As y’all know, I’ve been a supporter of the OccupyWallStreet movement for some time, for the very fact that it existed, that there were people willing to inconvenience themselves in order to be heard, protesting the occupation of our government by Wall Street. That there were people who got the hell off their sofa, gave up their comforts, and didn’t say ‘well, someone else will do it.”
And I did a lot of that supporting… from my sofa. I had my reasons – there was no way I could camp and hit deadlines, plus I had animals who needed me to take care of them – but the truth was that I’d only been to Zuccotti Park three or four times, helping out when it was convenient for me.
And then Bloomberg evicted the camp, and did it not with a civilized, orderly removal in daylight, but with jackboots in the dark, and the needless destruction of property, including medical supplies, food, and books.
No weapons, despite police claims: only pup tents, medical supplies, personal laptops, and books. And the arrest of media, who had a government-given right called the 1st Amendment to cover the event.
It’s as though Bloomberg WANTED the local #N17 protest – part of the nationwide call for action on November 17th – to double in predicted size.
I don’t know what the original expectations for the protest were, but anyone who says that we-the-people were not present and (loudly) accounted for, wasn’t there.
Having passed on the early morning occupation of Wall Street, although I was fascinated by the idea of trading stories, not stocks, I headed down around 2ish with the vague thought of meeting with my editor beforehand (since her building is in the area).
I came out of the subway to the sight of cops. Dozens of cops, lining the park, in full riot gear. Dozens more, setting up along the street. They didn’t have that many cops here for the Giants’ victory parade several years ago, where they were expecting hundreds of drunk and rowdy football fans. Hell, they didn’t have that many cops visible on the streets the day after 9/11.
I walk down the street, studying each of the cops in turn. There have been verified incidents of cops covering their id tags with black tape: I check to make sure each one has their tags clear and visible. I look at them – most of them refuse to look at me, a slightly-built woman in a leather blazer, a computer case, and a rather fetching porkpie hat.
My editor had to run into a meeting, so I end up in a Starbucks, talking to a woman from Africa, who works for a UN medical mission, while cops in riot gear stood outside (and several came in for coffee, mingling uncomfortably with the protesters also getting their caffeine fix. Starbucks = neutral territory). “This is not what America was,” the woman says to me. “This is not what I came to, in the 1980’s. It is sad, what it’s become. But here, at least, they are not shooting. There should be more people here today, in the streets, without that risk of being shot, or raped.”
It is a sobering and somewhat depressing thought, that people, outraged by what is happening, are still unwilling to protest – when what we face is an afternoon in jail, or the risk of being beaten, or Maced. Things, I might add, that most of us would dine out on for months, after, and tuck into our “I was there, I did that” storytelling bag.
Not being shot and killed. Not being raped. Not risking our lives, to raise our voices.
After the woman left for her meeting, I end up talking to a reporter, and two Occupiers from Boston, who had been part of the morning’s events. I state what I have been pointing out for two months now – that the USA was founded on sedition, and the act of calling bullshit on unreasonable/pernicious demands from overbearing rulers. UnAmerican? Au contraire. We are the embodiment of the founding citizens, who did not take kindly to being serfs for some greedy king (or oligarchy).
As we are talking, noise and crowds herald Something Happening. There are people marching, carrying flags and signs, heading uptown. It’s about 3pm…what was up?
They were heading from Wall Street to Union Square, to where the student rally was being held.
On the spur of the moment, I put away my work, and join them. We fill the sidewalk, carrying signs and shouting our protests. In addition to the “we/you are the 99%” and “the people united/will never be defeated” from earlier marches, there is a new one: “Bloomberg, beware. Zuccotti Park is everywhere.” I fall in with a small group, and meet Mark, an unemployed phlebotomist from Brooklyn. We end up being “march buddies” the rest of the day. Between his sign, and my hat, we manage not to lose track of each other, even when the crowds get impressively thick.
As we march up to Union Square, people gather to watch us go, most of them cheering and pumping their fists in support. I am occasionally distracted by storefronts – “I can protest, AND window shop” I announce. “I’m a multi-tasker.” Contrary to what some right wing pundits want you to believe, there was very little anti-capitalist rhetoric among the protesters. We want economic and political justice, a return to a land of Opportunity, not a government bought and traded by Big Money for their benefit/our oppression.
At this point, I’m part of my first peoples’ mic check – a rolling call-and-response that allows information to reach through the entire protest, as we’re not allowed to have amplified sound [not even a bullhorn]. It’s an amazing experience – and I joke that “mic check” has become shorthand for “I’ve got your back.” Because it does, and we do.
And then we get to Union Square, and are greeted by – a thousand? Maybe two thousand students, revved up and ready to go. Some are bitter, some are hopeful, but they all know exactly why they’re there. They’re furious at Bloomberg, furious at the state and federal governments, aware that no matter how hard they work, no matter how well they do, there are no jobs waiting for them, and the loans they took, to get the education they were told they needed, will now cripple them the rest of their lives, with little chance of ever paying it back.
They are being told that they have nothing to look forward to but minimum wage jobs, at best, and a lifetime of debt, because Big Money changed the rules to suit them, not the people. As one girl near me says: “oh HELL no.”
And then the cops arrive. Cops in riot gear. Cops on motorcycles. Cops in cars. And vans. This is the kind of turnout for a riot, not a protest with a history of being peaceful. It is overkill of an obscene sort. For those griping about the cost of overtime – half of those cops would have been enough to maintain order. HALF.
I tried talking to the cops, getting them to smile for the camera. One or two relent. The rest stare away from me, refusing to see me as a person. Interestingly, there are a lot of women (many of them black women) in the cops’ ranks. I would be the last person to underestimate how brutal a woman can get…but it is an interesting change from the overwhelmingly white male cops I saw down in Liberty Square during the Occupation.
And as we start our march back downtown, filling the streets in peaceful, almost joyful camaraderie… the cops block the street with empty busses and vans, pen us, and start issuing contradictory orders. There is a moment of worry – is there where the violence starts, when they have us penned up here, away from the media?
We refuse to return to Union Square. We are peaceful, but stubborn.
Eventually, the march continues again [EtA: I am told a legal observer intervened with the cops], this time shoved onto the sidewalks, with cops patrolling the curb, bike wheel to bike wheel, other cops walking by with an ostentatious display of plastic zip ties at their belt, ready to cuff anyone, clearly having been given orders to arrest anyone who stepped off the curb.
In fact, the first arrest I saw was of a protester who tried to reconnect with the main group – and jaywalked instead of using the crosswalks.
Jaywalking, for those not from NYC, is a sport here. I’ve never seen a cop so much as blink at someone doing it, much less cuff them and haul them off. All he did, as far as those of us around him saw or heard, was step off the curb.
“Shame, shame!” came the calls. “NYPD shame!”
The cops refuse to look at us.
We continue on. For those not familiar with NYC, the march from Wall Street to Union Square, in a direct route, would be about 2-3 miles, and then back down to Foley Square another 2 or so miles. We are not permitted to go in a direct route. So I’m estimating about 5-6 miles walked, so far, for many of us. But spirits are still high enough that some of us (yes, me) are dancing to the drummers’ beat. So very glad I wore sneakers, not boots.
My mother calls, to make sure I’m ok, and to remind me not to mouth off to the cops. I promise that I will not mouth off to cops, and everyone around me laughs.
As we pass, many of us are patronizing the food carts – I am dying for caffeine, and OMG is that a cupcake truck? It is! The cops, meanwhile, roll alongside. Via twitter I hear reports of other people getting arrested, but so far, there’s only menace, not action, from the cops. They’re a little stretched out now – mostly, we ignore them. It’s dusk now, and we’re focused on the goal: meeting up with the main protest march, and getting to Foley Square.
And then we hear it, and then we are there. And I cannot, cannot explain to you what it is like, turning the corner and seeing – being enveloped – in the crowd. I’ve been to the Square many times before, both to hang out in nice weather, and for protests – the Planned Parenthood march was here, and filled the square. This didn’t fill it – it overwhelmed it. It swallowed it whole and came back for more. The estimates I heard, by 6pm, were over 20,000 people, while some estimates (backed by police scanner reports) said close to 30,000. People coming, and going, and talking, and listening to speeches, and sharing information, keeping each other warm (the rain had stopped, but the wind had picked up). I saw parents with young children, and elderly couples. I saw people in wheelchairs, and students and union workers and people in suits, all together for one cause.
One cause. Not the scattered demands or vague wishes. One cause: Justice. Justice that is not bought by the highest bidder, but given to all citizens, on the basis of their work and their effort, their determination to succeed – to make a living for themselves and their families.
To get Wall Street out of our government, out of our courts; to return the USA to a democratic republic, not an oligarchy.
The cops mostly mill along the perimeter, but they are there in force, and just beyond them the flashing red lights of NYPD vans and busses, clearly there to say “we will arrest you, and take you away, if we decide to, and you have no control, here.”
Oh, but we do. We do, 20,000 strong, and each of us looking out for the other. You could leave your things on a bench, and talk to someone else, and in the pitch dark crowd, nobody touched your stuff. People make room for the folk in wheelchairs, no matter how crowded it got. Bikes are left unlocked, and unmolested (NYC is #1 in bike theft). A woman in a gorgeous Goth dress wandered by, and gets a compliment on it from an older man who looked like a former steelworker. Twenty-somethings and eighty-somethings. Socialists and capitalists and union workers and white collar and blue collar and no-collar….
These are the people they sent the riot cops in against.
“I want to hug everyone here,” I announce. “Even the people I don’t like.” And that fast, I get hugs from two women, walking by.
And then the speeches end, and the chant starts up again: March! March! Onward to the Brooklyn Bridge, a direct challenge to the events of two months ago, when so many were arrested and injured. It is a slow march, compared to the joyful dance downtown, because there are So. Many. People. But people wait their turn, warn each other when there was a curb that you couldn’t see in the dark, and chat with new friends as well as their marching companions, the chants rising and falling as we move.
“Bloomberg, beware. Zuccotti Park is everywhere!”
He can remove us from a location. He can spend our tax money to beat us down. But an idea cannot be evicted. And the more we are pushed down, the further we spread.
By now, my knees – never good to begin with – are starting to ache, and I look up ahead at our destination and think, “if I cross the bridge, that will add another hour to my trip home.” So when we cross under the sign pointing toward the bridge, I say farewell to my companions, take a right past the mounted cops, and the cops in riot gear, and the dozen or more NYPD vans and busses parked here, too, ready to block the crowd or cart it away – most of the cops standing, unwanted and unneeded – and head for the subway, and home.
And I feel… exhausted, yes. Grateful that I did not encounter any violence – and aware that my middle class-agreeable reaction to cops has been forever tainted by their behavior over the past two months – and, more importantly, by their behavior today. Too many of them refused to meet my gaze. They refused to see me as a person.
Like their corporate and political masters, they want to be able to deny our humanity: we are not ‘real’ to them, only things that stand in their way.
But I am real. And I not alone. We are the 99%. Protests do not change a system – but protests raise awareness. Protests bring people together, and get them talking. And thinking. And doing.
If we get off our damn sofas, and stop giving them power over our fears – we can fix the system. We can take the laws away from the corporate policy-buyers, and make the USA work for [and by] the people again. Make the country strong again.
That’s what we want. Don’t you?
more photos here