18 November 2011

The Day After the Eviction

Why can’t I get onto the sidewalk?” asked the protester standing next to us on Liberty Street. “Because there’s a fence,” said the cop. “You can’t go over a fence.” We did go over the fence, all of us, and surrounded the perimeter of an empty Zuccotti Park, its occupiers having been forcefully evicted the night before. But there was another fence, and a line of helmeted police preventing us from entering the park. We were also prevented from congregating. “Keep it moving,” the officers barked. We began a slow, constant shuffle clockwise around the park. This made it very hard to organize, or communicate; you can’t get a good human mic going when you’re walking in circles.  A group sang “We Shall Not Be Moved,” but it was difficult to keep track of the changing line.

The blank office park at the center of things was shocking to see, mostly gray with grim yellow highlights—police vests and wilting leaves. Volunteers handed out copies of the restraining order throughout the crowd as we waited for the ruling, which at the time, we thought would come around 11:30. When a man carrying an American flag jumped the fence, stormed into the park and was arrested quickly, we started the chant, “Whose park?” “Our park!”

In the early afternoon, two n+1 interns arrived with copies of the OWS Gazette to distribute. Without the usual space to congregate, without the flier station or the info center, or the library, or even a functioning human mic, with so many key organizers either arrested or asleep or elsewhere, planning their next moves after the long overnight battle, everyone reached for copies. Passersby asked if we knew where they could donate money, where they should congregate for the protest on Thursday, how they could get involved. Pairs of tourists asked us to explain the movement, or told us that they’d been watching the news daily, or that they were horrified at what Bloomberg had done. It felt like a privilege to receive, in such a direct and personal way, all the goodwill that strangers had for the movement. Even if the people weren’t allowed inside the park, they were still all looking to it for sign of what was to come.

—ES


Last night felt local. Maybe because the out-of-towners were mostly inside the park, maybe because the anger last night was necessarily redirected towards Bloomberg, Brookfield, the cops, the neighbors who can stand construction noise but not drum circles. But outside the barricades it seemed like last night was a night to step back from big dreams and confront our own landscape. 

New York intimidates me, as it’s recently been designed to. I just came back and the occupation has been an indescribable spiritual boost: every day it lasts is a reminder that no one is really watching that camera, that the cops with M-16s in Grand Central aren’t actually doing anything but standing around, that all the security guard in front of that glass tower can do is implore you to smoke somewhere else. They’re all there for show. But we forget. 

I was on one of the wildcat marches north from the park towards Astor Place, and I managed to make it back before they charged the last stand at Broadway and Pine. I think we won something both places. I didn’t hear a single chant about banks, the wars, or austerity, and that was fine. Instead they were about the police about how we weren’t going anywhere, about our right to be together on a sidewalk. At earlier marches we sometimes seemed to forget that this city isn’t neutral ground. But last night we were told it wasn’t, and we got so mad that we marched through it anyway. Whatever happens next, at least a few hundred of us will be better prepared for it.

You felt it first just off the park, after the cops had pushed us off of Cortland and onto the sidewalks. They want to break us up even when we’re not being confrontational, and we’ll have to learn to be bolder. They started splitting and harassing the groups on the corners, and they did it by rote, finding weak points in the group, inserting five or six officers, pushing open a space, then pouring in. I remember hearing laughter from our side. “Dude, this is a joke. We’re just going to go somewhere else.”

We regrouped, two, three, hundred of us, at Foley Square, where we heard a few eloquent speeches on why we had nothing to gain, tactically, by pushing north. But we thought, tomorrow we’ll have the banks, tonight let’s just have Soho. A group peeled off, and the mass of us followed them back up Broadway, heading nowhere.

And the cops kept at us with the splitting and harassing, arresting anyone who tried to cross the avenue, forcing us down side streets and around whole blocks. After being divided a few times we were far outnumbered, and they had arrayed overwhelming force to prevent us from reaching a destination we didn’t have. They decided to push us south, and we took shuffle-steps. They, prouder, stepped and paused, stepped and paused.  Their vans blocked Lafayette.

At one point I remember looking around and noticing that every male in my group was wearing a button-down shirt, all seemingly clean. Two girls in heels were walking arm and arm. Fine, good! Let the papers call us rich kids and hipsters, and let’s learn that our transgressions in this city can be extralegal, not bought.

Eventually the cops left us. They hung back while we crossed Houston and then blasted three vans through a red light. It was the punchline to the whole night: risking a pileup to go lock down some other corner thirty seconds faster.

—JP

Image: Protesters regroup after the eviction from Zuccotti Park. November 15, New York. From news.nationalpost.com.

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