By Phil Acuña
Phil is a staff contributor based in NYC.
Despite living in the city that never sleeps, it’s safe to say that most supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement were caught off guard early Tuesday morning by the spontaneous mobilization of NYPD’s finest. Though suspicions were aroused when officers started equipping themselves with riot gear, reality didn’t strike until masses of officers and sanitation workers descended on Zuccotti Park tearing down everything in their path. Tents were dislodged with occupants still in them, people were beaten and pepper sprayed that refused to leave, and everyone’s possessions were carelessly thrown into dump trucks with the reassurance that they could pick them up at a later point. When a reporter asked one of the sanitation workers where the garbage trucks were headed, he laughingly replied, “the dump,” before being told to by his colleagues to quiet down. Some are even saying that the People’s Library has also been thrown away. Since the eviction, protesters have been enduring a roller coaster ride of emotions.
Although protesters were being allowed back in the plaza as of Tuesday night, they are now subject to search by private security guards upon entrance and are not able to bring in “occupying materials” (tents, sleeping bags) or even backpacks. There were hundreds of police surrounding the park in riot gear as well as forcibly clearing the sidewalks around the park. There were also numerous plainclothes men who were seen dragging a bloodied protestor over a barricade and shoving him in a “paddy wagon.” When protestors confronted them asking to see their badges, they simply laughed and refused to show any form of identification. Regardless of this and the certain flashpoints of high tensions throughout the last 24 hours, there is still an atmosphere of joy. I think many are starting to realize what Ghandi put best, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Admittedly, when I first went down to Zuccotti Park aka Liberty Square, I was skeptical of the movement’s ambitions and doubtful of its eventual success. Although 2011 has been witness to the pro-democracy uprisings of the Arab Spring, a populus movement in Spain, “riots” in London, and the ongoing Chilean student protests, I could never convince myself to believe that something like that could occur here, in what some consider the heart of empire. I think many people felt the same way, but then came the occupiers.
On September 17, a diverse group of activists from all over the leftist spectrum moved onto Zuccotti Park in response to a call put out by Adbusters, a satirical Canadian anti-capitalist magazine.
I think many are starting to realize what Ghandi put best, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices.
Adbusters followed the previous statement with a small request: bring a tent.
Although 20,000 was overly ambitious (about 2,000 showed up), activists did stake their claim in the park and the growth and progress of the occupation has been rather incredible. What started as a cardboard and sleeping bag littered granite plaza next to ground zero, eventually became an organized encampment with newly equipped military grade tents in preparation for the winter. The canvas tents were a recent addition, following an agreement by the General Assembly to allocate more than 20,000 dollars of the movement’s funds to gear up for the winter. One of the tents was been designated as a “Women’s safe space” following a series of sexual assaults at the encampment, while another has been turned into a fully functioning medical tent which hosted medics from Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) this weekend to distribute free flu shots.
The “people’s library” which started as a handful of books on a granite ledge in northeast corner of the park, took up a quarter of Liberty Square with 4,500 catalogued volumes ranging from history, politics, poetry and foreign language. The kitchen provided a steady stream of food throughout the day to occupiers and visitors alike, serving approximately 3,000 meals daily. There was a cigarette rolling station, media tent with a livestream station to address to viewers around the world, comfort department with sleeping bags, clothes and blankets, sanitation department and even a pet food and supply station.
On a normal day, Liberty Square was home to about 500 permanent occupiers, a police force around the same the size, and the usual crowd of visiting activists and curious onlookers. Though there is a broad representation of beliefs ranging from anarchists, civil rights era activists, war veterans, and even the “Granny Peace Brigade,” the majority voice the general theme of struggling for the rights of the 99%. Political conversations can be heard throughout the park, most of them constructive and some bordering the realm of comic absurdity. Even NYC tour buses made the park one of their frequent stops, with tourists leaning over the sides to wave and take pictures.
Now all that is gone. When I went down to the Liberty Square on Tuesday night, the park seemed like a skeleton of its former self. I could barely recognize the empty space that as recently as Monday served as home to so many tents and occupiers. Only 30 people spent the night there. Although the loss of Liberty Square was seen as a severe blow to the movement, many are saying that maybe it was just what it needed. While the park held a certain amount of sentimental value, especially to those that had been living there for 3 months, the movement has become much more than just the space it started in. Just as complaints of the movement growing stagnant and coming to a standstill were starting to emerge, it might just be that Mayor Bloomberg and the NYPD helped breathe new life into it. November 17th marks the three-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street and mass demonstrations are planned throughout the city as well as nationwide. The day will commence with a march on Wall Street and an attempt to prevent the opening of the New York Stock Exchange, and it will end with a massive march to occupy one of New York’s bridges. The excitement that many are feeling about tomorrow’s events is undermined by the nervousness of knowing that a confrontation with the police will be inevitable. As I write this the night before #N17, spirits are high, the atmosphere is tense, and the movement continues.