all photos Daniel Ducassi/Catalyst
By Daniel Ducassi & Kaley Soud
At 4:00 a.m. on a drizzly Friday morning over 2,000 voices could be heard echoing calls for solidarity, as protestors awaited possible eviction from the movement’s headquarters, the heart of the “Occupy” movement: Zucotti Park. Hundreds of protesters had made the park, redubbed “Liberty Plaza,” their home for more than three weeks. They shared donated meals together at the 24-hour “Occupied Kitchen” and slept within a network of sleeping bags connected by provided tarps and blankets. Together they formed the New York General Assembly, a collection of citizens gathered to express disillusionment at the state of the union.
On Oct. 13, Brookfield Properties, the owners of the park, issued a notice of intent to clear the park for cleaning with the assistance of the New York Police Department (NYPD). Brookfield also directed the NYPD to enforce park rules after the cleaning that stated that tarp, sleeping bags and camping gear were not allowed in the park. Knowing that a similar strategy had been used to oust occupiers in Austin and Madrid, weary protestors assumed that this was an eviction notice in disguise.
After a month-long campaign against Wall Street the protestors rallied en masse to protect their foundation, in fear that the movement so recently woven was about to unravel.
Standing on a wall above this assembly, one man enlisted the “People’s microphone,” a method of amplification via the repetition of the collective voices of the crowd, to express his passion for the movement. “At Occupy Wall Street I learned not to be afraid to speak my mind,” he shouted as others returned his cry. “I learned to love my brother, I learned to love my sister. Today, I am not afraid!”
The response, “the people, united, will never be defeated,” reverberated through the streets of southern Manhattan.
Expecting the worst, protestors organized earlier throughout the day with direct-action training courses and tactical planning to hold the park. Facilitators even encouraged participants to write the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild, a group providing free legal counsel to protesters, on their arms in case of arrest. Belongings were stored away and the park was thoroughly swept and mopped by tens of volunteers to counter Brookfield’s assertion in a letter to the NYPD that the park was in an “unsanitary and unsafe condition.” Throughout the week, sanitation volunteers were frequently seen collecting garbage or sweeping the park, even taking their “cleansing” to the greater Manhattan streets behind the marches.
In fact, the organizational performance by the diverse volunteers of Occupy Wall Street seemed to defy media accounts and rumors of a disorganized, ragtag youth movement. Food was served 24 hours a day and first aid, books, clothing, blankets and tarps were made available to anyone in need. Volunteers blogged and uploaded photos of the occupation at the media center, where anyone could charge their phone or other electronics. Broad decisions were made by consensus in the New York General Assembly where anyone could speak their mind, while smaller decisions were made by committees of volunteers. A transcript was projected on a screen in addition to the use of the “people’s microphone,” to keep everyone on the same page. The meetings followed an agenda and shared elements with parliamentary procedure.
Finding these comforts upon arriving in New York, after a 24-hour drive from Florida, was a welcoming sight for the fifteen-person Novocollegiate caravan. Students who made the pilgrimage to Wall Street were not sure what to expect in this environment so far from Sarasota. “Camp New College” colonized the northwest corner in the shadow of a towering red statue that acted as a stage for musical performances and guest speakers throughout the week. Sitting on pillows and sleeping bags, they didn’t have to wander far for entertainment in the midst of drum circles and the songs of Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and the Dresden Doll’s Amanda Palmer.
The reasons the students made the trek were as varied as the occupants. Students stood in solidarity with the occupiers of Wall Street because of what they perceived as a broken system of corporate greed that disproportionately benefits the top one percent of income earners.
“The unifying goal would be limiting or stopping corporate greed, and the immediate goal is to let the world know, or the one percent, that we’re not going to take it,” first-year Thomas Laster explained.
“I’ve been opposed to our economic and government system for a while, mainly the production of money by the Fed, that they loan our bills to the government at interest, and the way that large multi-national corporations can avoid paying back into the system,” second-year Sam Thornton said.
“The government was able to bail out Wall Street because they have lobbyists going in – well, I don’t have a lobbyist, I’m going to be in debt tens of thousands of dollars when I get out of New College because education keeps getting cut while corporate profits keep going up,” first-year Connor Wells asserted. Thousands of signs and voices spoke of a similar frustration with the nation’s corrupted political system.
The common theme of solidarity expressed that the medium was the message.
“We were building a non-hierarchal grass-roots community, organizing people without having rules and enforcers,” Thornton said. “It was like the whole idea was freedom of assembly.”
The Occupation acted as a forum for political dialogue, “Fostering this community of respect and human dignity with a process in place to facilitate conversation and allow people of differing ideologies to come together and speak,” George Machado, a student who recently dropped out of American University for financial difficulty, said. “I’ve seen socialists and libertarians just talk to each other, going back and forth in a calm manner… and that’s what is incredible for me.”
“My impression is that it’s hard to really understand what is going on at Wall Street without really being there,” Wells said. “I feel that a lot of what is being portrayed in the media doesn’t accurately demonstrate a lot of the attitudes propagated by the movement. The fact that it was such a diverse group with the liberal, anarchist, socialist, black, white, young, old, religious, all there for the all-encompassing cause to end corporate ownership of American politics.”
Anybody could shout “mic check” into the crowd and call attention to their opinions by having them shouted back and amplified across the entire contingent of protestors. Instead of one person speaking for everybody, the responsibility of facilitation was shared and offered to anyone who was interested in making a difference, whether it be to lead a march or clean the park everyone was encouraged to find their own role in the movement. In the midst of such an open conversation, apathy was hard to find.
Protestors marched each day with signs held next to the city skyline, whistles shrieking and drums ringing with these messages of discontent. Around Manhattan’s financial district in the face of the Wall Street bull, hundreds shouted chants of “this is what democracy looks like,” “we are the 99 percent” and often reminding the encircling NYPD that they too, were part of this 99 percent.
But that did not discourage police interference in this peaceful protest. On one occasion during a march, Catalyst reporters witnessed the arrest of masked members of the widespread internet movement, Anonymous, marching down the sidewalk, for wearing masks during a public event. Those who attempted to march in the streets were scattered and pushed back onto the sidewalks by a parallel force of NYPD officers who, on foot, scooters and horseback, were prepared to suppress any act of civil disobedience that might have arisen. However their interference was met with peace signs and passive resistance, as occupiers emphasized the non-violent nature of their movement.
“The whole point is that it is up to the people and you alienate so many people by making it violent,” Thornton said. “If your support base is supposed to be the entire 99 percent of people that aren’t in the highest income bracket, then you probably shouldn’t alienate the half of them that don’t want to set things on fire.”
Peaceful protest was put to the test on the morning of Oct. 14 as a car full of New College students were preparing to leave after sleeping in the park for four nights. Just before dawn, thousands of occupiers were anxiously awaiting their eviction. Then, at 6:00 a.m., after hours of rallying and amassing thousands, an announcement was made by one of the facilitators that Brookfield was postponing the cleaning of the park. The crowd’s victorious cheers reverberated throughout the surrounding office parks before she could even finish the announcement.
In exuberance and ambition the people then decided that the way to celebrate, was to fill the streets and take back Wall Street. Hundreds marched down Broadway chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!” jumped road blocks, and refused to be constrained to sidewalks. Taken as an aggressive action, police responded by barricading the street with their motorized police scooters and slowly driving into the crowd to force marchers off the street.
Relentless marchers refused to give ground, refilling the streets even as more were pushed away. As there was increasing pressure from the NYPD to clear the streets, one Catalyst reporter witnessed an officer on a scooter accelerate into one protester and then chase him down the street. At the same time, a woman retreating to the sidewalk had her backpack grabbed by an officer. She shrieked “don’t arrest me!” as surrounding protestors tried to pull her back onto the sidewalk, but to no avail as both protesters in question were ultimately arrested.
Mass protest continued on Saturday as more than 5,000 occupied Times Square on the worldwide “Day of Rage.” “People were getting dragged across the street, horses were trampling people, cops were beating people in the face,” Wells said. He continued to explain how the intensity of the situation escalated and then quickly subsided as thousands peacefully gathered in Central Manhattan.
With occupations springing up in major cities around the world, garnering increasing media attention, the future of the movement appears bright.
“If resources are any indication of where this can go, I think this movement can keep growing,” Wells said.
Even if protesters no longer continue to occupy “Liberty plaza,” Thornton pointed out that the movement will still go on strong. “There have been so many other movements leading up to this and stemming from this,” he said. “There’s a large support base that I don’t think is going anywhere.”