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.
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 September 15 at 5pm, about 300 Occupy Wall Street activists assembled at Washington Square arch. Escorted by a contingent of fifty NYPD motorcycle police, several dozen police vehicles and over 150 foot patrol, they marched down Broadway chanting, “We are the 99 percent!” An “Occupy Wall Street’” banner led the way to Zuccotti Park, former home base of the movement.
Thus Occupy Wall Street temporarily and symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park for the weekend of its anniversary. Zuccotti Park is located in the heart of New York’s financial district only a block from Wall Street. It was the hotbed for a wave of protests which swept across New York City last year.
The Zuccotti encampment inspired the occupations of parks and municipal sites in almost every major city in the country. The camp endured for eight weeks until evicted by New York police on November 15, 2011.
After a summer of near-dormancy, Occupy Wall Street (OWS) came roaring back to life in lower Manhattan in a stunning choreography of protests. trainings and events. OWS had carefully planned the weekend to commemorate the anniversary of the movement’s founding on September 17, 2011. The weekend culminated in activists’ attempting to shut down the Wall Street financial district on Monday morning.
Members of Occupations all around the country traveled to New York to join OWS in solidarity. Occupiers also symbolically reclaimed Zuccotti Park, site of the OWS encampment for nearly two months.
I love first-person Occupier stories. Everyone who gravitates to Occupy and eventually–almost inevitably–gets sucked in by definition has a unique story. Tommy Nugent, aka the Reverend Nuge, tells us his Occupy story–and he’s a very good storyteller.
Showing up in New York the day after the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge in October, he gravitated to Zuccotti Park. As “an old Burning Man guy,” he found drum circles appealing. So he headed home to Detroit to check out Occupy at Grand Circus Park and make some signs, with the goal of getting the word “asshole” on TV.
If you guessed that a conversion story is coming, you might be right. Yet however much the Reverend Nuge is the accidental activist, he reveals an affection for his Occupy comrades and a command of the issues driving the cause. He weaves his personal experience of clusterfuckery by Bank of America with insight into the dynamics of Occupy camp life. It’s a narrative that entertains and informs at the same time.
Occupy This! tells us a little about a neglected subject–the difficulties of integrating large numbers of homeless people into Occupy camps. He also reminds us that Occupy didn’t end with eviction. Police evicted Occupy in Detroit the same day in November as Occupy camps in twelve other cities–after the mayors of those cities colluded to get rid of them.
In post-camp Occupy, the shift from “fighting against to fighting for” is an important one. Nuge goes on to relate his participation in Occupy Our Homes, an off-shoot that takes up the cause of families “where the banks are just wrong.” When it comes to the greedy and illicit foreclosure practices of the Big Banks, this is one issue “we can all agree on.”
With his first-person account, Nuge reminds us that there’s more than one way to Occupy. As he says, each of us has to divine our own gifts and use them to the best of our abilities. His gift is storytelling with a commitment to being totally present with his audience. If you weren’t an Occupier going in to this performance, you might find yourself one going out.
Thinking back to December 4, 2011 when Occupy DC erected the OccuBarn in McPherson Park, it’s worth remembering that violent police confrontations with the Occupy movement were happening with great frequency. Paramilitarized police of metropolitan areas had the opportunity to try out on Occupy protestors all the techniques they had learned–and many of the toys they had acquired–in their post-9/11 homeland security training. Moreover, iconoclastic events like the eviction of Occupy Wall Street from New York’s Zuccotti Park were still fresh news. That eviction had only just taken place on November 15.
In light of the recent clashes with police forces, it took a lot of chutzpah to raise the Barn–the “temporary structure” intended to shield General Assemblies and other meetings from the winter cold. And, as trial witness Sara Shaw put it, it also “served as a symbol. We were protesting foreclosures, the rise of homelessness. [With the structure,] we were providing a shelter.” Wooden, rectangular, about 30 feet long and at least 15 feet high, the OccuBarn was a provocation, and there was no question that National Park Police were going to respond.
Moving in early that crisp December morning, Park Police demanded that the structure be disassembled. In spite of a somewhat confused emergency General Assembly, which ultimately decided to comply with the order, 23 people conducted an autonomous action, stationing themselves within the structure or climbing into the rafters. An all-day stand-off ensued.
More than six months later, 14 defendants are on trial for minor offenses–all of them charged with failure to obey in an emergency situation, and one additionally charged with public indecency and urinating in public. The trial is actually being conducted in traffic court by Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Wingo.
It’s speculation, but Judge Wingo may be enjoying defense counsel’s approach–challenging the basis of the statutes on Constitutional grounds. In his motions to dismiss, Occupy DC attorney Jeff Light essentially asked the judge to strike down District laws on obscenity and public indecency, public urination and failure to obey police.