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.]]>
Recently I was arrested in Brooklyn while driving a van outfitted with a projector. Long story short, it was pretty horrible; friends and fellow activists have encouraged me to set down precisely what happened and put it in the public record.
If you don’t know, there is a van with a heavy duty projector that comes out of the roof like a turret. It was created by an OWS offshoot with funding from Ben Cohen, and was named The Illuminator. Some months ago, ownership and control was passed on to a campaign called the Stamp Stampede, created by Ben Cohen, and was referred to as the Project-O-Van.
A month ago, Animal New York, a website that covers culture and politics, arranged to carry out a joint action withthe Stampede campaign, using our van.. Together, we visited a number of locations throughout the city to project images highlighting the problem of money in politics corrupting our democracy. We visited the offices of Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, Trump Tower, some walls in Soho and the LES, and…. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s home on 79th Street.
It was exciting to get a picture of a ballot box being stuffed with money projected onto Bloomberg’s 3rd floor. As the residence is protected by police, our team was approached by cops who chatted with Animal New York folks and filmed our van. I stuck around for about one minute – just long enough to take a few photos.
The next evening I got called at 11pm by police from the NYPD’s Intelligence Division. They wanted my address so they could visit me at home and ask a few questions. It turned out they were researching the ownership of the vehicle and trying to track me down for many hours. An entire team was active on this ‘case’ which included sending two officers to Ithaca (4 hours away) to track down whoever lived at the address on our registration form. (This was the head of a nonprofit used briefly as a fiscal sponsor of the nonprofit that actually owned the vehicle.)
My concern was having some cop cars with lights flashing show up at my apartment building and then getting arrested in full view of the neighbors. So I persuaded them to meet me at the nearby police precinct (the 90th). I spent an hour answering questions about the van, it’s history, ownership, how it operates, and the absence of any ongoing threat to Mayor Bloomberg. They explained that the order to take such drastic measures (midnight interrogations & a trip to Ithaca) came from very high up, and they simply had to make sure that any and all questions could be answered. Their immediate superior in this was Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division– the same unit that engages in counter-terrorism.
Fast forward to last Friday. Our van had spent 10 days at a garage for repairs. I was driving in a light rain for two blocks, when an unmarked SUV pulled me over. A plainclothes officer told me I was driving with my lights off in the rain – very unsafe. A few minutes later I was arrested for driving with a suspended driver’s license.
The arresting officer? Mohammad Newaz of the Intelligence Division. Did I mention there were three unmarked police vehicles that were part of this operation?
[Side note: perhaps a year ago, I was given a summons for riding my bicycle on a sidewalk in Bushwick. Stupidly, I neglected to take care of the matter. This was the reason why my license had been suspended, and I wasn’t aware that this had happened.]
There are many things that could happen at this point. For example, they could have allowed me to leave the vehicle where it was (I pulled over into a legal parking spot) and given me a ‘desk appearance ticket.’ Instead, they impounded the van ‘for evidence’ and sent me to Central Booking. I ended up spending 36 hours in jail. When I appeared before the judge for arraignment, attorney Yetta Kurland helped me to plead guilty to a violation, amounting to a $75 fine.
Many of my friends have been arrested before, usually with other protestors engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, or for things like stepping off the sidewalk during a demonstration. I’ve been arrested before, mostly in Israel, where I once spent two months in prison for refusing to serve in the Occupied Territories. If you haven’t been arrested, please know this: it can be traumatic. The facilities in Brooklyn are filthy beyond belief, the food is disgusting, some of those detained are pretty ripe, and folks have to arrange themselves on the floor with no bedding or bunks. On the other hand, most of the cops behaved decently towards the detainees. (Yes, that surprised me.)
Thinking about what happened to me, the first thought that keeps rattling around in my head is how stupid I was to have allowed my license to become suspended. And then there are some other questions:
PS: I mentioned Yetta Kurland briefly. Knowing that she was out there working on my behalf was part of what kept me sane in jail. She is a fighter, a friend, and a leader. And she refused to take a dime for her services. God bless her.
PPS: At the start of the video embedded above, you can hear me say “this is of dubious legality, but fuck it!” Folks should know that was part of a conversation about parking, not about the operation of the Project-O-Van.
New York, NY–I ran like a fleeting shadow up a dark New York City street. All about me was the occupation. Not the “take a plane to NY and lounge around Zuccotti Park for the afternoon on the One Year Anniversary of OWS” crowd. This was the night-time Birthday March to Times Square on the night of September 16th, 2012–a hardcore crowd. It was unlike any other occupation experience that I’ve ever had. What is the occupation? Who are you people? Tonight those questions would be answered to me in a more profound way. We’re the glue that holds American society together. The playful spirits who appear, not with violence nor its threat, but with a vision of how the world could be—and act on it. But all around us on this march were dozens and dozens of NYPD cops on foot, in cars, in vans, on motorcycles, etc., to keep, in a sense, Queen Hippolyta’s order. But as Bottom’s head was transformed into an ass—magic was soon to be squeezed into the cops’ and the world’s eyes.
At the head of our column was Puck. That’s not his real name, of course, but still apropos. His delight in playing pranks on these foolish mortals no less than the enchanting sprite. We took off from Zuccotti Park on a trek to Times Square—many, many blocks away—to be there when the figurative ball would drop on our one-year-old world. Night time, long urban march, lines of riot cops, the press nowhere in sight—this is where things get violent quickly. But you wouldn’t know it from observing Puck. It was as if, literally, he was from a different world. He’d wander this way, that way, ahead of the group, behind the group, but he was leading us. Not like the NYPD Commander leading his troops a few feet away. It wasn’t just that the local occupiers would defer to him at key points—an undercover cop could pick up on that—if they could get this close to us.
No, this was different. We weren’t being sucked up a river like in Apocalypse Now. We were being compelled forward, by an unseen energy as if from the shadows, much like what compelled us all to show up in the tents last year. A sense that the order of the world was against the common man and something must be done to change how the people around us see the world. What would Puck squeeze into their eyes? We were about to find out. We were hippies and trouble-makers to many of the cops on this march. Would we make asses of them? We are America. Just as the Tea Party is also, but we’re very proud of our inclusiveness. The Tea Party panders to peoples’ dark side, their fears, intolerance, selfishness, etc. Preaching loudly to their flocks, but then shying away when the mainstream media arrives. At the end, in the glow of Times Square, celebrating the fact that we’re still going strong, even the cops seemed uncomfortable, out of place.
The march came to a pause by Macy’s. “We have to keep moving!” It was Puck’s voice. Suddenly, very much in this world. Our “escort” of motorcycle cops slowed also, sheepishly staring at us from their bikes. BEEP, CRACKLE, WAIL. The strangest sounds will pop out of some of these police vehicles. Occupation marches are like snakes. They coil and contract. Punkish girls with red, white and blue spiked hair, teens with backpacks pockmarked with political and social buttons, glistening young eyes above bandit-strewn bandanas. But NY is very different from LA. Where are the U-Streamers? I could swear that I’m one of the only people taking photos while the group’s moving—still and video. The group “coiled” forward. A chant began: “We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!” Over and over, echoing throughout the Manhattan canyons. And then–and then–there it was. Glowing in the distance. Times Square. The pace of the march picked up. The cycles dropped off and lines of cops on foot would take over. STOMP, STOMP, STOMP. Puck would be here, then there, then disappear. Closer. Wow! Talk about lights. Story after story of commercial ads packed with models up into the dark sky. It was then that the real symbolism of this march became clear to me. Yes, be where the ball drops at our midnight, but also be at the center of the over-commercialization of American society. We flooded into the center of the square as if from another world, and we are, aren’t we? We speak the truth when your normal world of TV channels and news rags seem morally empty.
A cake appeared, as if by magic. Occupiers delighted in taking a bite, though there were no forks. The police formed rings around us. We ignored them. Our eyes were on the figurative ball in the sky Puck had brought us here to imagine. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, Puck sat down. Others joined him. 5, 4, 3, 2, and then Puck spoke. It wasn’t like anything I’d ever heard from an occupier before. Why we were still here after a year… What we’d accomplished… But in my mind’s eye I heard: Why the potion had worked that we’d all squeezed into society’s eyes. How people stopped focusing on distractions such as whether or not to raise the debt-ceiling limit, but on the reality of the plight of our very real fellow Americans whom we care about deeply—who have been deceived by the serpent’s tongue of the ultra-rich. After Puck’s speech, the crowd dissipated and even the cops fell away—as if the occupation had been a dream. Puck from NYC, Nowhere Man from Hollywood, all of us “meddling fairies” vanished back into the semi-darkness of Manhattan like shadows who’d overstayed their welcome in the mortal world of driven, but dishonest men. But all of us, Puck included, had one phrase on our minds. “We’ll be back.” We are the pressure in society to make amends.
I’ll let Shakespeare’s Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) have the last word:
If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumber’d here
While these visions did appear.
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding, but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend;
If you pardon, we will mend.
And, as I am an honest Puck,
If we have unearned luck,
Now to ‘scape the serpent’s tongue,
We will make amends ere long:
Else the Puck a liar call.
So good night unto you all.
Give me your hands, if we be friends,
And Robin shall restore amends.
New York, NY–We were far from Wall Street.
The sidewalks were strewn with rotted furniture, tattered clothes and assorted debri. Families and friends huddled around doorsteps, doors swung open in the hopes that fresh air would drive out the stench of the sitting flood waters.
The Mayor said New York City was back to business as he rang the opening bell.
Jose Luiz said “Fuck Bloomberg” as he lifted an axe to the long, thick tree trunk that had lied down flat on his block. Its roots tickled the metal fence on one side of the street while its branches poked at the stoops on the other side. He stood atop the tree, conquering it with his feet, while his pals tied a rope around it and then to the bumper of a worn-out old 4-door.
“Who you wit’, the city?” they asked suspiciously as we approached. If so, we would have been the first to take notice of what was happening on that block off Neptune Ave. Besides those imposing police vans with their glaring lights at night, lights that reflect off the walls of darkened, powerless buildings. Lights that say “Keep calm. Don’t riot.” The police surely wanted to help, but their orders were clear. “We were told to [go up and down this street with our lights on],” one told me. The National Guard had 4 tanks on the next block, and three Guards stood eyeing passerbys on the next street. Stand your guard. Marching orders.
We weren’t with the city, we explained. And we didn’t much care for Mayor Bloomberg either, considering that he evicted us from Zuccotti Park and threw away all our books and tents. We had something deeply in common with these young men, living on the periphery of the 1%’s city, under the heartless dominion of Bloomberg’s Army.
They looked worn out but persistent in the face of 3 days without power, hot water or gas. If they wanted to fill up their car tanks, the closest station had 300 other Brooklynites snaking in a line around it, gas cannister in hand, to fill up from a single pump. A line of cars a mile long paralleled them.
This is disaster-zone Brooklyn.
This is climate changed.
Welcome to New York City. Brighton Beach. November 1st, 2012.
My State-Sponsored Assault, Courtesy of the NYPD: Journalist John Knefel recounts his violent arrest by the NYPD during #S17 and his subsequent experience in custody.
A Journalist’s Arrest at #S17: “I’ve learned how to get my story without getting bagged. Or so I thought.”
What’s Wrong With This Picture?: The Story of My Arrest by the NYPD: During the Occupy anniversary protests, a photographer is arrested for taking photos on a sidewalk outside the press pen.
I throw clothes on, pack up my battery pack, and book it. I get to Wall Street at 7:15. OccupyTime is a wonderful thing as they are still organizing.
A group of about 300 people leaves from 55 Water at around 7:30 and we march with intent to form The People’s Wall in front of the NYSE. This action’s intent would be to block anyone from entering the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). It is no surprise this action really just ended up with us marching in circles around the financial district. The area was heavily fortified and there was no way the police were going to let us anywhere near the NYSE. This was not terribly surprising but it was certainly discouraging to me. No matter, back to 55 Water St to regroup.
Now for the action entitled “99 Revolutions.” This is when the fun began. We left the Veteran Memorial in smaller Affinity Groups. The idea for 99 Revolutions was to disperse in small groups and block traffic at intersections in a very decentralized manner. The theory: the police know how to deal with a centralized group. The police will not be as able to stop a great many different groups, in various locations, around the financial district. Some groups would get stopped yes, but many would likely be able to cause traffic jams. This plan worked brilliantly.
I happened by about several different intersections where traffic was being slowed down considerably due to the protester and police presence. I saw several arrests as well. Here are some videos:
Congestion at William and Pine (video length approx 4 mins):
Arrests resulting from the congestion at William and Pine (video length approx 5 mins):
At the 3:00 mark of this video you can hear the crowd chanting “We! Pay Your Salary!”
Marching in circles, blocking traffic, at Beaver and South William St. (video length approx 1:45)
More at the same intersection of Beaver and South William St. (video length approx 1:45)
More at the same intersection of Beaver and South William St. (video length approx 2:00) (dancing in street begins at 1:27)
Chanting “A-Anti-Anticapitalista” in the same intersection of Beaver and South William St. (video length approx :18)
It is very much worth noting the success of this tactic of intersection blockades can be seen through the action at this intersection lasted about 5 and a half minutes. During that time. Not one police officer came to stop us. I heard somewhere the officers were busy on dealing with our successful congestion of Broadway.
The intersection blockades lasted until 10, at which point we all met up at Bowling Green (the location of the Wall Street Bronze Bull Statue) for an environmental action. As usual the police had the bull completely surrounded and guarded from the threat of protesters who, at most, would have had difficult time putting a dent in the statue because it is made of bronze.
To gather everyone together, all 3 to 400 of us we had Reverend Billy Talen doing his thing with the Stop Shopping Choir
Next there was a theatrical performance about the environment. To help the show the Rude Mechanical Orchestra rocked some background music:
Jill Stein spoke next
My feeling about Jill Stein is as follows. I like what she says. However, there’s no chance she’ll ever win election. Until there is serious electoral reform (at least) the only candidates who will ever have a chance to win are those from the corporate whore parties (Democrats/Republicans). So though Jill Stein seems cool to me, I can’t get overly excited about her. At most I hope she inspires others.
After this we took a short break and had an Action Spokes council in Battery Park to discuss what actions would take place for the rest of the day. I didn’t attend this because my phone was not charging well off my battery which meant I needed a new cable. I headed to J&R. This unfortunately did not pan out well since J&R is owned by Jewish people and S17 was the first day of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah. So I looked around, saw a Sprint store, assumed a cell phone store would have a cable to charge a cell phone, and went there to buy it. Success!
This is also when I realized I had an opportunity to get lunch so I hit up a halal cart and went to eat in Liberty Square. I met with friends, chatted, and nourished myself on Chicken and Rice. I was also informed of a march that would be taking place by VOCAL NY I believe after the rally that was about to take place.
I want to say right off the bat, I respect and appreciate every organization that came to the rally and said their piece. The more community groups we have the better. The more organized we are the better. The more we work to fix our own problems instead of relying on a leader the better. However, I really, really, really, really, really, really, really hate rallies. I find them incredibly boring and scripted. I can appreciate an organized march with a scripted demonstration within it. However, I get bored out my mind standing in one place for an hour listening to community organizations plug themselves. Some people like rallies because of the structuring, programming, and the way that they can learn about organizations. For learning about organizations, yes, rallies are cool. However, most of the time the speakers at rallies just say relatively generic stuff which appeals to audiences interested in the same causes they are.
Anyway, after the rally I got wind of another action to happen at the World Financial Center. I raced over.
As soon as I got there I noticed there was private event going on (it seemed to be a car show). I hit up the celly loop to get the word out. The new plan was apparently to meet up by the marina. Yup, there was a crowd there of probably 3 to 400. We had a short discussion over the fact that there were people in Liberty Square who wanted to join us. This however would have taken too long. The group ended up splitting at this point. One group went to Goldman Sachs to do a civil disobedience where I believe 5 people were arrested. Another group went to the FDR drive to block traffic for about a minute. I went with the group to Goldman Sachs. Unfortunately my camera angles weren’t very good here so there’s not much to post.
Next we went back to Liberty Square. By this point the atmosphere was vibrant in the park. Full of celebration, discussion, nostalgia, singing, dancing, drumming. It was just like the days of the Occupation when the movement had finally gotten mainstream attention to draw in the crowds, and we hadn’t put up tents yet. It was perfect and words can’t describe it, just watch…
(approx video length 30:00)
The next march we did was at about 3:30 and we wanted Wall Street. The restrictions on the area had dropped a bit from the morning’s attempts and we got so far as a block from the New York Stock Exchange. Upon reaching Nassau Street and Pine Street I had already made my way to the front of the march and I got a surprise. THE PEOPLE’S GONG! It was unfortunately cut short as the police realized what we were doing and viewed it as something which could be a potential “win” if we were allowed to recite the whole thing; so they pushed the entire crowd back. It was awesome though.
At this point I took down my feed and needed lunch. My lunch had left me relatively unfulfilled, I was dehydrated, and dealing with the shock of being EXTREMELY close to police brutality on the last march (I saw an officer ram an Occupier’s head into the scaffolding on Cortlandt St. I’d post this footage, but even though my phone never showed any kind of signal problem, the footage is no longer in my archive and I never deleted it).
The GA happened at 8 in Liberty Square and I just wanted to relax for a bit and talk to friends, and gather myself. I took my feed down for maybe an hour.
At around 10 was when we got the first sign of the police saying “okay kiddies, time to end the celebration.” The lights over the park turned off, and the police presence had grown to some degree around the park. This caused some concern amongst those present in the park which a few people (GA provocateurs from back when) took full advantage of and almost manipulated us into a march. A march would have led to a beat down as it was after hours, and past sundown, in New York. We were saved though. Occu-cake was served.
(video length approx 3:30)
The rest of the night consisted of the police intimidation tactics and not much else. They shined 6 floodlights into the park. Yes, 6 floodlights, because 7 would have been too many… They came in and escalated the environment for no reason and then left. We reacted with some cop hate getting spewed on one side of the park while people danced for Anarchy on the other side. Some of us dealt with the the police escalation with a massive Occupy Ohm Circle. It was a wonderful, trademark way to end the 1 year anniversary.
I remember, when the park was raided back on November 15 and the newspapers were saying “Occupy faces an uncertain future,” my response was “the raid saved the movement because it forced us to band together and stand our ground.” The raid also gained us a lot of support from the general public as, on raid night, the Occupy Wall Street trend eclipsed ALL other trends on twitter. Everyone who was involved in the movement just laughed at the media’s death sentencing of us. We got together and we organized, we did road trips, we made friends, we started building alliances with community organizations. We started Interoccupy. We resurfaced on May Day and inspired tons of other groups to join the May Day march (who’d never wanted to associate with it before). We went to the NATO summit in Chicago in spite of the fact that everyone was terrified of what might happen to us, and we ended up becoming very acquainted with Michigan Avenue. We held the National Gathering. We did a 99 mile march. We went to the RNC and the DNC.
Now however I do need to ask whether or not we face an uncertain future. Occupy succeeded in changing the conversation of the nation, which is no easy task. There has also been a lot of inspired activism from Con Ed workers, the Chicago Teacher’s strike, and smaller more under-unionized groups like Car Wash Workers. It’s wonderful how we’re starting to see a growth in activism in the country. I do need to ask, though. What does Occupy do now? We spent a year complaining, and there was a LOT to complain about. However, amidst the complaining, we’re going to have to start offering solutions. Maybe not concrete solutions, but we need to start offering ideas and having discussions. You can’t only talk about the negatives without exploring ways to fix them. This does not necessarily mean reforms. It just means we have to start giving people reasons why they should still believe in us.
The anniversary proved that Occupy never died (even though the Mainstream Media has said the 1500 protesters in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square only numbered “a few hundred” protesters on S17). What do we have to show for it though? Great, we never left, what did we learn in over the past year about ourselves and about organization? Where did we mess up? Where did we succeed? Where did we wander with a lack of understanding what we were doing? How do we do outreach? How do we communicate better with one another? What does it mean to Occupy?
No matter what the answer is we can’t be stuck on particulars. In-fighting wont solve anything, and we’ve seen too much of that already. We have to work towards the world that we want, but we CANNOT be certain of what that world will be. The main reason for this is, we’re not prophets, and we if we try to be extremely rigid in our visions of the future, we’ll fail at accomplishing any vision for the future besides a dispersed, and divided one. One of the values of true Anarchy, as I understand it, is learning to respect one another and accept our differences, coexisting but making sure we hold each other accountable. Can we do this? We wont reach solve everything in a year from now, and we wont do it in two years either. However, what can we accomplish in a year? What would be significant, yet practical?
I’m in this for the long haul, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The march was a lot of fun. I caught up with it around 3rd avenue and 14th street and followed it to Union Square, where we saw a few speak outs and some music from the Guitarmy. Then we marched to Foley Square, where Occupy Town Square would take place with a permitted concert. Yes, that’s correct, Occupy Wall Street got a permit for something. Hell has frozen over…
On the way to Union Square there were two arrests of members of the group Code Pink. Both arrests were of women. These arrests were done to quell the momentum of the march, as the arrests were of two of the main speakers. As a result of both arrests the remaining Code Pink members lost their initiative to make their statement in front of Bank of America. This is unfortunate because Code Pink rocks.
Anyway upon getting to Foley Square I took my feed down to go and exchange the Galaxy S3 I bought on S15. The next Galaxy was just as bad and didn’t connect to my hotspot. So now I’m using the original phone which unfortunately means I can’t livetweet pictures. Also, the biggest issue I have is that my hotspot is not very good. I need one that is more reliable; unfortunately this costs a lot more and I don’t have the money for monthly fees.
The Occupy Town Square was fun and we had nice music. Most of the artists I wasn’t terribly impressed by but Tom Morello played and he always kicks ass. At the end of his set he also asked the Occupiers present to rush the stage!
Following this we had an action spokes council meeting… I don’t wanna say much about this until things are carried out tomorrow. I have opinions but I’d prefer to comment on the events after seeing them in action and not speculating about them from a theoretical perspective. The only thing I will say is the meeting was held in a humorous location… One Police Plaza!
Next we had Occupy Rosh Hashanah, which was really beautiful. I was surprised how many Occupiers could accurately mic-check in Hebrew. We broke Challah bread, drank grape juice (no alcohol in public) and blew Shofar. I thought some of the readers were REALLY over the top but whatever. It was a nice night.
Now the fun begins…
I get to Times Square at around 9:30 and see no one from the affinity group. So I headed to 6th and 50th because, whether I was alone or not, I was gonna have fun at that demonstration. I ended up finding the group and we headed to the rally with signs reading “I dream of a white president…Just like they used to be,” “Every Man For Himself – Jesus,” “Get the government out of my social security,” “Let them eat cake,” and others. With friends I could livestream, I was just gonna watch the magic unfold…
We get there at the end of a speech, from a paid representative for AFP doing the normal, tax-the-rich-less BS. We quietly join the crowd and hold up our signs. Once they realized what we were doing, the Tea Partiers began efforts to block our signs. Standing in front of us, or holding their signs in front of ours–what ever they could do to shield us and our infiltration from the cameras. Didn’t work. By the way I saw two Tea Partiers holding signs that reading “Thank you Koch Brothers” and “99% Shut Up.”
Once the speaker finished we started getting more attention. Our intention was just to engage them in discussion, and we did just that. An Occupier using the pseudonym Warren Bancroft, representing his Facebook group Americans For Inequality, took the Tea Partiers to school.
Warren Bancroft talks about how the banks didn’t get a bailout (0:17)
A woman gets baffled when Warren Bancroft talks about his group Americans For Inequality (0:39)
Warren Bancroft talks about the need to reverse the Narrative (0:30)
Warren Bancroft talks about how to deal with inequality (0:54)
It was a great action and we ended up in tons of different news outlets.
The Guardian even came out with an article called “Occupy Wall Street activists commandeer anti-Occupy Wall Street rally.” Read it here.
This was such a success, and we completely stuck it to the Koch Brothers. It is very likely the Koch Brothers planned this rally to counteract the success (maybe) of the Occupy Wall Street 1-year anniversary. Well, I’d say Occupy took the reigns and built on the momentum of the September 17th day of action.
Happy Birthday Occupy!
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Occupywallstreet.net
Monday was a funny day. I went incognito as a worker in the financial district, and, slipping past a checkpoint, clicked my heels on the cobblestones plunked in front of the stock exchange.
One of my clients, who works in the tallest building above the stock exchange, was blocked from entry because he looked like a dirty hippie.
A cop impersonating an anarchist blew her cover.
And a News 1 reporter with an inch of make-up on his face was called out as a little bit of a fraud.
5 a.m.: Getting into disguise
I wake in the dark, put on a fitted black skirt, to the knee. I look at my dogwalking shoes – can I get away with wearing them? I can’t afford to get arrested – I have to go to work at noon, and may need to do some running to evade the police. I reach for some pearls, step into heels. Then I realize I probably need to shave off that 4 months of hair on my legs, too.
Downstairs I run, to unlock my massive bike chain and skim down the street, pedal by pedal in my precarious heels. Soon I am flying over the Brooklyn Bridge as dawn rises, the pink financial district nearing by the millisecond.
7:30 a.m.: Trading places
We converge at the Staten Island Ferry terminal, and then, holding aloft flourescent green and pink signs reading “Wall Street, the business of extinction”, and “System change, not climate change,” the Eco Block sings and skips our way down the streets. We near the center of power, lickety split.
Many of us are in our Wall Street best, dressed as the 1%. We know that from all directions, dozens of us, if not more, will go undetected.
There on Broad Street looms the Stock Exchange, its pillars swathed with the broad striped flag. Leaning against a delivery van, a guy with a semi-scruffy look is taking photos of a checkpoint blocking the way to Wall Street.
It dawns on me that I know this guy. “Zach?” I venture. He puts his camera down and his photographers’ look of concentration gives way. Yes, it’s Zach, one of my former “clients”, a nice guy who owns a nice chocolate lab named Umphrey. I was his dogwalker last year.
“I can’t get to work!”, he snickers.
“And where’s that?”, I ask.
“On the 30th floor, up there.” He points to the building just adjacent to the Stock Exchange.
“What do you do?”
“I work in finance.”
Probably because of his telltale beard, they cast him to the street like riffraff. Yet I actually sneak through a checkpoint nearby.
It’s absurd. I don’t have anything planned for this moment. I never thought they’d actually let me through. So I walk around the Police State that is the financial district this September morning, taking pictures of the long lines of Wall Street workers waiting to show their IDs at every juncture.
The police do our job for us – disrupting “business as usual.”
10:45 a.m.: Cover, blown
Several hundred people sit crosslegged in a circle, watching a puppet show like children enthralled. Faces old and young, striking and plain, are all lit with wonder and whimsy, sharing in the magic. The puppets tuck themselves away, a different kind of sharing set to begin: a Speak Out.
Then someone introduces Cheri Honkala and Jill Stein of the Green Party, and Honkala steps up to speak at Bowling Green. Neither celebrities nor politicians are to be privileged to rise above or attract more attention than anyone else. Stein is welcome to speak, but so is everyone else.
Yet the Speak Out is not happening as planned. Behind-the-scenes confusion breaks out (except right in front of everybody). Time is running out.
Jill Stein’s “handler” Kate, though young and lovely, looks pale, lined and distraught. She points at a woman standing behind Jill Stein, whose eyes are utterly obscured behind black bug-eyed hipster sunglasses. “This woman has been following us from engagement to engagement.”
Without thinking, I reach out. One hand instinctively lights on the “disrupter’s” tattoed shoulder. I ask what’s wrong.
“I want to speak! Politicians are speaking, and I’m an anarchist, and I can’t speak? Look at all these white women.” I agree with her that that’s not how things should go, that this is supposed to be a Speak Out, but things have gone screwy and time has stolen away. A nearby “friend” starts reasoning with her, but though she is being helpful, I don’t trust her. She seems a bit rehearsed.
“Why are you smiling at me like that, patronizing me in that white-woman-way. Take your hands off me.” I look away to face her companion, who is repeating that I am patronizing them with my smile. “I probably am,” I admit, thinking that a different kind of entitlement is at work here. I look back at Stein, who is wrapping up.
THEN IT HAPPENS. “If you don’t take your hands off of me right now…”, the bug-eyed eyeless hipster-punk growls, as two puppeteers holding a banner look on.
“Take your hands off of me or I’ll arrest… you.”
She falls silent. She’s said it as if she has said it many times before.
Her companion takes a deep breath.
“Ah, you’re doing a great job!” I smile snidely. “Or actually, come to think of it, you just fucked up, didn’t you, now?” And then, “I understand, you’re ‘just doing your job.'” Why do a lot of people become cops, I think, but because they felt powerless at some point in their lives. Threatened by my calm, or maybe genuinely triggered by my white, privileged, patronizing attitude, she’s reverted to cop mode to regain control.
“She’s not a cop,” says her friend, perturbed.
“No anarchist has it in them to say, ‘Get your hands off me or I’ll arrest you.'” I said. “Not even anarchists losing their minds.”
“She didn’t say that,” denies her friend, seemingly unconvinced by her own words. The bystanders, two puppeteers holding a banner, scoff.
“Yes,” affirms one of the puppeteers resolutely, but with the objective air of a witness on a stand. “Yes, she did say that.”
They drop it, don’t fight. “Let’s go,” the “friend” shrugs at the undercover cop. “This is bullshit.”
Never been so obvious and stupid as it was at that moment, my friends.
11:25 a.m. Unmasked
The people at Bowling Green have dispersed. People dressed as polar bears roll up dirty banners and head back to the storage unit, as everyone else convenes at Battery Park for the Action Spokes. The plaza in front of the Museum of the American Indian is close to empty.
A cameraman from NY1 sets up his shot, a shot looking out over a nondescript street with no significant backdrop save a lady with a pug-dog in a bicycle basket. The basket is a bed of fake flowers, and one of the synthetic, dusty, faded daisies crowns the pug’s ears.
I am highly attuned to their decision to shoot after the action is over. They have such a fantastic range of visuals to work with – the steps of the museum, the park that is Bowling Green, the Charging Bull sculpture, but instead, they focus on the distant blur of a gaggle of people across the street, and a bleak empty space.
With a sandwich in one hand, I hike up my skirt and swing my leg over my bikeframe, flashing someone for sure. Heel by heel I position my feet precariously on each pedal and, curious, wheel slowly behind the anchor, within the camera’s viewing range.
The anchor goes live: “People gathered here at 10 a.m. and nothing really happened, and then they left and went over there,” he says with a shake of the head. Rolling by one-handed while munching my sandwich, I declare, “That’s not true, there were 4,000 people here.” (There weren’t 4,000; forgive me, it is an impulsive moment.)
The cameraman’s face goes sour as he wraps up the live shot. The sound guy comes over calmly, and agrees, it’s true that sometimes some news-guys lie, but not this one. The anchor turns to me irate: “NOTHING happened here!”
“Sure, if you think that people taking a workday to assemble peacably and express their right to speak freely is ‘nothing’.”
“Ok but you’re messing with me as I am trying to do my job! I’m trying to work, here!”
“What does it mean to work as a journalist, if the result does not approximate the truth?” I ask him. I try to offer him an excuse: “Look, I get it, your producers aren’t interested unless there’s a violent conflict of some kind, there are arrests…”
He interrupts me: “I worked for FOX, but that’s not what’s going on here.”
“Alright, well our versions of the truth simply differ, then.”
The dude has makeup so thick, his pores scream to breathe. The closer I get, the more they enlarge, crying out for air, gasping, “must. escape. this mask!” His warm eyes can’t reconcile with that orange mask, as he insists he is one of the good guys, going after the truth. He does seem like a good guy. It’s true.
September 18th. Waking up
We all sleep a few extra hours. I am sure the reporter, the cop and the financial sector worker do too. It was a tiring Monday for us all.
In my morning daze, I realize none of us were as we seemed that day. We all were incognito.
The made-up NY1 reporter, the disguised financial sector worker, the undercover cop hidden behind sunglasses so big they obscured half her face. And me, the radical dogwalker, wearer of sensible shoes, in heels.
My primary contacts here—those I knew best—were my friends Nicole and Harrison, though at the night before I met a group of out-of-towners from a few different cities that had organized itself into an affinity group. I chatted a little with them, amazed that friendships had been cemented with people met only 12 hours before. But such is typical within Occupy.
Just after 7:30, we departed for our roving marches, splitting up early on but then reconvening. We did the usual chants: “When education’s under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” We soon began taking intersections, first with simply a circular picket that occupied each crosswalk simultaneously. Some civilians stopped to watch us, and we moved away to continue the marches without any conflict. Our group split and it seemed agreed that we would go civilian to the People’s Wall, yet we remained a loud, chanting march. The march that I was in jumped into the center of an intersection to dance and sing “A-anti-anticapitalista!” Not quite ready to dance so early in the morning, I joined in the chant and ran circles around the inside of the intersection with others, clapping my hands. We put on quite a show for civilians and once again had no conflict with police.
Upon reaching the area around Wall Street—here is where locations become truly blurry for my memory—we found a swelling mass of other protesters crammed onto the sidewalks, some straying into the streets, and a glut of police officers standing.in the middle of the intersection, along curbs—everywhere. I think I missed most of the People’s Wall drama but it was tough to be sure: a great mix of joyful chanting and militant yelling all filled the intersection. Every so often you would head chants of “March! March! March!” but everyone remained where they stood. I wandered around the intersection to see what was happening at different angles. After standing into the street, police ordered all of us to get onto the sidewalk.
The sidewalk closest to me happened to be the corner where police were checking work IDs to enter the sectioned-off street. Of course, police then said that the side half of us were standing on was reserved only for those in line to have IDs checked. I, and others, then, had to move—but the corner was so crowded, with the street off-limits, that one had no space to move. So I stood on the curb. The police tired of us standing there, and suddenly I felt hands on my shoulders and an officer trying to raise me; he then pushed me forward into the man ahead of me, who fell forward into the people in front of him, causing many of us to push against scaffolding. Feeling a great deal of adrenaline and anger, I walked away from the situation to the outskirts of the group, where I found Harrison again. Luckily this situation was my only one in which I was at all handled by the police and I (and as far as I know, others in that situation) were not injured.
Meeting again with Harrison, we wandered a bit and expressed to each other some disappointment at how so many were caught in a standoff that seemed to be past its opportunity. There was no civil disobedience, really, in crowding the sidewalk where no one except protesters and police stood. Marching seemed to be the best strategy at the stalemate that had occurred but relatively few took the call.
But I was still in awe at everything I was watching. Even after my six months with Occupy Wall Street, it’s difficult to watch so many people get arrested for exercising rights that are to be guaranteed for them, or for “breaking” laws in ways the laws were not intended to be enforced—or to be arrested violently and aggressively. I watched a man red-faced and with tears in his eyes yelling to us as he was being taken away that he could not feel his hands. This is my city, this is my country, and this is what we do here.
Harrison split and now here I was wandering the financial district alone. I felt now less an activist than a sort of observer. I didn’t know where any of my friends were, although I would very much support the statement that we all in Occupy are friends already, a kind of weird, huge family. But what was great about September 17th is that we were all here together, and despite not having working service on my cellphone I happened to run into a group of friends—and we, then, happened to run into another friend in a march—without at all trying.
John, one of the people I ran into, was stringing yarn across streets and intersections to delay activity there. I stood by to scout for police as he strung the yarn on a side street (a large van quickly plowed through it.) The two of us and other friends of ours went in and out of marches and—if memory serves correctly—ended up near Trinity, where we wanted to cross the street. Today walk signals did not matter, as police officers themselves were controlling traffic—by only allowing cars to move from either direction, and never pedestrians. We stood on the street-side of the curb to wait to cross, other protesters crammed behind the scaffolding, and John began the chant: “Whose streets?” to which I and others answered “Our streets!” This went on for a couple minutes without police allowing us to cross. A white shirt pointed a few people out from the crowd, and suddenly officers were running towards us. We scurried, and one officer grabbed John’s arm. John broke free, ducked behind the scaffolding, but was caught and arrested; for a moment I wondered if, by being near John and joining in the chant, if I could have been another that the white shirt pointed to—officers were now chasing and arresting others who had been standing there—so I and my friends Shay and Thiago quickly left the situation, jogging down the block.
After the intense and stressful morning, we came across a parade of fun led by the Reverend Billy Choir of Stop Shopping, which was much needed to calm the nerves from all that we had seen and run from. After my dismay at police activity, I was once again inspired by the voices and singing of my Occupy family, the perfect antidote to the police state that attempts to wear us down—a great first half to a happy birthday.
– Joe Sutton –