Posted on 18 November 2011.
LIBERTY PLAZA, NEW YORK – First, I would like to tell you a little something about myself. My name is Sean, but that doesn’t really matter. I’ve been a part of Occupy Wall Street for 35 days, and that does. Most recently I have been a part of the Fire Safety team that was recently formed at Liberty Plaza to ensure that no generators were used unsafely in the park until we could put together a fire plan and electrical wiring plan for generator use in the plaza to be audited by the FDNY, to earn for the Occupation and the residents of Liberty Plaza the right to be warned of noncompliance in advance and given time to come into compliance with FDNY safety guidelines, but that point has become rather moot.
Today, Liberty Plaza was taken from us. For some, it was our homes. For all, it was a symbol: a symbol that free speech was still possible, for us in the park yes but not only for us, but for us as Americans in specific and as residents of the world in general.I would have us build a new ten times better than that which was taken from us.
I wish I could tell you that for my part I felt I had ideas that were too big to risk, last night; that I felt myself too important, too ‘unarrestable,’ to put my body on the line in defense of Liberty Plaza. I was at Canal Street and Broadway at midnight when we saw a mass of approximately three hundred police officers and 30 NYPD vans gathering on that street corner as a staging area for what we all too quickly learned was just the backup to the force gathering against the Occupation at Liberty Plaza, which saw fit to go up against unarmed protestors with riot gear and not just the threat but the reality of force. I and my friends drew on our arms the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild—212 679 6018— better safe than sorry. We returned down to Liberty Plaza though we knew what was assembled against us, and that we would not be able to get within the cordon to actually reach the park. I lost them quickly in the crowds, but stood with those I found, and stood by the side of a man who identified himself to police as the district representative for the district they were taking action in, an elected official with direct authority over the neighborhood in which we were standing. This man demanded, repeatedly and very clearly, to speak with their supervising officers about the actions they were taking. I saw that man pushed by an officer behind a riot shield, and I caught him before he could fall over a fire hydrant and seriously injure himself. I saw that man bent over a nearby car and arrested with zip ties, and then I saw a woman chanting in defense of the Occupation pepper sprayed in the face.
So much for free speech. In the face of that, I didn’t see anything I could do, so I took the easy exit down a subway hatch and waited to be taken home to the bed I meant to be in hours ago. I fielded calls to our Legal team to relay what I knew of our fire safety efforts in the week leading up to that night, how we were actively stopping any generator use within the park ourselves, how we were choking the Media working group down to only as much as they could accomplish off of battery-stored power recharged during the day. If you watch the Livestream channel for last night, you’ll see that even without anything more than battery power to work from, the Media team was still able to do rather a lot. I stumbled home half in a daze, wishing tears would come but finding somehow that I could not cry, and neither could I rest as I made it to the bed I convinced myself was where I actually wanted to be that night.
I have for the past several weeks been working on a proposal for Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Plaza, called simply ‘Winter Proposal: Event Tents’ on the NYCGA.net forums. It’s still a work in progress – for example, I had been asked by our Legal department to defer any negotiations with Brookfield Properties until we received the results of a Freedom of Information request to determine the exact legal status of the park, before trampling all over the place setting precedents that the rest of the Occupation would have to honor and obey regardless of what that request determined as the current legal status of the park.
We thought at the time we had some time to burn; it wasn’t too cold yet, and save for a freak October snow the weather was mild. I let the information request go play itself out and readied my proposal for discussion with Brookfield to discuss its salient points. I met with the architecture firm Feingold and Gregory, Architects, to learn more about permits and what would be necessary for the project, before they could vet the project to New York Tent Co., the contractors I had chosen to bring the project to in order to design it in actuality using their expertise to build frames upon which to hang event tents all winter long over Liberty Plaza as a solution to all of our safety needs. It was hoped that these tents would enable us with the ability to access electrical power just by paying for it, rather than having to worry about the complexities and safety of a generator providing power to the park; the ability to have heat, common sleeping space again, and a roof over our heads all winter long without losing a single resident of the Occupation to an enemy so simpleminded and yet so implacable as the inconvenience known as snow.
It is clear we do not have time quite as I had hoped we might. I will be bringing an emergency proposal to the General Assembly tonight, to discuss the merits of waiting for the outcome of this Freedom of Information request versus moving forward on discussing this proposal with Brookfield Properties sooner rather than later, and will abide by the ruling of the General Assembly regardless of their decision. That’s the way this works. I will be advancing this proposal, then, at the timeframe they see fit: as early as tomorrow, if they so see fit, or perhaps in a week or so, after the five days required by law for a Freedom of Information request to be returned, plus the extra time it actually takes regardless of what the law says on paper, Legal tells me it’s more like two weeks, so we can expect another week on top of the five business days that expire this coming Thursday. If it’s to be discussed with Brookfield, I’m happy to advance that discussion; if it’s something we can do without Brookfield’s needing to be involved, I am prepared to pursue that as well given the information that shows this to be the case.
In the meantime, they say money is free speech, and if that is so, I would ask that if you support this proposal to rebuild the symbol that was taken from us all this morning anew, ten times better than it was before, support it with your hearts and with your words, but also with your pocketbooks. We do not believe that money is free speech, but money will be needed to make this project happen, and money is something that we can raise for this project to see if it is supported by the world that watches so intently upon us in our time of crisis. I am starting this on Kickstarter with two facts explicitly stated:
1. This will not be a tax-deductible contribution. 501(c)3 donations cannot go towards political speech or action, and this would be providing for the winter a forum for exactly that, as well as a symbol that would be the definition of such.
2. This project will not fire without the direct and expressed consent of the New York City General Assembly, and no matter how much is collected for it, nothing can happen without that prerequisite first being met.
If you wish to donate money in a tax-deductible way to Occupy Wall Street, we thank you, but we must point you here, to the NYCGA.net website and its Donation link.
The proposal I bring forward for consideration is simply this: to raise over Liberty Plaza for the duration of winter three event tents, using New York Tent Co. for this purpose and their permit expediters Feingold and Gregory, Architects, to seek all permits for this proposal on our behalf. Exactly whom we must ask for permits or permission to do this, we do not yet know, but shall learn in exacting detail as we pursue this forward, in the manner deemed best by the New York City General Assembly that represents Occupy Wall Street of Liberty Plaza and in the manner required to accomplish this legally and with full permission, so that which we have raised cannot be taken from us as Liberty Plaza was today.
These tents will serve as clean, open, and inviting space to serve as a public forum during the day, for all who wish to visit the Occupation to come and join us in discourse and debate as we exchange ideas and opinions to the purpose of repairing our financial system, our political system, and the culture in which we find ourselves living. These tents will let the sun shine on all of our faces, as well as the plants and trees that called Liberty Plaza home before we of the Occupation came to join them, while keeping rain and snow off of us, and will enable us to safely heat Liberty Plaza by day and by night to provide a comfortable atmosphere to those who visit as well as to those who call it home.
By night, the tents will serve to host our General Assembly and Spokes Council, with power turned on in the park and built-in amplification for speakers and facilitators… to answer them back, I suspect we will still be happy to use The People’s Mic. And they will also serve as shelter and home to those of the Occupation who call Liberty Plaza home and are those who actually occupy Liberty Plaza, without whom we have an idea but not an Occupation, those who put their bodies in harm’s way this evening to make a better world for themselves but also for the rest of the world as well, the 99% as well as the 1%, for it is not a very good world at all that does not accommodate for 100% of the people. With these tents in place, sleeping bags and cots will be more than enough to keep us warm at night, and we can return to the communal sleeping arrangement that served us so well at the beginning of the Occupation.
These tents will house our Working Groups as they go about their work on our behalf, changing the world or just changing a trash can, no task too big or too small to be undertaken cheerfully and with purposeful drive. And they will serve as the symbol that says to the world: change is necessary, change is coming, change.
These tents will also be works of art – living installations in addition to living spaces. We will be covering them with our words, our ideas, and the images that spring forth from our imagination as we seek to change the world into a better image.