showing their commitment to OWS media, I filmed it.
This is new journalism. They don’t need press passes and insignias to get out a story. This is greatness in action. I’m happy they trusted me to tell the story. And, regardless of criticism, they know how to create a story, and they work hard.
It was a once in a lifetime event in New York. Finally people said “Enough with the bullshit. We are citizen journalists. This is what we do. We will tell our own story.”
I used my energy to capture it.
Editor’s Note: You may view #WhileWeWatch in its entirety here at SnagFilms.]]>
I left late in the day Sunday, around 4:30, with a questionable truck, limited funds, and a load of revisions piled up in my classes at WNMU, in addition to a pile of grading at Everest. Cranked up on coffee and good music, I drove as far as mile marker 78 in Pennsylvania and crashed in the back of my truck at a TA Travel Center with the parking lot lights shining through my tinted windows. The next morning I drove the rest of the way into Brooklyn, found a spot to park after a bit of driving around, and spent the rest of the day at Milk & Roses trying to return grades to my students at Everest with a laptop that refuses to connect to the internet. After four hours of slugging it out with faulty internet, I was tired of sitting on my ass, so I swigged down a glass of wine, packed up, and headed back to my truck to take it easy before the May Day General Strike the next day. Sitting in my truck, imbibing on the few treats I’d brought with me, wondering what the next day
would bring, full of hope for a massive showing, but also filled with anxiety that the day would be small, splintered, and the movement dying, I couldn’t help but think how odd it was to find myself there, sitting in the back of my truck, back in Brooklyn for OWS, without my cousin, Joe. (You sure missed a beautiful day, Joe. I wish you could have been here…)
I couldn’t get over to Manhattan until I moved my car to the other side of the street, so I slept in a bit, killed some time having a cup of coffee at Julie’s—a great gal who’d befriended Joe and I when we were in town last October (I haven’t seen the older lady, Alice, who lives next door, yet) and took a quick shower. (Thanks, Julie!) A few minutes to 1 pm, I moved my truck and headed into Manhattan. I was hoping to link up with the Guitarmy to sing along with them as we marched.
In Manhattan, I found my way to Bryant Park. There was a large group gathered there to be sure. Teach-ins were taking place in various pockets around the park, a large group was meditating on a set of steps with an Occupy Wall Street banner, and the Statue of Liberty puppet was there dancing to the drums. The air smelled of sage and the crowds energy filled me with happiness.
I walked around and dug Bryant Park, checking out the protestors, the teach-ins, the literature being passed out, the signs and flags waving in the air, even the spectators watching from their tables. The crowd was smaller than I’d hoped, but still large, alive, and kicking. I also knew from the schedule that many groups were out and about the city protesting at various locations. Many of the unions were off doing just that. Soon enough, a march started, leading the way to Union Square, where Tom Morello, Immortal Technique, and many others were to perform.
The march to Union Square was fairly tame. We took the streets a few times, but the cops continually pushed us back onto the sidewalks. The police presence was large, but nothing like we’d see as the evening progressed. At one point, I actually came across my old professor and mentor, Anne Waldman, who I was thrilled to see. We chatted it up on the street for a bit before she ran off, away from the bus fumes blasting our direction. The most beautiful moment in the march was once I caught up to the Guitarmy and we were trapped by a traffic light away from the rest of the march. We had an enormous group of marchers behind us, and we ended up at the tip of a triangular median, playing and singing, “This Land Is Your Land.” We marched and chanted to Union Square, and then the marchers diffused into all directions around the park.
I had no idea how big the group was at Union Square until I saw an aerial shot later that night online, but you could feel it as we were often pressed against each other with nowhere to go. The police brought in an army of mopeds then, literally a platoon of cops ready to run you down—there were so many of them! The police who were not on scooters formed human barricades in addition to the metal barricades that were up everywhere you looked. They did an annoyingly good job at compartmentalizing people and squishing us together. People were getting irritable and claimed the police were trying to incite a riot. I think that has a lot of validity from what I saw and felt. We all wanted to kick those barricades down and push those cops back just to breathe. There were women with strollers who grew more and more concerned as people were pushed into the park and not let out. Finally, after the crowd continued chanting “Let us out! Let us out!” the cops opened a barricade and let a group of tens of thousands of people file out between them and their barricades like a bottleneck. It was aggravating to say the least, but we kept the peace, showed our strength, patience, and simply marched by them. All day, all night, I saw no signs of violence and somehow missed the group of Vets and clergy who were arrested defending our GA at Battery Park later in the night.
From there, we marched and marched and marched. It’s a bit of a blur, really. We danced in the streets, chanted, sang songs. I ran all over the place taking pictures and videos until a guy marching next to me asked if I’d push his bike so he could take out his drum and join the drummers. I obliged him long, long after it was necessary, as it turned out he was the best drummer there. Finally, after dusk had turned to night and we’d passed by Zuccotti Park, which I thought was our destination, I gave him back his bike by the bull and the crowd of tens of thousands of us stopped.
Each time the police stopped the march, people would think it was over and trickle off. We started a sit-in in the middle of the street, but the drums were still playing and all those thousands of people in the back couldn’t see or hear what was happening. We were halted for so long, we lost a lot of people then. Finally, after the sit-in communication failed and the police bowed to the crowd and let the march continue, we headed to Veterans Plaza for a GA.
Veterans Plaza was packed. It was there that I really reflected once again, on what an honor it is to be here, to be part of this, to be with these people. We talked about the fact that the police were surrounding us and had cut off a majority of the march back on the other side of the street. The GA filled Veterans Plaza, but many thousands were not able to be let in, due to the police and the size of the park. The more people announced the police surrounding us, the more people would trickle away, until finally there were maybe a couple hardcore hundred who stayed and talked about the tactics we would use to defend the park. As more and more police formed around us and more and more people trickled away as we neared the 10 pm curfew, we decided the risk was too futile, so we tapped back into the crowd on the other side of the street to march to a 24 hour location. Unfortunately, by then, our Vets and clergy had been arrested defending our GA and much of the thousands of people had splintered off. Some headed to the waterfront, I later learned, but I never did see that group again.
The rest of us marched, noting how small we were by then, considering the tens of thousands we’d started out with. The police planning to splinter us off from each other and continuously herding us around through barricades, scooters, and their own bodies, worked fairly well. In the end, after trying to take Wall St. through any crack we could think of, including the subway underpass and cutting through a large store, always meeting with more barricades, we did a temporary sit in on the street to discuss our next action. In the end, we opted to go home to Zuccotti, where only a couple hundred of us, if that, gathered. There we went through park defense training, talked about how we would hold the park down, and waited for the folks from the waterfront to show up before the cops raided the park. As midnight approached, there was no sign of the crowd from the waterfront, and though a few more police showed up, the park was largely free from officers compared to many other nights. Last night, they were scattered all over the city.
After a small GA to discuss if and how we would try to hold the park, we all waited around to see if we would be kicked out, or if our reinforcements would show up. Around 12:30, seeing no reinforcements and no raid from the police, watching more people trickle home, I decided to head back to the truck in Brooklyn and catch some z’s. My legs were stiff and it takes a while to get back to Brooklyn at that time of night, so off I went. Today is largely uneventful for me, unfortunately. I haven’t checked the schedule for OWS yet, as I have to sit in this coffee shop and get some writing done for my WMNU classes. I will have to do the same tomorrow, but if I get up early I am hoping to make it over to Manhattan for the night’s activities after I help Julie move a refrigerator up from her basement apartment in the evening.
Editors note: Inspired by Occupy Wall Street and angered by the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, Dylan drove to NYC to join the movement last fall. Read about it here.
And read the rest of our May Day coverage here.]]>
No journalists, no television, no microphones—only their voices and faces.
These portraits bear witness to the beginning of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. They regard dreamers who believe in an idea.
No one could have imagined that in the space of a few weeks, those involved in Occupy Wall Street would have entered people’s homes all over the world through newspapers and television.
—Daniele Corsini, photographer
NEW YORK, NY – March 17 was the 6-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street moving into Zuccotti Park, renaming it Liberty Square and the beginning of the Occupy Movement worldwide.
We celebrated all day, in style—chanting, dancing, marching, holding a General Assembly that needed three waves of the People’s Microphone—until the police brutally crashed our party—beating and violently arresting over 73 Occupiers in the park and on the march that ensued. It was probably the most violent day in our short history, and we have not been able to determine that any of the incidents were warranted or incited by an Occupier.
Our response was two-fold. On Tuesday, March 20, we held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza with allied communities—Muslim, Latin@, LGBT, Black, undocumented, and the undomiciled—to call for an end to police repression, brutality, surveillance, and explicitly for the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.
The second part, which was much more in line with our style, was to take our energy back to the streets. We, again joined by our allies, held an anti-police-brutality march.
On Saturday, m24, I got to Liberty Square around 11:30am to meet with about 10 other Occupiers, who had also volunteered to act as pacers for the march—folks who would help direct the march, respond to police kettling or obstruction, close gaps and maintain continuity in the middle, and help protect stragglers in the back from getting picked off by police.
We discussed the plan for the day. It would begin in Liberty Square with a series of speakers talking about their personal and communities’ experiences with the NYPD, which mostly consisted of violence and repression. Afterward we would march north on Broadway to Union Square, where a new, 24-hour occupation had been in place since the violent eviction at Liberty Square on m17.
The march route would pass in front of five locations at the heart of New York’s police and jail system—City Hall, 100 Centre Street, aka “the Tombs,” 1 Police Plaza, the Federal Building, and the ICE Detention Center. The exact route would be at the discretion of the pacers at the front of the march, and largely based on how much space the police gave us. Our primary mode of communication with each other was via a private text-message loop, which would help us coordinate throughout the march.
An interesting addition to this march was a group of about 30 folks from Veterans For Peace. They appeared to be somewhere in between their late 50s and late 60s. They were mostly white men and women who had served in the armed forces. Their gray sweatshirts bore their logo, and every one of them had plastic goggles hanging from their necks. They were prepared to be peppered sprayed.
Having seen photos, videos, and reports of the violence the week before, Veterans For Peace reached out to OWS. Not only did they want to march in solidarity with us, they wanted to put themselves on the front lines, or positioned anywhere in the march that we felt was vulnerable. They wanted to stand between us and the police, in order to protect our constitutional rights—to put their bodies on the line and spare us the brutality for one day.
I nearly cried when I saw them gathered on Saturday, and I’m crying now as I think about it. I’m crying because their sacrifice honors and humbles me. And because it didn’t work.
The first speaker of the day was Eric, an organizer and street medic with Occupy Wall Street, who was one of those arrested during the m17 eviction of Liberty Square. Eric chose not to speak of his own experiences, as violent as they were, but instead to connect our current struggle and experiences with those of people who have come before us. With Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo and so many more black and Latin@ men and women murdered by the NYPD and the police state.
A speaker from the National Lawyers Guild, which provides all of the legal support for Occupy Wall Street, highlighted how some people are treated as criminals based on their actions, but in New York City, the NYPD has criminalized the entire Muslim community simply because of who they are.
City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Democrat, District 10, Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (Democrat, District 45, Brooklyn), longtime OWS supporters spoke on the history of NYPD violence.
“It is not an accident that all the people killed by the NYPD are black and Latino,” Rodriguez said.
On OWS, Rodriguez asserted, “This movement is the voice of the working and middle classes.”
Councilmember Williams flipped up his hoodie, which he said that he wore in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth murdered by a man in Florida who targeted him because of his clothing and his race. Williams asked those of us with hoodies to put on our hoods as well. We wore them with pride.
It was nearing 1pm, the crowd in Liberty Square had filled out dramatically, energy was building, the sun was shining, and we were ready to march.
The pacers spread out, the drums started to beat, and we marched.
It was a large procession, stretching for at least a few blocks. As we left Liberty Square, a headcount put the march at over 600 people. For the first half hour or more we stayed on the sidewalk.
One of the first chants that I remember was “RACIST! SEXIST! ANTI-GAY! N-Y-P-D GO AWAY!” This is a favorite chant for many of us. It is confrontational without being physical, while making a bold statement to the police, as well as bystanders, on how Occupy regards the NYPD.
We slowly made our way up Broadway until we passed the home of the FBI and Homeland Security at 26 Federal Plaza. Both of these federal agencies have played a role in the suppression of the Occupy Movement. In the weeks leading up to the violent evictions of Occupy encampments nationwide in November and December, Homeland Security provided assistance to local cities in the form of intelligence monitoring and information gathering.
As we passed the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of six cops on horseback could not be ignored. Following the October 1st action that took over the Brooklyn Bridge, resulting in close to 700 arrests, the NYPD has been very protective of this monument.
The march veered east past Foley Square on its way to “The Tombs” of Central Booking at 100 Centre Street, where at least 7 our comrades were being held for arrests from the day before.
I was one of about 5 pacers holding up the back of the march and trying to ensure a tight formation as we moved through intersections—a typically vulnerable point, where police can kettle, redirect, or break up a march if there are gaps.
Instead of reciting our usual chants, the back of the march had a bard of sorts leading us in song, which we repeated for many blocks:
Mama, mama, can’t you see
What police have done to me;
They keep trying to beat us down,
But we’re rising all around;
Mama, mama can’t you see
What police have come to be;
They keep trying to beat us down,
But we’re rising all around.
As we lined up in front of the Tombs, we held a die-in. Everyone melted to the ground, and we lay there until our bard sang, “… but we’re rising all around.” As if on cue, we got up, cheered, and continued marching.
Because of the slow pace of the march and in an effort to maintain energy levels high, the pacers decided to skip some of the more out-of-the-way destinations and head for Union Square, while we still had a large number of protestors. It’s not uncommon for marches to peter out after the initial momentum and energy wears out, even when a final destination is set and events are planned. If marches are slow, or winding, or met with significant police blocks or resistance, people tend to peal off gradually, and the march shrinks.
Shortly after this, the tone of the march changed dramatically. The front of the march saw an opportunity and decided to take to the streets, veering off the sidewalk and breaking through the line of cops along the edge of the street monitoring the march.
As has become common practice, the NYPD targeted two female protestors—Amelia and Negesti—who could be isolated and arrested. A white-shirt pointed to them and said, “Those two.”
They were quickly surrounded and told that they were being arrested. Since there was nowhere to go, they decided to lie down in the crosswalk.
Word of their arrests, as well as the arrest of another Occupier, Chris, in the same intersection, made its way through the march very quickly.
Sensing that the police were getting tired of escorting us, we decided to make the march a bit more militant and active, diverting off of major streets into the more intimate, consumerist, and tourist-destination Nolita neighborhood.
The narrower one-way streets allowed us to more easily move in and out of the street, filling it with Occupiers who continuously chanted about police brutality and about the better world we know is possible. In order to protect marchers from being hit by police vehicles, some people began non-violently laying barricades in the streets.
Walking north on Elizabeth Street, as we approached Prince Street, suddenly, I heard the all-too-familiar shout for cameras—an unmistakable signal that the police were doing something that required monitoring.
I looked up the street and saw Mesiah, a 16-year-old girl, being held up by two cops. She looked shocked. Someone called for a medic. She started to cry.
I took a step off of the sidewalk and into the street, which was being blocked by a line of cops on scooters along side the march. Then I turned around to address the crowd of people that had amassed on the sidewalk behind me.
“MIC CHECK! MIC CHECK!” I yelled. After it was repeated back to me, I continued, “SHE IS 16-YEARS OLD!” The crowd repeated it over and over, but they only encountered the NYPD’s blank stares and deaf ears.
Turning back toward the street, I saw five cops carrying Mesiah down the street, her shirt pulled up, much of her torso exposed. I screamed at the cops that they should be fucking ashamed of themselves. I called them fucking animals. I asked if they were proud to have beaten up a 16-year-old girl. I asked why it took so many of them to carry her off.
As the march continued up the street, I had a heated exchange with the white-shirt officer who oversaw Mesiah’s arrest.
“DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF? MANHANDLING A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL? YOU FEEL REAL FUCKING TOUGH IN YOUR WHITE SHIRT? 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL! IT TOOK FIVE OF YOU TO CARRY HER UP A PUBLIC STREET.”
“OK, well you have a nice day.”
“OK, YOU HAVE A NICE DAY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”
On the northwest corner of Prince and Spring Street a group of tourists watched us pass by. I stopped in the middle of them and recapped, as loud as I could, what had just happened a mere few feet from where they stood. My voice cracked, and my stomach cramped. I can only hope that they shared with others what they heard.
My friend Anthony came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and told me to take a breath, to center myself and focus, we still had a long way to go until we reached Union Square, and we had a role to fill.
I tried. But I was so angry.
As we walked along Houston I think I yelled at the line of cops acting as our escorts. I know that I had three separate interactions with the police, but with the exhaustion of the moment, I don’t remember the second one clearly. I remember holding my stomach. My muscles ached from yelling, I was hungry, and my throat burned. I was fuming.
When the march had mostly crossed Houston on Broadway, we encountered another large pack of tourists. My anger overwhelmed me. I stopped in front of them and yelled with all of my remaining energy.
“THE NYPD CALLS ITSELF NEW YORK’S FINEST. THAT IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. JUST A FEW BLOCKS BACK THEY BEAT UP A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL FOR WALKING IN THE STREET. THEY RIPPED HER SHIRT OFF. IT TOOK FIVE OF THEM TO CARRY HER OFF WHILE SHE CRIED. REMEMBER, NEW YORK’S FINEST IS BULLSHIT.”
I turned the corner, not feeling any less angry. This time, Anthony ran up to me, put his hand on my back and said, “A Community Affairs cop just pointed at you and said, ‘He’s next.’ Get out of here.” And he pushed me forward.
I ran up the march; took off my bandanas, my hoodie, and my glasses; and stashed them in my bag.
Turning onto Great Jones I shot west towards Lafayette, and then ran up to Astor Place. While I was disappointed to leave the march, I was overwhelmed with pride. I could hear our chants reverberating off of the buildings blocks away.
“ONE! We are the people!
TWO! We are united!
THREE! THIS OCCUPATION IS NOT LEAVING!”
I watched the march make its way up Lafayette and then snake along Astor back to Broadway. I ran up a few blocks to stay ahead of it, and, hopefully, well away from the cops who were targeting me on its south end. I found out later that, just after I left the march, a group of white-shirts were examining a photo on a phone, and one said, pointing, “This one; I think he just ran off.”
On Broadway, as a line of police marched by, I ran into a friend making his way south from Union Square. Usually one of the happiest, funniest, and most loving Occupiers, his rage was palpable that afternoon. He’d heard about “a 16-year old being brutalized” and was trying to find the march.
When he found out that it was Mesiah, he almost lost it. He looked at me and said that he was afraid he was going to do something stupid. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him to consider that he was more good to us out here than inside.
“We need you.”
He looked at me, and the tears ran off of his face. I pulled him close. He held on to me, as if letting go would only add to the day’s tragedies. And all I could say was, “I know.”
The march caught up to us and we continued, rather uneventfully, for 4 more blocks to Union Square.
The mood in the square was energetic, but something felt off. We intended to do our spring clowning training as a way to burn off any remaining energy. But we had just been brutalized on an anti-police brutality march. The irony was not amusing.
Two of my closest friends, Nathan and Jason, entered the park with the march. They could tell how angry I was. And they knew that I had been targeted, both from a tweet that I sent out after leaving the march and from witnessing the cops examining the photo on their phone. We decided not to stay in the park. Several of our comrades, including two close friends and a scared, potentially injured underage Occupier, were in jail.
We left the park quickly. We needed to find 19 Pitt St, somewhere beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Our friends were there, at the NYPD’s 7th Precinct, and they needed jail support.
(photography and videos in this article via @poweredbycats, katertott129, juliacreinhart, Sign0fH0pe, jskagon, shammiches, & owsNaSh)
I spent most of the train ride to Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti’s reclaimed name) conjuring the many nights of elation and frustration I have had in that park – the countless general assemblies, free meals, cigarettes, stimulating conversations, rain storms, arguments, marches and finally, the brutal eviction that brought it all to a screeching halt. Since the eviction, the park had been empty. Or maybe barren is a better word. A cold (literally), lifeless slab of concrete in the valley of the gargantuan buildings surrounding it. Whatever vitality we brought to that place had long been replaced with barricades, security guards, and an eerie stillness.
When I emerged in Lower Manhattan, I was hit by a wave of déjà vu. I could hear the drums and chants inside the park reverberating throughout the neighborhood. I realized that even the sound of the neighborhood had changed since the eviction. A flash flood of warm familiarity washed over me. On the six-month anniversary of our movement, I was transported back to its beginning. I picked up the pace and almost sprinted to the park. When I arrived, I found it once again brimming over with occupiers and police.
It was wonderful to see the park electrified with people power again. That powerful feeling of remembrance and recognition continued to surge through my body like a kind of muscle memory being reawakened.
As soon I walked into the park, I witnessed someone being arrested by the NYPD. The mood was tense and rowdy. I was surprised by the number of police, all with a dozen or so zip-tie handcuffs hanging from their belts. I saw a few old friends and gave and received many hugs. We talked about the insane tug-of-war in which we are constantly engaged with the NYPD. They show up with batons, handcuffs, guns, and riot gear and raise the tension level in the park, then put the onus on us to deescalate. There were a few other arrests, and the police shouted at us where we could and couldn’t stand and what we couldn’t bring into the park.
Throughout the day, different marches left the plaza and came back to cheers and raised fists. It was as if we were in the midst of a mighty stretch after a long slumber. As afternoon turned to evening, the overall mood of the park shifted and the police presence seemed to taper off a bit. The chants going around and the drum circle in full swing filled the park with that familiar cacophonous buzz. There is something amazing about chanting and dancing around with complete strangers. One of the more popular chants of the day was taken from the Spanish Indignados and proclaims simply and rhythmically: “Anti-capitalista!” It was refreshing to hear so many chant that radical declaration. Even through the winter, we had kept our radical roots.
At 7pm, as customary, we had our general assembly (GA). This was my first time attending a GA in a good while, and by the time it was over I was re-enamored with direct democracy and twinkling fingers. There were hundreds in attendance – probably our biggest GA of the year. It was also surprisingly lacking in rancor or squabbling, except for the traditional begging of the drum circle to keep it down or move away from GA. We consensed on signing on to a letter calling for a federal investigation of the NYPD for spying in Muslim communities and broke out into discussion groups to talk about our ideas for May Day. There was a palpable spirit of camaraderie and solidarity in the air, and many OWS veterans commented to me that they felt truly transported to “the good ol’ days” before the eviction and even before the tents went up at Zuccotti, fighting with drummers and all.
After GA a large march which included Michael Moore and Dr. Cornel West arrived from the Left Forum. Suddenly there were over a thousand people communing in the park, some playing games, some doing interviews or making media, others just talking and smoking. There was a Capoeira circle, a mic-check speak out, and of course plenty of drums and dancing. The mood was jovial in spite of everyone’s noticing that the police presence seemed to be increasing as the night went on. At one point, a barrage of bag pipes could be heard on the southwestern corner of the park. This being St. Patrick’s Day, a small Irish marching band had either purposely or by coincidence found its way to Liberty Plaza, equipped with bag pipes and snare drums. The crowd in the park erupted with cheers and applause and ran to the park’s northern perimeter to greet the band. In a confused scuffle (at least from my vantage point) the police moved in, forced the band to stop playing and moved them to the other side of the street. One officer told me they feared the band would “cause a riot.”
Suddenly an orange net appeared. Usually, this means that you have been kettled by the police and are about to go to jail. But this orange net had the words “Occupy” and “99%” stenciled on it. A group of protesters were extending the net and creating a barrier between the police and the occupiers. I admit, being surrounded by that net gave me a creepy feeling , even though I knew it was ‘on our side.’ Yellow OWS caution tape started to go up all over the park too, tied on the trees and cutting through the crowd in odd angles. I wasn’t really sure what was going on, but I could almost sense the tension in the park boiling over. An exorbitant number of police were amassing on the northern side of the park. I stood on one of the benches in the park to try to get some perspective, and I saw what all the fuss was about. A group of occupiers were erecting tents in the center of the park. The net, the tape, all of it, was to protect the tents. A light came on inside the first tent and the words stenciled on its side became visible: “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
I watched as the tent was hoisted into the air and cheered with the crowd, but I knew that what had been a glorious and rejuvenating day would have an ugly ending. We paraded around with two tents for a bit, all of us enjoying what we knew were the last exquisite moments of our resurrection. Then, as if someone hit a fast forward button, we jumped from reliving those first amazing months of Occupy to November 15 – eviction day. Much like that night, the police lined up on the Broadway stairs and announced that the park was closed. They told us that being in the park was now an arrestable offense. And so those who were willing to risk arrest moved to create a human wall on the eastern end of the park, a few meters from the line of police officers. I moved toward the middle of the park and stood on a bench to see the NYPD march in and start arresting people. After about half an hour they had moved everyone out of the park and began erecting barricades around the park’s perimeter. After being pushed and shoved out of the park, those of us who remained stood on the sidewalk, most of us bewildered by the brute force we had just witnessed. We were on the western end of park, isolated from the far greater brutality happening on the eastern side. In the background I could hear people calling for a march.
By this point, I was both mentally and physically exhausted from this behemoth roller-coaster of a day, but I just couldn’t tear away. I ran through the gamut of emotions and questions we all ask ourselves in moments like these, trying to balance my sense of duty and solidarity with the sheer terror of the situation at hand and its possible outcomes. Do I want to get arrested? Or beat up? Is it worth it this time? In truth, I had to fight off the urge to wave the white flag and go home. But I was angry, dejected, and so was everyone else. In the end, I decided to march with my comrades.
A few hundred of us wound our way through Lower Manhattan, flanked all the while by police in scooters and squad cars. We turned sharply down side streets a few times, which seemed to confuse the police, but definitely caused confusion amongst the marchers. I found myself running down the sidewalks and streets with large groups of other occupiers just to keep up. This, plus the sheer volume of the police response, made for some moments of pandemonium. We took the streets several times throughout, prompting arrests and batons. Police smashed an occupier’s head against a glass door. We passed a least one broken store window (though it was unclear if it was broken by Occupy) and at one point on a side-street in the Village, some protesters emptied several trash receptacles into the streets to block the police. It worked, to everyone’s excitement. I saw several police scooters with trash and plastic bags caught in their wheel wells.
When the march reached E. Houston shortly after that, I decided to hop on the nearby F train and make the trip back to Queens. I wanted to stay, continue the march, be with my comrades, express my anger and my joy – but I just had to break away. I knew that things would only get uglier, and I was already delirious with a cogent mix of exhaustion, frustration, and the high of marching through the streets. It felt as if I had lived the whole history of occupy in the span of 10 hours. On the train ride home, I found myself thinking that despite its dystopian ending, M17 had been a success. It was a re-ignition of our imaginations; a reminder of all the beautiful things we built from scratch in that small park, and all the hardships that came with them, and how easily it can be wiped away.
Spring has definitely sprung at OWS, and it’s only the beginning.
– Danny Valdes –
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The day started like any other. We woke in the truck in Brooklyn to find Julie outside her apartment. She let us take some quick showers and gave us a cup of coffee while we chatted about anything from what we do for a living to the movement–small talk, really, but nice small talk. After that, we put in our time at Milk & Roses to knock out some work as fast as possible to get down to the protest a little earlier. Unfortunately, I had a good amount of work to sift through, so we didn’t make it down to Liberty Park until about 6pm.
As has become our tradition, Joe and I walked around the park to check out any new additions to the grounds. One small table was set up near where we entered the park. They were passing out food separate from the people’s kitchen. It was the second time I’d seen them, so I was curious. When I asked who they were and what they were up to, they said they were from the shelter (they lived there, not worked there) and they were serving food to anyone at the park. They’d made it, donated it, and served it, and they were living in the shelter, themselves! Incredible!
Joe and I hung out for a while with nothing much happening. David Peel was back leading sing-a-longs, so I hung around that circle and sang and filmed for a while. I found Joe after that, having gotten separated at some point, and he was busy grubbing on dinner. I wandered off while he ate his food and we became separated again for an hour or so, until I spotted him on the south end of the park talking to a couple people–an old Italian woman and a younger friend or relative of hers. I didn’t get their names.
After talking with those folks for 45 minutes or so, my feet were anxious to move, so I told Joe I was going to go get a couple slices of pizza since I’d missed the dinner servings in the kitchen. We said our goodbyes and Joe and I headed down to Pronto Pizza, where they overcharged me for three slices of pizza, a soda, and a beer.
After dinner we wandered back to Liberty Park, a mere block away, not expecting much to happen for the night. The crowd was relatively small compared to other nights, and it was generally quiet. A small march in solidarity for Oakland passed by once, but it was tiny, so I figured it was just a marginal march, but when they came back around the park with slightly more people, I decided to join in. I grabbed Joe and we jumped into the march.
We circled the park one more time, gathering a larger crowd, then headed off down Church past the 9/11 Memorial. We paused in front of it for a moment to gather together, chanting, “New York is Oakland! Oakland is New York!” and chants of every other sort, like “Hey hey! Ho ho! Police brutality has got to go!”
From there we made our way to city hall, trying to take the streets at every opportunity. A block down, a fireman opened a fire hydrant and yelled out, “If you stand here, you’re going to get wet! I’ve gotta open it!” “Bullshit!” I yelled at him, sticking a camera out at him.
By the time we made it to City Hall, we’d become quite a large group of people. Hundreds, if not a thousand. We circled City Hall slowly two or three times, gathering together in a close-knit group to make it harder for police to drag one of us out of the crowd. On the second trip around City Hall, people started spilling into the streets, and the cops quickly took out their clubs and threw a guy to the ground, jumping on him like a swarm of jackals, beating him, throwing their elbows and knees at everyone, pushing us all back with wild looks in their eyes as we tried to drag the person being arrested to safety and the group. That guy didn’t make it and was hauled off. A few steps beyond that, I saw three or four police officers, including a detective in a plain suit violently pushing and throwing a young girl and two young guys toward the sidewalk. The girl wasn’t taking any shit, swinging at the police officers with her fists, but they didn’t arrest her, they just violently shoved them onto the sidewalk with their clubs.
I screamed everything I could in those cops’ faces when they arrested that guy moments before. “Shame! Shame!” “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” and every foul thing I could think of. I was literally nose to nose screaming in their face. When they pushed me with their clubs, I linked arms with the people around me and yelled as forcefully as I could, “Don’t you fucking touch me! Don’t you touch me!”
We made our way a few blocks away from there and by then we were riled. We were peacefully marching in solidarity against the police brutality in Oakland and here the police were beating the hell out of people and arresting them for stepping into the street. In most cities, under normal circumstances that constitutes a whistle blow and a dirty look from a traffic cop, or at worst, a ticket. Now that we were riled up, we were absolutely determined to take the streets, and we did, but we were quickly pushed back onto the sidewalk. But now, whenever they pushed us onto the sidewalk, people would run ahead of the cops and take the street again, then we’d all rush forward and we’d completely control the street, stopping traffic and chanting. It was incredible!
Another man was thrown down and beaten by at least six or seven policemen, and even more formed a circular wall around the arrest to keep us from seeing what they were doing and to keep us from trying to drag the victim away from them. The guy next to me took a club to the gut, but we all held our ground and surrounded the cops, yelling in their faces exactly what we thought of them, who they work for–anything we could think of to shame them into seeing what they are doing is wrong, but many people also, such as myself, were so disgusted and sickened by what we saw, anger took over and we very aggressively yelled in their faces, nose to nose. I’m talking centimeters away. As long as you don’t touch them, you’re good. But if you even accidentally bump them, they’ll call it assault and beat you down.
After we had to give up and let the man be arrested, we turned to continue the march, but the police had blocked off the intersection with one of their plastic orange net barricades. People plowed through over and under it. They couldn’t stop us. Once we burst through, we grabbed it and won a tug of war match with the police. I somehow ended up at the front of it, leading the way through the streets, screaming and chanting with the crowd, holding the police netting above our heads and peace and victory signs above our heads, pumping our fists, smiling and in love with life and our brief grasping of freedom. I could feel it in my hands and heart as real as the police netting. Cabbies and truckers were honking in solidarity with us, slapping us five out their car windows as we walked by. Traffic was completely shut down. Every time I passed a cab with open windows in the back, I ducked my head in and thanked the passengers for their patience.
By then, the police were largely helpless. A way up the street, there was a bottleneck in the middle of the street between to cabs. People were spilling all around them, but the people who tried to go between the cabs were suddenly met by a singular cop out of nowhere. All the other cops were somewhere else, trying to set up another block and ambush for us, but this guy was suddenly right there. “Ah, we’ve got a fucking hero over here!” I yelled. The cop started violently pushing and punching at the protesters who came his way. We yelled, “Go around! Go around!” and kept marching. I don’t know what became of that.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were marching toward Washington Square Park. We held and controlled the streets from City Hall to Washington Square Park and back to Liberty Park. The police were absolutely ineffective and helpless. They couldn’t control us. We chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” changing it up now and then with “city” and “world”, rather than streets.
Everywhere you looked people were cheering, chanting, skipping, jumping, announcing updates from other Occupancies. Someone yelled out, “Oakland just took back the park!” and we all cheered and chanted as loud as we could.
We wandered through the village and everyone came out of the bars and restaurants in awe of us. Some joined in. People leaned out their windows to watch what was happening. I blew kisses at everyone I saw and yelled to them, “We’re making history! Join us!” Then we all chanted, “Join us! Join us!”
We wound our way through the streets in many directions to keep the police guessing as to where we were going. I hadn’t seen the mounted police since city hall, where we chanted, “Get that pig off that horse!” but the motorcycles were suddenly everywhere–the same motorcycles that have been used to run us over in the past. The police would head us off at each intersection and form a wall with their bikes, but we’d just run around them. Some people ran and tried to leap over them, but they were quickly snared by police and beaten to the ground.
Joe told me the guy who tried to talk us into getting arrested at Washington Square sidestepped one motorcycle that tried to run him over, only to have another come up on the other side of him trying to do the same thing. He then kicked down a police bike, knocking over several more, and the cops spilled over him in a massive horde and beat the hell out of him.
On the way to Washington Square, one guy in the march a few people in front of me suddenly started pissing on a car parked next to him and he almost got his ass kicked by fellow protesters for doing something so stupid and foul. We took care of him instantly and reigned in any violence that might have erupted from it.
In trying to evade the cops with their cars, vans, and motorcycles, we ran down one street and dragged wooden police barricades into the road to block their path. As soon as people saw what was happening, everyone started grabbing anything they could to do the same–garbage cans, many garbage bags, more barricades–anything we could find. Then we would run forward and always stay ahead of the police. They couldn’t do a damn thing.
At one point, I got a charlie horse in both of my calf muscles at the same time. I thought, “Ah hell; not now!” I just kept moving forward the best I could and was able to jog it off, thank god.
That Sgt. who’d made national news for chewing out the NYPD at Times Square marched with us, too, as did another man in uniform.
After controlling the major streets in downtown NYC, like Broadway, we decided to head back to Liberty Park and seize our victory before something unfortunate happened, or before police figured out a way to break us up. We marched back toward Liberty Park chanting, jumping, hugging strangers… Oh! and we WERE able to drag one victim out of the police’s clutches, to which we all cheered massively.
As we made our way back to Liberty Park, we dominated the streets, linked arms, slowed down, seizing our power, and sang “Solidarity Forever”.
We entered Liberty Park arm in arm in solidarity and everyone met us with cheers, applause, and noise of all kinds. It was an incredible night! The march was followed by a few speeches of love and devotion to the people. I was exhausted and drenched with sweat. I gave absolutely everything I had in me to that march. We wanted to show Oakland serious solidarity for their dedication and we did just that. We made history, and Oakland took back the park!
We are the 99%! We are too big too fail!
Eating, sitting on a curb in the park, I got to talking with the guy next to me; “Its my first night here. Where do you throw trash?” “You sleeping here?” “Yes,” I said, admitting I hadn’t brought a sleeping bag, not knowing how things were.
“Welcome brother.” A handshake. We kept eating. Everyone’s eyes said the same thing, “welcome brother,” not in a creepy cultish way but in that way people who have gathered together to change things say it with their eyes. Walking around the camp, my next step was to see if they had at least a pillow for me to use; at a distribution center for donated clothes and blankets, they handed me a fleece, rolled it up, and said, “This could make a good pillow, don’t you think?” It did, and it would.
I walked around, I joined in the people’s assembly discussions about representation; I browsed in the provisional library, set up in plastic bins–in which The Beat Reader and Noam Chomsky were marked as REFERENCE. Reference indeed–next to Whitman, as well. In a spontaneously gathered group on the steps, I sang Bob Dylan in a crowd with a famous singer who showed up to help out; more folk music flowed from his guitar. Everybody, it seems, had a guitar.
I found a shining granite bench to sleep on; I was getting tired, and almost all the ground-space was taken up by people camped in tents or under tarps. The wind was blowing. It was getting colder, but I needed sleep; so I set up my “pillow,” put on an extra layer under my jacket, put my gloves on, put my hood up, and curled up on the bench.
Nearly asleep, back turned on the “path” between other sleepers and protesters, I suddenly felt a blanket being placed over me. I looked up, gave a thumbs up and thanks, and she said, “Keep warm dude.” That thick donated blanket would keep me warm through the windy, 45 degree night. I’d awake in the morning to donated bagels, a cup of coffee, friendly directions to the subway, so I could get to work on time.
My night at the protest glows in my memory, sustains me; we were all cooperating; we were all, remarkably. generously supported by each other, and by all the unseen anonymous supporters who gave us food, blankets, books, time. A thousand strings of support seemed to stretch out from every moment I occupied the park. I think of my fellow protesters down there tonight, as it gets colder–as “family night” goes forward (kids are invited tonight to the camp).
As the sign says: no protest, this occupation is an affirmation of all that we can do for each other, an affirmation of the way things can be. You see somebody sleeping without a blanket; you find them one. You put it on them. You keep them warm. That’s how you occupy privatized public space, take it back.
When I return to do another night there, I’ll bring books, food, and some pillows for the next person who needs one.
– Spurgeon Thompson]]>
Once the two of us were seated, I headed to Liberty Plaza. Only a
dozen or so people were milling about, mostly the usual characters,
holding signs, making chatter, playing chess. I made my way to the
stairs at the eastern edge, and took a seat to take in the scene.
Across from me, in front of one comically oversized chess set, there
was a new, very neatly typeset sign that proclaimed “LIBERTAD / MMXII”
in red lettering on white background. Immediately after I sat
down, a woman with bright blue hair seated at the barricades began
caroling, replacing words as appropriate — “I’m dreaming of an
Occupied Christmas … They say protesting’s illegal / but we’ve got
Norman Siegel … etc, etc”. Her voice was incredible, so much so that
random passersby would stop on the sidewalk and wait for her to finish
so that they could applaud. I would have been satisfied if this were
the only heartwarming surprise of the evening.
As her Occu-carols echoed through the crisp air, the motley crew
continued growing in number. Mostly, it’s familiar faces; not a lot
of first-timers on Christmas eve. An older middle eastern man, on the
outside of the barricades, started shouting, with a mildly distressed
tone in his voice: “Stop bombing Afghanistan! Stop bombing
Afghanistan!” No one really knows how to address him: he’s clearly a
little bit unhinged, dressed in a grey-blue jacket that’s a bit
visibly dirty, unkempt beard and wild eyes. He’s probably drunk, but
not angry — at least, not at anyone here. After a few tense seconds,
one of the regulars notices him, walks up, and slaps his hand and
gives him a hug. They’re friends from their neighborhood. I overhear
that his name is Mohammed. Several more times throughout the evening,
he will occasionally puncture the air with hoarse calls of “Mic check!
Stop bombing Afghanistan!” Each time, he seems newly inspired that
it will catch on. But under that fire I hear a tinge of despair.
Later, I learn something more about why.
A brief hot chocolate break and GA begins. The first proposal is
relatively uncontroversial: funding a Native American event to
commemorate the 121st anniversary of Wounded Knee. There’s some
vibrant back-and-forth discussion about the relationship between
Occupy and the indigenous rights movement; though there are some
serious concerns about how to remain sensitive while highlighting the
link, everyone agrees we should be supporting them as much as
possible. There are some procedural hiccups, due to inexperienced
facilitators, and some not insignificant political chatter. The main
problem expressed is that this proposal is being offered by Direct
Action, not the Native group that has been with us since the very
early days. Has DA consulted them? DA sheepishly admits they have
not, due to time constraints. Some concern is expressed that DA is
stepping up and speaking for others; though, to be fair, the proposers
from DA are native themselves. The concerned parties shout out for
Joseph, a respected and visible member of the Native group. Joseph
shuffles up the stairs, makes his way to the proposers, and takes the
human mic. He waves his hands wide in a show of acceptance, and asks
that we look beyond personal dramas, because “this event … and this
movement are too important.” Fingers twinkle in vigorous respect.
The proposal passes with some minor amendments. The venue is just a
couple of blocks from my apartment, so after the proposal passes, I
track down the proposers and offer them my apartment for staging.
The next proposal is highly contentious in form, though not intention.
The proposer, who is a familiar member of many working groups but is
offering this proposal on his own initiative, asks that we “prohibit”
working groups from meeting during the times of General Assemblies and
Spokes Councils. The intention is to ensure that working group members
attend GAs and SCs, which many do not, leaving us with only 50 or so
attendees to a GA on a given night. The issue, expressed by many, is
that we cannot violate WG autonomy, and a sort-of conversation
develops, as best it can within the GA process, about what the rights
of WGs are, and what the rights of the GA might be to abridge those
rights. None of the speakers question whether or not we should be
encouraging people to attend GA, but the procedural constraints
(questions, then concerns, then amendments) steer people away from a
more natural discussion that might encourage finding common ground to
start from. At this point, some regulars, incensed by what they see
as relatively minor legalistic quibbles to a generally positive
proposal, start breaking process and responding out of turn to
concerns posed, loudly, by essentially restating the intention of the
proposal. This leads to others, who are strongly committed to
process, shouting at them. I recognize a familiar pattern of
dissolution among largely agreeing parties, and start to withdraw a
I notice that Mohammed is sitting on a bench to my left. He’s talking
to a familiar face, a tall person with a green-tinged mohawk whose
name is Razor, and watching them talk I get a better understanding of
my earlier assessment of his emotional state: First, he’s drinking
from a small plastic bottle of gin; it’s about one-quarter full.
Second, he says, to Razor perhaps but mainly to the space above his
line of sight: “they kill my family. Thirty-two family I have, now I have
none. Stop bombing Afghanistan.” His voice is hoarse beyond tears,
though he does not appear to have been crying recently. I have a
sense that those tears were all exhausted long ago. I have no way of
knowing how true his claim is, but, when it is made, everyone around,
even those focused on the meeting, start to turn their heads. Most
only make it part of the way, as though their attention was cued by
the emotional tone of the words, but once the full sentence reached
their consciousness they realized that looking at his eyes could not
possibly improve the situation for anyone. I suppose I didn’t have
quite the same foresight, and for that I am rewarded with an image
that I might never shake.
A man is sitting next to Mohammed. He has the long, unkempt beard and
collared white shirt, dark vest, and wire-rimmed glasses that I
usually associate with a member of an orthodox religious sect, though
with the extra layers of clothes and hat and scarves I can’t quite put
my finger on whether he is a Russian or Greek Christian, or even
Jewish. Regardless, what he’s doing is of note: He has his arm around
Mohammed, is speaking in low tones and with a nodding head, and
they’re alternating swigs from the bottle of gin. At some point, they
both laugh while staring down at the ground. On its own, this episode
of camaraderie is perhaps not quite worthy of a second glance; scenes
like this are not altogether out of place in New York City in 2011.
But something about the fact that we’re here, on Christmas Eve, on day
99 of Occupied Liberty Plaza, gives it a deeper significance, a sense
of connections being formed at a foundational level, a flavor of
The proposal is blocked by several who have ethical concerns that it
will infringe on the autonomy of others. The Process then dictates
that we move to a call for modified consensus (which would require 90%
approval). The proposal does not meet this criterion. Consensus is
declared not reached, and the proposer is instantly swarmed by
individuals who want to help him improve the language. This
conversation will continue.
At this point, a call comes out from the crowd. “Mic check! Arts and
Culture would like to request a ten minute break to pass out some
candles!” A&C had planned a 9pm candlelight vigil. Consensus is
asked, and quickly achieved without needing to count. We gather
around. I look in the bag next to the woman who announced the break,
and find an exquisitely detailed wax candle in the shape of a
fist, with its middle finger raised. Brilliant. We’re asked to grab
some candles and stand in a circle around an area that used to be
filled with plants (they survived our Occupation, thanks to the work
of several volunteer gardeners, but they did not survive the police
raid). At this point, seemingly out of nowhere, my friend Becky
appears, tapping me on the shoulder. I had earlier emailed some
friends to let them know that I am here, and to tell the story of the
caroler, and of Mohammed, and this apparently inspired Becky to swoop
down from her sickbed to join. Becky is one of my oldest friends… we
met in college, about ten years ago, and it seems she’s around for
many of the more important moments of my life, whether we intend to
arrive at them together or not. We both came to Occupy a few months
ago, organically, though neither of us were surprised to find each
other again, here. I’m grateful that I have her as a witness for what
happens the rest of the night.
The artist — a Mr. Matsumoto, I didn’t catch his first name — stands
up on a bench, and describes the candles to us. “Mic check! This is
my christmas present to you guys. I want you guys to get around and
light this for me. I nearly lost my middle finger — my real middle
finger — the other day. I’m a woodworker, and I make my living with
my hands. While I was injured, I thought about a lot of things. I
thought about my life without my middle finger” (the crowd laughs) “If
I don’t have my middle finger, it really really sucks” (laughs again)
“It really sucks… because it’s like losing a voice” (cheers) “My
middle finger. YOUR middle finger.” Vigorous twinkles… of our middle
fingers. The candles are lit, and several are raised towards the
I’m glad this movement began in New York, not
just because I’m here and so get to experience it, but because it has
acquired a certain New York flavor, in both its work ethic and, in
particular, in a brusque humor that can help to take the edge off of
continual struggle, while still retaining that integral hard-nosed
character: you’ll never mistake our laughter for weakness. This is
one fine example. A call goes out in the best Brooklyn accent one can
muster and still hope for the human mic to accurately reflect: “Mic
check! Fuuuuuuuuck youuuuuuuuu”
We gathered in a circle, sort of, and some used the human mic to announce
why they are lighting the candles: for the loss of our civil
liberties, for the dogs who died in the raid (this is the first I’ve
heard of that), for the library. I feel that while this might be
appropriate to the intention, it somehow derails the festive mood that
we’ve built in spite of the cold, and I call out that I am lighting
this candle to celebrate the rebirth of our democracy. A small,
cheesy break, but I hear relief in the hoots that follow.
Around this time, I catch Stan, from ThinkTank and Outreach, giddily
milling about, saying “We have to march with these! We have to march
with these!” I say to him: “Call it out! Let’s do it!” He never
breaks his green as he speeds off again. Stan’s story is inspiring,
though not entirely unique: He visited from Huntsville, Alabama in
early October. I met him on his first or second day here, when he was
planning to learn what he could and go back to start Occupy
Huntsville. I saw him again two days later and he said he was thinking
of moving to NYC. About a week later, he went back to Huntsville. A
couple of weeks after that, I saw him again in NYC: he had moved.
He’s been living with Occupy ever since: at the park, first, and now
The idea seems to spark from several directions at once: “Let’s
march!” Someone calls: “around the park!” Stan, still buzzing from
group to group, re-appears: “No! We’re marching to Wall Street!
We’re going to the stock exchange!”
Now, this might seem the most obvious idea in the world, but it’s
worth taking a moment to appreciate why it is anything but. Since the
very first day of the Occupation, we have attempted to march on the
NYSE. This has rarely actually happened, though — in fact, to my
knowledge the only time we got close was during the large march of
November 17th — despite repeated, earnest and often creative
missions. The police were determined to never let us near the
Exchange. Back during the Occupation, there were daily marches. When
they would head towards City Hall, there would be the usual police
guidance and blockades. But when we headed in the direction of the
Exchange, we would almost always be confronted by a phalanx of riot
police and horses. Most people never really expected to do it, but
considered it important to continue trying, even if only for symbolic
value. But right now, on Christmas Eve, there are only about three
patrol officers officers, with three or four more community affairs
officers (and about ten Brookfield private security guards, who I
later learn are being paid triple overtime). The awareness of
possibility spreads through the crowd. We can actually do this.
So we do. After some confused attempts to re-light the candles
against the wind tunnel of Liberty Plaza, someone shouts: “Let’s just
march, and we’ll light the candles… _on Wall Street_”, the extra
emphasis revealing his unbridled joy at the suddenly attainable goal.
We begin to march. The chant goes out: “All day, all week, Occupy
Wall Street!” I can’t help but grin, because, yes, for the first time
in a long time, we’re actually doing it. The man carrying the live
streaming laptop has a debate with himself about whether or not to
join — at the last major march, livestreamers were among the first
arrested, in a pattern that seemed intentional. He eventually
acquiesces to the will of the crowd, both the one in the park and the
increasing number watching along at home.
As we make our way to the exit, I see a police officer standing
outside of the barricades at the southern gate to the park. Her arms
are extended, as if to confine us to one half of the sidewalk. Shawn
from Direct Action is confused by this, laughs, and starts dancing
around her in circles. She pushes him, hard, and he tumbles several
feet. “It’s the sidewalk!”, he shouts, nervously laughing. She
shouts back: “You don’t listen! You should just listen!” I’m
laughing, nervously too, because I’ve seen what happens when police
are overwhelmed by numbers. But I realize what she’s doing: there’s a
propane tank fueling one of the food carts. I suspect that she
doesn’t want us to step on it or bring candles too close to it.
Perfectly reasonable! Why didn’t she say so? I say to her: “It’s the
propane tank! You could have just told us.” But she’s not listening
As we turn down Broadway, the police hurry into formation, marching in
a single-file line in the bus lane to keep us on the sidewalk. There
are more of them, now, though I’m not quite sure where they came from
so quickly. Another of our regular ingredients, the drums, pop up,
also out of nowhere. Who decides to bring drums (and a tambourine?)
to Liberty Plaza on Christmas Eve in thirty degree weather? Well,
someone named Rooster did, and, flanked by an American flag, he starts
playing a brisk, tight rhythm.
Everyone is excited and cheerful. This is going so well! We are
chanting, speeding our way through the old standards: “Banks got
bailed out / We got sold out” then “Hey hey! Ho ho! Corporate greed
has got to go!” The middle finger candles are waving. We turn left
down Wall Street, chanting, spinning, dancing, laughing, some with
their heads turned to the air, perhaps to catch the echoes from above.
The parade buzzes down the northern sidewalk, passing Federal Hall,
site of the first Congress and the first Presidential inauguration. A
contingent breaks off and runs up the stairs, around Washington’s
statue and between the marble columns, hooting mischievously like
children left in a mall after closing time. We take the long way
around the barricades that circle the intersection of Wall and the
Exchange, turn right towards the corner, and stop. The patrol
officers are behind us, paused along Wall Street, in front of Federal
Hall. There are two community affairs officers ahead, standing side
by side, facing us, backs to the Exchange. Other than them, there is
no physical reason for us to stop. But we do.
We’re paused at the corner for a couple of minutes that linger with
careful excitement. The parade catches up, our only possible excuse
not to move forward. Some people are shouting ideas, hurling
invective at the Exchange, asking for lighters and matches, but no one
is saying the obvious. I look at the Exchange building: columns
bathed in red light, American flags fluttering in a slight breeze,
gigantic Christmas Tree with a half-lit menorah at the base. Someone
says: “We should light these candles, and stand silently in front of
the Exchange.” No one has moved down the sidewalk, past the officers,
yet. I turn to the crowd, then back to the officers. With no purpose
to my step, I start to walk at them, then around them. I don’t think
to look at their faces, but just keep awareness of their forms in the
corner of my eye. They don’t move. The crowd — we are, somehow,
bigger than when we started (perhaps people at 60 Wall St heard what
was happening and left their meetings to join us) — spills down the
sidewalk. We’re here. A group of Occupiers, holding lit middle
finger candles, facing the New York Stock Exchange. The street is
quiet, save for us. On the 99th day of the 99%, we did it, for the
first time. We are Occupying Wall Street.
The patrol officers remain where they were. At the southern end of
the block, a new contingent of mounted officers line up, inside the
barricades. I suppose, in retrospect, that they had the exits
blocked, but that didn’t seem to be as threatening as it usually
might. Shouts begin. “Mic check! I want to see one broker or banker
go to jail!” “Mic check! Whose street?” “Mic check! This is our
time.” “Mic check! Fuck you Wall Street!” Someone shouts “Fuck the
police!”, and he is instantly met with a shower of jeers. There’s
some back and forth about how we should present ourselves, about how
the police are the 99%, about maintaining solidarity despite
differences of opinion. Someone breaks the tension: “Mic check! To
the police, our gift to you! Massive overtime pay!!” Cheers. We’re
standing, now, some of us, on the polygonal metal sculptures that line
the sidewalk. There are no people between me and the Exchange: just
the cobblestoned street and roughly four layers of police barricades.
Standing on the metal sculpture, I am above them. I realize it’s just
a short jump into the street, and from there a short walk to the
Exchange. I realize I’m probably more comfortable staying where I am.
The mounted officers retreat to a position further down, past the
intersection of Exchange Place and Broad Street. They didn’t seem to
be heading our way. Someone called out: “Let’s hold a moment of
silence, for the officer who just died.” [I wasn’t aware of it, but I
believe he was referring to Officer Figoski, shot while investigating
a burglary in Queens] And we did. I glanced at the officers,
standing at the north edge of the street. They held their hands in
front of them, crossed at the wrists. It seemed they heard the
request. There was some quick back-and-forth, and the crowd settled.
For a minute, the only sound was the subway rumbling, the traffic a few
blocks away, the wind whipping through the flag. Alone, together, in
the canyon at the heart of the financial district, a group of
Occupiers and officers held their heads and their tongues to
commemorate a sacrifice in service of a better world.
“Thank you,” says the man who requested the moment of silence. The
facilitators from the GA realize that there’s no going back to the
park, and ask for consensus to reconvene the GA here. Hundreds of
fingers wave in concordance. Someone offers to run back to the park
to get anyone who is still there. We wait, and people soapbox. One
of the facilitators, Diego, eternally cheerful, shouts: “Remember
this. Remember this. Thirty years from now, you will recall this
moment with tears streaming down your face.” Cheers and shouts…
there’s no crying now. There’s only laughing. I mill about, talk it
over with Becky, soak in the awe of the moment. But we’re unsure if
we want to stay. The scout returns, says there’s no one left in the
park except those who wanted to be there. The GA begins again, and
pick up right where we left off. Business as usual, in a most unusual
setting. We are having a General Assembly in front of the New York
The next proposal was to support a national march on Washington, on
March 17th, which will be only the six month anniversary of the
Occupation. The GA is not quite the forum for this sort of amorphous
initiative, but people are appreciative of the idea. Several points
of information are offered on similar actions that are currently in
the early planning stages; it appears the second half of March is
going to be very, very busy. The proposal is tabled, the proposer
wades into a crowd of people who want to help combine their ideas.
Becky, under the weather, sees an opportunity to disengage. I
hesitate, not wanting to let go of this incredible moment, but don’t
quite feel up to the Process at the moment. Though the mood is
unquestionably buoyant, the uncomfortable tension of dissension in
lieu of discussion still lingers in my mind, and I fear that the
return of all that well-intentioned but discordant fumbling might sour
my memory. We spent much of the evening arguing over the way to
consensus, drowning in the seemingly interminable bickering that some
fear will destroy this movement from within. These clashes of process
and principle that join to block our way forward seem to be impassable
mountains, rather than intermittent hurdles, but if this night proves
anything, it’s that once the blocks are removed, once the barricades
are seen past, we all know the destination. We just need to remind
ourselves that we can get there.