Sunday marked the return of Occupy Wall Street to New York City as preparations got underway to celebrate its second birthday on September 17.
There were free teach-ins at Washington Square Park in many subjects, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, Green Living Principles, Economic and Banking issues, Immigration, Climate Change, and Money In Politics. Several hundred people joined the classes which ran throughout the day. People were there to learn and enjoy themselves.
Later there was a walking tour of the financial district around Wall Street. The tour began next to the Wall Street Bull in Bowling Green where people reminisced about their experiences in Zuccotti Park in 2011.
Many spoke about how the movement changed and inspired them to dedicate their lives to activism and change in their communities.
There was nostalgia in Zuccotti Park as people told stories and reminisced with old friends about personal experiences and why they believe the issues underlying the social movement are still relevant.
There was one big difference, however: things were a lot less tense compared to last year at S17. At least, the people were relaxed, although police persisted in closely monitoring the walking tour its entire length. Somehow they seemed to expect law-breaking. Some things haven’t changed much.
The week promises to be more eventful as more rallies in labor, money in politics and tax on Wall Street are scheduled for the anniversary of OWS, September 17.
It was the final act of defiance by Occupy DC, a group of people who had given their last ounce of effort in protest, their last will in a park occupation–against a system we saw as repressive. In the previous three years, millions of people had lost their homes, and millions more had lost their jobs and savings. Ordinary people climbing the ladder to the American Dream slipped and lost their foothold forever.
Why did we erect the Tent of Dreams? The bankers and stock traders on Wall Street, who nearly destroyed the economy by the summer of 2008, silently slipped under the radar of legal prosecution. Yet occupiers who expressed dissatisfaction with lack of economic opportunity were being arrested by the thousands, merely for exercising their First Amendment right to dissent. What drove us was the fundamental imbalance of power, which was made even more apparent as the Occupy movement unfolded. Occupiers were arrested around the country in an arbitrary enforcement of the law, while financial managers went unpunished, still raking in millions in fraudulent profits.
Four days before we raised the Tent of Dreams, the U.S. Park Police had left official letters on our tents, warning us that we were no longer welcome. We knowingly were breaking a federal statute which forbade sleeping in tents in public parks.
So we created a symbol of a dream–a huge blue tarp painted with falling stars, symbols, and statements of hope. Just before noon on January 30, we used long poles and strung it up over the statue of McPherson, a brass symbol of state power. We encircled it and chanted, “We are the 99 percent!” and defiantly willed the state to come and take it down!
We hunkered down and stayed together under the blue tarp, taking turns on the nightwatch for an imminent police raid. It did not come the first exuberant night, nor did it come on the second or third nights. Guitars played, drums beat, coffee was served. Camaraderie kept us assured that we were doing the right thing. Defiantly we stood together, sleepless sentinels against the inevitable.
Some of us managed to stay up the first night until dawn without sleep under that blue tarp in a “sleep strike.” We persevered for four days and nights before the last of us caved in to exhaustion. By the fifth day, our fear turned into boredom.
Little did we know that the raid police planned for February 4th would change us forever.
Occupy Wall Street held a 300+ person public action meeting at One Police Park Square, the NYPD headquarters, while several dozen officers watched. The stern-faced officers were privy to the details of the plan for S17 before it even kicked off.
It was one of Occupy Wall Street’s most elaborately planned non-violent direct actions to date. The Shut Down Wall Street plan called for splitting protestors between four major zones in downtown Manhattan and effectively disrupting the financial district.
Groups of protestors met early in the morning in predetermined places to disperse into the four zones, designated Eco, Education, Debt and the 99%. Each zone represented the major objectives Occupy has organized to change: the behaviors of Banks, Lobbies, Corporations, the NY Stock Exchange and Wall Street.
There is strength and critical mass in one giant group, yet OWS tried a different strategy: four groups scattered and roving in random directions in an effort to create more confusion and chaos. Separating into four groups was a bold tactical risk because it diluted the strength of the protest. The splitting tactic demonstrated the growing confidence organizers have gained since the Occupy movement began a year ago.
Authorities attempted to keep the NY Stock Exchange, Wall Street, and banks open, but the roving protest groups challenged their resources. Hundreds of NYPD officers were pulled between sites and constantly needed to be on the move to keep up. Unpredictable roving protests challenged logistics and communications, both for protestors and police. Authorities were deployed in advance to block access to key sites, because it was not certain when a group would show up. Barricades, foot patrol, mounted police, motorcycle police and vehicles clogged major arteries and snarled traffic. When blocked from proceeding, protestors countered by circling intersections.
Photographs and video footage show Wall Street, the NY Stock Exchange, Pine and Exchange Streets and other streets closed off, as well as barricaded and restricted access to corporations and banks (except for ID carrying employees). It shows that business was anything but business as usual on S17. Protestors may have been blocked from the targets they most wanted to reach, such as the Stock Exchange. But police themselves essentially completed the task protestors had set out to do–impede the normal flow to the point of shutdown.
In addition, there were the props of street theater and good visuals for press. Chalk slogans and messages were drawn at critical junctures. A five-foot “Debt Boulder” rolled over and through the crowd. A slick body guard cleared a path for a Transformers-like character called the “Bain Capital Job Eliminator.” Lady Liberty marched along with colorful dancers, and the baseball team of the One Percent–the Tax Dodgers–paraded with their cheerleaders the Corporate Loopholes. And of course there was no shortage of signs expressing the feelings of the 99%.
It wasn’t the intent of OWS to close the stock market, prevent banks from transferring funds or stop corporations and lobbies from business operations. The NY Stock Exchange opened on time and closed promptly at 4pm, despite barricades, police and protests. There was no interruption in the electronic ticker tapes, which closed down 40 points at the bell.
But there was no doubt everyone knew OWS was back, on the street and in Zuccotti Park again, even if it wasn’t a permanent Occupation. OWS demonstrated flexibility in tactics of protest, showed that can mobilize thousands of people from all around the country and has no problem announcing its action plan beforehand.
The massive presence of Occupy Wall Street shows it is still an organization with much energy, active and relevant at its one-year mark. The true test for OWS will be how much it is able translate direct actions into influence for the betterment of citizens affected by social and economic woes. Its tactics must remain interesting, informative, non-violent and provocative in order for its strategy to work in the long run.
The plan to Shut Down Wall Street consisted of dividing lower Manhattan into four zones of non-violent protest, each assigned an issue area. Activists could gravitate to their area of interest: Education Bloc, 99% Bloc, Ecology Bloc, or Strike Debt Bloc. Each bloc communicated by text message.
The elaborate plan was a tactical split of the thousands of protestors into these four blocs with 8-10 targets per zone. The targets included banks, corporations, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the Wall Street Bull, and lobbies.
The NYPD response effectively blocked protest access to many targeted sites, including the NYSE, the Bull, and major Banks. Protestors reverted to “Plan B” which involved roving between sites, further extending the protest zones and police coverage. Although police blocked access to major targets, it was in fact the massive police response to protestors which resulted in achieving the objective: a virtual shutdown of the financial district.
Protestors eventually converged in Battery Park at midday for a giant Spokes Council. Reps of various affinity groups gave report backs of successes and challenges. Later everyone reconvened at Zuccotti for the final General Assembly and cutting of birthday cake for the 99%.
On the eve of S17, a direct action planning assembly was convened–ironically–at Police Square in front of the NYPD headquarters building. About 300 Occupy Wall Street activists attended the meeting to finalize plans for the September 17 protests in lower Manhattan. Usually such a discussion of plans are not released, but every detail was Mic Checked in front of the very officers who would be trying to obstruct it the next day.
Tom Morello, lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, rocked Occupy Wall Street at Foley Square on September 16. Morello’s rendition of Woodie Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” transported the crowd into a cascading mass of spirit, cheering and dancing.
Washington Square Park and Foley Square were the sites of strategizing, networking and lots of creative activities leading up to S17. On September 15, the first day of scheduled activities, Occupiers gathered in Washington Square Park, where they met for direct action planning. They made signs, sang songs, ate together, participated in teach-ins, painted, chalked colorful drawings and had movement emblems silk-screened on t-shirts.
September 16 was a day of celebration and entertainment at Foley Square with a multitude of art collectives, teach-ins on social and economic justice. A cacophony of art projects mingled with voices of hope, diversity and music. A young woman held her LGBT partner’s hand, a tree of hope depicted photos of people with their written messages of a better tomorrow, a quilt was sewn, and typists wrote their Occupy stories. Retired Philadelphia police Captain Ray Lewis stood proudly in his crisp, immaculate uniform. A roving musical ensemble played long horns and drums while people trailed behind them dancing.
The afternoon climaxed with musicians performing protest songs on stage, concluding with much-anticipated Tom Morello and Occupy Guitarmy.