NEW YORK - Police prepared for the worst. Protesters hoped for the best. As police gripped their batons, protesters gripped their cardboard signs. Police held the brakes on their motorcycles while protesters hammered down the triggers of their cameras. The frenzy of clicking shutters buzzed through the air like a swarm of angry bees. A mere 10 hours after protesters were sipping warm coffee in a small lower-Manhattan park, tensions rose to a boiling point in Times Square.
Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Square by protesters, is a base station for participants. People at the park sleep, eat, receive medical attention and exchange information. Some volunteers even offer prayer services and massage therapy.
In the center of the park sits the comfort station, which provides protesters with toothpaste, toothbrushes, warm clothing, blankets, tape, tampons and anything else they might need to stay and protest for as long as they’re inclined.
Every day a general assembly meeting is held to make announcements and discuss ideas, policies, procedures and events such as marches.
Because amplification devices are not allowed, messages are relayed to the large groups of people through a method referred to as the “people’s mic” — someone shouts their message, and everyone who hears the message repeats it. For larger crowds, the message is repeated three or four times to ensure that everyone can hear it.
On Saturday, Oct. 15, protesters left their home base to march with people rallying in Washington Square Park. The march covered more than 50 police-lined blocks, picking up people and gathering passion along the way.
The protesters ended their march by meeting with hundreds of people already demonstrating and stayed to hear speeches from organizers, and fellow protesters.
Set in a “progressive stack,” speakers were asked to come and offer words of encouragement and insight through the people’s mic. People of minority groups pushed to the front of the line in order to encourage voices that are usually deafened by our society, to be heard louder and clearer than ever.
An announcement was made that a march to occupy Times Square would begin at 3:30 p.m. It wasn’t long before the protesters reclaimed the sidewalks and left in pursuit of the “center of the world.”
By 6 p.m., Times Square had filled with thousands of protesters. Within minutes, a truck carrying dozens of police barricades stormed down 7th Avenue against traffic. A policeman heaved welded steel gates onto the pavement below while officers on the street lined them three deep in places to keep people from blocking off traffic completely.
A few minutes later two dozen officers mounted on half-ton horses arrived. By 7:15 p.m., a formation of riot police stood in tight formation on West 46th Street. What was supposed to be a peaceful protest began looking more and more like a war zone.
Meanwhile, back in Zuccotti Park, Plattsburgh State sophomore Katylynn Gimma found herself recruited to help make food for protesters. A man approached her, asking if she wanted to help feed the movement and she joined the effort.
“Everybody had this mentality that they were feeding the troops,” Gimma said.
She spent hours with other volunteers preparing 3,500 servings of food, including bean dip, soup, and stir fried rice and vegetables in a soup kitchen called Liberty Café, which the owners lent to protest organizers to use when not in business.
When the cooking was done, they took a break from their hard work to each try a little of what they had just prepared, and reflect on the importance of their role as support for the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The man who organized the volunteers gave a small speech in which he expressed his appreciation for their help and how proud he was with the way the group of strangers had come together.
“None of the groups that had come to help him had gotten so close over such a short span of time,” Gimma said. “He said he had never seen a group of kids work so hard for something.”
To Gimma, time spent working the small Brooklyn soup kitchen was her way of helping, without the glory of cameras and the publicity that the protesters on Wall Street were gaining. To her, they were equally important parts of one central movement.
“These people had all come together to work really, really hard so the front lines could stay strong,” Gimma said. “They understood that not everybody could be there, or should be there.”
Meanwhile, back in Times Square, the scene grew hungry for conflict. Steam poured out of two tall construction tubes and played tricks on cameras’ auto focusing. The hot, humid air added an eerie tone as the scene transpired. Thousands watched from the street below, millions watched on television.
Chants in unison rung between glass and concrete buildings, while officers looked on.
“Let us cross,” the crowd began chanting. Protesters demanded the right to cross 7th Avenue and Broadway on West 46th Street. “It’s our right,” a woman yells. Police remained unconvinced.
The crowd began to surge and the horses were brought to the front lines. One officer kicked his heels into the side of his dark brown vehicle, sending it charging at the mass of people. A woman screamed and fell back into the crowd.
A few minutes later, a man yelled out at a line of officers, a steel barricade jerked up from the ground and into the air like a ship’s hull tearing through a stormy sea. Waves of people pushed and pulled before batons were finally raised. The sound of truncheons could be heard hitting metal, then metal, then flesh.
A man holding an American flag with a peace sign jumped in amidst the chaos. Without saying a word, he stood calmly between the masses. Those with uniforms and those without took deep breaths in unison. A few protesters were pulled away and arrested.
An officer asked through a loudspeaker six times for protesters to move back, trying to restrain his impatience. Protesters followed with their own demands.
“You move back,” the crowd roared.
To the protesters’ surprise, the police obliged this request, electrifying the crowd with raucous energy that spewed out in deafening cheers.
“We love you, we love you,” the protesters cheered.
“Police are the 99 percent,” another chant added.
After three hours of police bullhorn, and protesters using the people’s mic, the negotiations saw progress. After police asked protesters to stay on the sidewalk while they attempt to open lanes for traffic, protesters increased their demands to cross the street.
“If the streets are open, we deserve to cross,” a man yelled to police.
For all their patience, after hours of waiting, the protesters heard good news. They were told they could cross 46th Avenue and Broadway. The crowd erupted with joy.
“Thank you, thank you,” a final chant declared.
Once the protesters were allowed to cross the street, they willingly left Times Square for subway cars, taxi cabs and departed by foot. Some went back to Washington Square Park to celebrate their day, others back to Zuccotti Park to enjoy what was left of Gimma’s rations.
By the end of the showdown in Times Square, Gimma was already surrounded by thousands of other protesters. After finding she had left herself without a voice, she was given a drum and mallets to help lead the crowd.
“This one guy pulled me up onto the podium to have me do the chants, but by then my voice was completely gone, so I just wasn’t making any noise,” Gimma said. “The guy next to me put his hand on my shoulder to stop me, and then he took a drum off of his neck and put the strap around my neck.”
She said the fun time spent in Washington Square Park following the rally was important because it was a celebration of the day’s victories.
“The news said how dozens of people had been arrested, but they didn’t really mention as much the other thousands of people who tried their best to keep this a peaceful protest.” Gimma said. “People just felt accomplished. They’re trying to instill a whole new way of living. They kept it peaceful, and they were celebrating the fact that they were able to do that across thousands of people.”
She said she hopes that eventually through protests both well organized and peaceful, the rest of the world will see that the movement has a real purpose.
“It will, in the long run, have people take us more seriously,” she said. “Instead of just having it be a bunch of kids who are trying to be like, ‘f**k the man.’”
(()videos from the day)))