It’s been an unprecedented week of an unprecedented movement. The ideology of Occupy Wall Street is nothing new, but the methods- applying a leaderless, direct consensus democracy – have not been seen on this planet since ancient Athens. Most revolutionary though, is that this is a truly global movement: technologically coordinated in ways that were impossible even just 5 years ago.
In just two months, an experiment of a handful of people, in a small park, has reached massive proportions. On November 17, in a global “Day of Action”, tens of thousands took the streets in cities across the world. On the West of the U.S., bridges were disrupted, and buildings were occupied throughout the country.
Here’s how I witnessed this historic week from the streets of the movement’s cradle in Lower Manhattan:
November 14 –
Over the past week or so, I’d noticed a growing presence of extremist “fringe” elements at the encampment- More and more overly sloganistic rabble-rousers, some darkly unhinged. The core of the park was definitely still exuberant, focused on pioneering new ways of thinking and acting. The kitchen and library were larger and more organized than ever, there was now a more fully equipped first-aid tent; and there were open forums tackling an ever-expanding array of important issues. I was concerned that the extreme contingent would only serve to distract from the optimism, and might turn-off much of the “99%” for whom the movement is supposed to include.
As I walked from Zuccotti Park during the evening rush, there was a feeling of foreboding in the air – an increased police presence on the surrounding streets, command-post trailers that had not be there before, and a greater number of undercovers. During the night, of course, the encampment was forcibly evicted from the park. In a way, it was a good thing- the park had become a bit too insular and was perhaps starting to stagnate. It seemed to be a step in the right direction to turn the park into a symbol and to start a broader dialogue with the 99%
November 15 –
The morning after the eviction of Zuccotti Park. A group marched to a park privately owned by Trinity Church (one of NY’s oldest parishes) and attempted to take it- climbing over a wall and unlocking the gates. The pastor and clergy from the church arrived, negotiated, and, in the end, denied access. Most left the park. Others stayed and tried to barricade the gate with benches. Very quickly after, riot police moved in and arrested the remaining protesters, with their usual finesse.
Afterwards, everybody converged back to Zuccotti Park, which was barricaded by police. Protesters surrounded the square until evening, when the court ruled that the park should be reopened, under the condition that no one set up structures or sleep there.
November 17 –
Definitely the biggest day of the global movement, with coordinated protests around the world – Bridges shut down, buildings taken, crowds turning out en masse.
NYC, as the movement’s birthplace, was the center of the action. The goal of the morning was to shut down the New York Stock Exchange, or at least to disrupt it. By some accounts the opening bell was delayed by 15 minutes. Police barricaded the entire surrounding area, cutting off marchers and dividing them. Despite the failure of the NYSE takeover, business was disrupted throughout the Financial District. Small, colonial streets shut down, and Lower Broadway crippled. Multiple marches throughout the area were trying to keep one step ahead of the police, whose presence was a bit stretched. Many office workers watched from lobbies and windows – a few shouting taunts, but many applauding and holding signs of support. Finally, the protest turned its attention to taking back Zuccotti Park.
In a triumphant scene, the park was stormed and the barricades torn down. Riot police moved in, but protesters used the barricades to push them back. They eventually had to back down. Emboldened, the protest again marched down Broadway to Wall Street, which was entirely blocked with multiple barricades. The scene on the protected side of the police line was eerily silent, considering that it is one of the epicenters of the global economy. There was a something of a stand-off in front of the iconic Trinity Church. For a moment, it seemed that there might be a rush on the police guarding Wall Street. Eventually, however, the marchers went back to Zuccotti. The police returned in triple strength, and surrounded the park, but did not attempt to clear it. However, there were a number of police beatings on the periphery. At any chance they were able to, the police unleashed their violence on countless, shameful incidents.
Things calmed as a light rain started to fall around lunch time.
The biggest triumph of the day, undeniably, was in the evening, when up to 40,000 turned out in Foley Square for a mass rally and march over the Brooklyn Bridge, from which messages were projected onto skyscrapers.
On Saturday, October 1, a solidarity march left the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park, and thousands proceeded north to City Hall and then began to cross the iconic Brooklyn Bridge. A stand-off with police ensued and mass arrests numbered up to 1,000.
I was out of town and missed it but this is an excellent video showing the march and stand-off:
The movement is gaining traction and is spreading to cities across America:
One-day protests come and go, usually without much notice. In our world of continual distraction, these things are easy to gloss over – especially in the hands of an apathetic media. The strategy of indefinite occupation is far more effective – it is designed to create ever-increasing involvement and solidarity. As the word spreads, the movement is moving beyond fringe groups. This week has seen the picketing of postal workers and pilots’ unions before the steps of the New York Stock Exchange:
Today was the 12th day of the Occupy Wall St movement and it is growing in strength and in numbers, not just in New York anymore, but all over the country and world. (http://occupytogether.org/)
The optimism and determination at the Zuccotti Park encampment is fueled by this progress. It is palpable as you walk around- scattered about are small groups talking policy, tactics, by-laws, etc. Organization is being organized. Along Broadway, demonstrators appeal to the rush-hour crowds. Makeshift cardboard signs line the perimeter of the park – attracting tourists, shoppers, and businessmen – some of whom express support, others of whom have many questions, and, of course, those who pass with mocking laughter. The weather has been weirdly summer-ish; but more humid rain is coming – tarp-lined beds are being set up.
At the other end of the park, drummers and various other musicians have assembled in an improvisatory canon resembling the Terry Riley classic “In C”
And in true NY entrepreneurial spirit, a number of food carts have set up along the edges of the square – In a weird comingtogether, both protester and police have lined up to partake of their offerings.
The movement has attracted a number of high-profile figures, including Immortal Technique
Protest movements have always attracted harsh criticism and cynical mockery. People do not like their boats to be rocked. It is very easy to forget that many of the rights we enjoy come from a similar voice as that of the current expressions. Both the Progressive era of 100 years ago and the Civil Rights movement of 50 years ago attracted their fair share of scorn in their day. However – their outcomes are now a part of common American life.
From the stalwart of rugged individualism that was Theodore Roosevelt, the progressive, come these:
“A typical vice of American politics is the avoidance of saying anything real on real issues.”
“The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.”
“The liberty of which Mr. Wilson speaks today means merely the liberty of some great trust magnate to do that which he is not entitled to do. It means merely the liberty of some factory owner to work haggard women over-hours for under-pay and himself to pocket the profits. It means the liberty of the factory owner to close his operatives into some crazy deathtrap on a top floor, where if fire starts, the slaughter is immense….We propose, on the contrary, to extend governmental power in order to secure the liberty of the wage workers, of the men and women who toil in industry, to save the liberty of the oppressed from the oppressor. Mr. Wilson stands for the liberty of the oppressor to oppress. We stand for the limitation of his liberty not to oppress those who are weaker than himself” also T. Roosevelt (1912) http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5722/
More info: https://occupywallst.org/