Last night, in what seems to be part of a coordinated crackdown on occupations across the country, Zuccotti Park was raided. Thousands of us who had subscribed to the text alert system, or who got emails or phone calls or panicked Twitter messages, went to Wall Street. But we could not get near the camp. Two blocks south of Liberty Plaza on Broadway, blocked by a police barricade that circled the whole area, I found myself part of a small crowd straining to see what was happening. In the distance, Zuccotti Park was lit like a sports field, glaring eerily, and I could make out a loud speaker, blasting announcements and threats. Sounds of people chanting and screaming floated towards us. While we paced the street, seething and sorrowful, tents were trampled, people’s possessions piled up, and occupiers arrested. Later I would come across a camper I had met earlier in the day sobbing on the sidewalk. A few blocks west, maybe thirty minutes after I arrived, the police line broke so two huge dump trucks could pass through. So that was it: we, and everything we had made and were trying to make, were trash.
The authorities must be ashamed, because they so badly did not want anyone to see what happened last night. First they attacked the senses, flooding the park with bright light and using sound cannons. Then they corralled the press into pens, arrested reporters, and shut down airspace over lower Manhattan, so that no news stations could broadcast from above. As we strained our necks over their barricades they kept telling us that there was nothing to see. But clearly there was! We knew they were lying. And when we told them so, they, with batons in hand, forced us away. We were herded like sheep, and I felt like one, meekly following orders, a terrible coward. Those who resisted—those who stood their ground on a public sidewalk we all have a right to stand on—got maced in the face, right in the eyes. The authorities so badly did not want anyone to see what happened last night they were willing to temporarily blind us.
As the hours wore on, a single menacing helicopter hovered overhead, ominously tracking impromptu marches, which raced from Foley Square to Astor Place and back. At 3 AM I got separated from friends but realized I could use that helicopter as a beacon. I followed it up Centre and then crossed Houston just in time to see the cops, who had come in and filled maybe ten large vans, arresting a women, twisting her arms painfully behind her back. “They’re hurting me!” she screamed, and I winced. An officer told a group of us, who were gawking from across the street, to “get a job.” As I approached Bleeker, the protesters were being forced east by a swarm of police; they were outnumbered, easily, two to one.
“What are they so afraid of?” I had asked my friend when we first arrived at Wall Street just after 1 AM, and as I watched this excessive use of force the question kept ringing in my ears. But the answer is obvious: they are afraid of us. “This peaceful uprising against our sickening plutocracy has them quaking with fear,” a friend remarked, proud and surprised. They say we are just a bunch of hippies ineffectually camping out. But if that’s really what they think, why do they need guns and nightsticks and Long Range Acoustic Devices and paramilitary aircraft? We should take heart. If we make them so afraid, we must not be as weak as I often worry we are.
Early this morning occupiers sent a message: “You Can’t Evict an Idea.” My friend Rebecca Solnit put it more poetically: “You Can Pull Up the Flowers But You Can’t Stop the Spring.” OWS is not over. Perhaps, like a plant after a good pruning, we’re about to grow even stronger. It’s up to all of us.
Anticipating just this kind of raid, organizers have been working on how to broaden the movement, to expand it beyond a single protest method or particular piece of cement. For example, occupations could evolve to become more mobile, tactical, and purposely temporary. In other words, a semi-permanent encampment is not the only way to occupy. And tweaking our methods may actually help make the movement more inclusive, as not everyone who is sympathetic to OWS can or wants to commit to living full-time in a tent.
The Occupy movement, after all, was never about holding a single piece of ground, but changing the world.
That said, enduring encampments have been a huge boon to the movement, and we should not write them off. Zuccotti Park has become an international symbol, a nerve center from which other actions spring up and link up, and losing it is a huge blow. Perhaps, like Oakland before us, we will retake the plaza. The legality of the eviction is being challenged now, and one judge has already ruled in our favor, an outcome that may help embolden people to reclaim the space. It is also clear that other occupations will be attempted. But as we saw this morning at Canal and Sixth Avenue, when protesters moved to convene at a new spot, the police are determined to scuttle any new occupations before they take root.
For either plan to succeed—the reclamation of Zuccotti Park or a burgeoning of new occupations—we all must be ready. For now, all attention must be geared to the November 17th Day Of Action, which has been in the works for weeks. The day will begin at dawn at the New York Stock Exchange, and then unions will join a march, beginning at Foley Square at 5 PM, that will proceed to take a bridge. There will dozens of events in between. Tomorrow we rest. Thursday we rise up.
For those who have stood on the sidelines, sympathetic but unsure how to get involved, time is of the essence. Social movements don’t last forever, and this one is in full bloom. Take part, before it is too late.