A fellow hitchhiker informed about the plan to occupy Wall Street sometime toward dawn beneath a portable light. It was Labor Day, Exodus. Tens of thousands gushing through a pinhole exiting the burn. He was thumbing to New York. Followed the story at home. Found the live feed when 700 people were watching, no one really sure what direction the evolution would take.
Arrests and minimal media coverage. Word spread sporadically, live feed bringing people to the cause. No explanation was given other than dissatisfaction with the state of affairs in this nation and the world at large.
The feeling that something major would happen with the weekend proved correct as a roadway became shut down by protesters. The world became aware as young girls were maced while standing still, trapped behind an orange barricade. Outrage ensued.
Made the decision to be there. Desire wasn’t enough. Arrangements were made, the vehicle left in New Haven to ride the Metro North into Grand Central. Searching for food around the station at night, a pack of young teens attacked in the dark. Two rode up on bikes, singing. A third charged from behind, fist bouncing off my skull. Instead of battering a half dozen adolescents, ran the half mile back to the station. Economic inequality creates hatred. The color of my skin caused boys far from grown to attack a complete stranger. New Haven houses Yale and poverty.
Subway runs direct from Grand Central to Wall Street. A pair of police and metal barricades greeted the underground exit.
Strolled through the district, almost alone. On every corner police officers stood, sat and occupied vehicles. They ignored everyone. Explored before finding a map. Charted my lonely march to the park.
Zuccotti Park became the first home of a movement in its infancy quite accidentally. The initial plan called for demonstrators to take up residence on Wall Street itself, building barricades and occupying the heart of American finances. Police greeted protesters. One initial occupier said it became a giant game of snake until the park appeared.
A homeless man two blocks from Wall Street focused the reasons for being here. It was after 3 am of day 14 by the time the park’d been reached. A few folks were up, milling about an information desk at the east entrance to the public space. One sat on the stairs, softly strumming a guitar while conversing. Most asleep, the media team worked through the darkness. Found an empty space protected from the breeze, forced rest in preparation.
Night became morning, daylight returning consciousness. Occupiers slowly crawled out from their sleeping bags and blankets. Tarps sprawled everywhere, the only defense against rain as structures were against city ordinance. The organization became immediately apparent. A table began serving food, and would continue to do so until light passed into darkness. Medics took stock of supplies while sanitation volunteers collected loose garbage and recyclables. Painted signs waiting for the morning general assembly. Didn’t feel right taking food after only six hours.
The police presence was almost absurd. At one point there was probably an officer of the law for every three occupiers. A movable guard tower held watch on one corner. One officer cut the line whilst I waited to order.
People stood on the street holding signs. Others thumbed through the library’s offerings, titles organized by genre. Everywhere people talked. About why they were here, about where they’d come from, about the problems facing this nation and what they thought we should do about it. People weren’t in front of their televisions and computer screens. They were in a public space, conversing openly with all.
Reporters of all denominations scurried about in search of their scoop. The police provided more free publicity than the occupiers could’ve dreamed about. The results of their actions were apparent as the park steadily filled throughout the morning. Leaderless revolutions require much greater amounts of communication than dictatorships. At a general assembly any are allowed to speak as long as their information is pertinent and isn’t overly verbose. Announcements are made from the various committees, such as sanitation, medical and food, about what is happening and what is needed. Issues may be raised before the community and
temperatures taken as everyone reacts. Consensus is needed for major decisions. Topics may be left after discussion, allowing time to speak and think before resuming talks toward consensus. Since voice amplification is illegal without a permit a human microphone is used. Statements made by the speaker are repeated by those around them in successive waves, spreading the message back through the crowd.
The day’s first march took place sometime around noon. Sign wielding peaceful protesters congealed, circling the park once before moving off into metropolis’s financial district. Police strung down the street as hundreds marched along the sidewalk through urban canyons to Wall Street.
The march led to Wall Street. A police captain with a megaphone barking continuously to keep moving, move faster, keep walking. Beady eyes on another
ferret faced captain shifted nervously up and down the line as the mass marched peacefully. Waved at Chase bank employees until they returned the gesture. Two began pumping their fists in solidarity to loud cheers.
More uniformed and suited men met us at the stock exchange. Police officers carrying camcorders filmed everyone for their own purposes.
Hitcher from Cincinnati and a backpacker from Philly showed up along the way. Population in the park increased significantly during the time away. More cameras and tourists. A few asked if they could take pictures. Always aim to please.
Spent the afternoon meeting and greeting. Constant questions despite the fact arrival was only twelve hours passed. Tried to help everyone, lead them toward understanding what this was all about. Occupiers from everywhere rotated in and out of the park, arrived from work and left to go there. These aren’t layabouts or bums. These are citizens concerned with the direction of America. Imperialism, militarism, consumerism. All words that mean a lot more to millions being trod upon, at home and abroad.
By four o’clock the park was at a standstill. Movement was difficult, couldn’t even reach where the gear was stowed. More and more arrivals.
Everywhere people talked face to face instead of screen to screen. Cellular devices were sparse among occupiers, actual communication overtaking the virtual world constructed about us.
The litany of causes represented amongst the occupiers and protesters spanned many issues because so many are facing this nation today. The press and many observers continue demanding to know “what is this all about anyhow?” America is on the verge of failing as a nation. Many factors contribute to this problem. Poverty is at an all time high. Our entire economic system nearly collapsed. Instead of addressing the causes of this, they were ignored. The status quo soldiers on. The time has come for a fundamental shift.
Friday afternoon general assembly became enormous, park overflowing into sidewalks and streets surrounding it. The human mic carrying words four and five layers deep into the crowd. Many came for a spectacle. Others continued filtering in from around the country.
The afternoon march set off eastward. Destinations weren’t announced, at least not loudly.
Thousands strong, local labor unions came in solidarity, marching alongside the occupiers. Signs calling attention to every sane issue imaginable waved above the masses. Someone handed out books written by a man who helped France through World War II and the rebuilding process called “Outrage”.
Dozens of police and journalists hovered around the edges. Tourists atop buses snapped photos furiously, some waving, others looking confused as the march sailed onward.
A solid line of helmeted police mounted on scooters flanked the march across a street. Passed city hall, locked up tight, two cops stationed behind the gate. Three helicopters hovering within sight, the peaceful march reached the archway to 1 Police Plaza in solidarity. Streaming through the stone entryway, citizens and foreigners of every age, color, creed and heritage. Infants marched alongside senior citizens. Uniforms waited on the steps. To protest police violence thousands marched peacefully to stand before the center of New York’s Police Department. The entire square before the plaza stairs filled. Barricades hustled into place against the dangers of a group that calmly sat down and listened.
Speakers took turns expressing their support at the motion of the movement. Two local unions waved flags. College professors talked too much and confused the mic. Things sorted, the echoing words of each speaker rolled backward in six stages. Cheers greeted words of solidarity, many expressing relief in a united front against the frustration so many have felt for so long. The time has come to save our nation. Many are responding to the call.
Darkness fell before things ended. Peaceful dispersal and the sky began dripping. A young girl leaped to high five a laughing cop on the way back to the park. The scene was jubilant, excitement over the simple fact we had come together. Demands may follow, for now we are together and that is enough. Horns and drums took back up toward ground zero. Others gathered for the general assembly. A new friend grabbed me. Relaxed on a mattress while she fed her dog. Rain began in earnest shortly. No structures means no tents means wet evenings during the New York fall. Many left. The community banded together, hiding beneath makeshift protection. Met folks from all over.
Didn’t think to bring a tarp. The rain continued unabated past midnight into Saturday. Found a doorway to wait things out for a while before the breeze picked up. Sought shelter in the local establishment. Had a beer with someone who went to my high school. Small world.
Put on every piece of clothing present and passed out in the doorway with a fellow occupier until dawn brought Saturday, every tour bus visiting ground zero coming to a stop in front of us. Changed clothes, smiles for the staring tourists.
Found an apple and strung the last of a batch of necklaces made as gifts. Spread some love from the desert to the people making the occupation happen. The park slowly began filling in. A woman just off the train from North Carolina sat down. Numbers swelled as supporters and those seeking understanding drifted in by the minute. Anonymous stated the one goal of this occupation is the restoration of our freedoms. Freedom from corporation and profiteering at the expense of society. Freedom from unnecessary conflict in the name of empire. Freedom to inhale plants or not. Freedom from the fear of police.
The morning moved on, committees meeting to spread knowledge. A meditation circle rippled the air surrounding, a crowd gathering to stare. The slut walk took place. Constantly growing, the assemblage spread across the whole of the park by noon. Protesters along Broadway arguing about standing room with cops.
Set out on a stroll with a group of new friends. Halifax, West Virginia, Chicago, Australia and more walking together through the streets of New York.
Returned in time for echoing instruction. The march was planned to be much larger than the previous Saturday. Eighty four arrests were made that day. A street shut down while protesters marched on Union Square. Orange fences and pepper spray brought national media attention after a week of poor coverage. Today, instead of hundreds there were thousands. March instructions and small papers with helpful information about dealing with police and a phone number for legal help if arrested were provided. The buddy system was encouraged.
A full park did its best to relay final instructions throughout the masses. Forces gathered, the time had come.
The route set off in the same direction as the previous evening. Instructions were given to stay behind the large white banner stating “We the People”.
Progress was slow. Too many people in too small of an area. Each fire hydrant and food cart bottle necked movement, pushing some marchers out into the street. White uniformed officers barking orders through megaphones once again.
Destination unknown, the group displayed the diversity that is New York City and these united states. The South Bronx came in solidarity to march alongside their fellow man.
The Brooklyn Bridge. A hundred thirty year old testament to the ingenuity of the American mind. The march backed up as the footpath proved crowded. Pedestrians coming the other way left little room and progress stalled near the Brooklyn bound ramp.
Ended up standing off with the police. A man read something. Not a word was heard above the din. A thin line of police greeted us. Looks exchanged up and down the line as it solidified. Arms locked, the line stepped forward resolutely before onlookers.
The last few cars honked loudly while trundling away. The police line melted, marchers clambering over the fence separating path from roadway.
Gaps formed momentarily before the group reordered itself, banner back leading the way as center approached. The pedestrian path rose away, crest of the bridge coming into view. Lit a cigarette rolled at the tobacco station before the march. Cameras flashed incessantly from the front. The police marched by in step, moving ahead of the slow moving mass. Sinking feelings set in at the orchestration of the men in uniform. Peaceful protesters moved on as flashing lights rose above the horizon. Feet didn’t falter, the occupiers moving steadfastly forward to meet the challenge. The entrance was something from a movie scene, cars screeching to a halt across the road, blocking progress if the march managed to make it that far.
Police formed a line to meet us. Witnesses watched from above while cameras continued rolling from all directions. Uncertainty was apparent as chants of “Let us through” began gaining strength. Police tightened.
A piece of paper was read by the same dark skinned officer. Even the megaphone couldn’t make anything heard above the noise. Apparently finished, the paper and megaphone
dropped, an officer lunged at the nearest marcher. Screams broke out as chaos ensued, the tightly packed march rocking back and forth wildly. Police wrenched protesters from their family. Punches were thrown at times, others slammed to the ground by multiple officers.
Those secured by the police were further secured by industrial zip ties before disappearing into the mass of law enforcement. Tense moments followed by lulls passed the time. Busy while smothering someone into zip ties, the police needing feeding every few moments. Locked arms made things difficult and arrests became forceful.
Police completely boxed the march in, orange fences deployed. The only momentary escape was a somewhat precarious climb to the pedestrian bridge above. Some escaped what awaited .
Police penned us in, squeezing the crowd until shorter members had difficult breathing. Stashed the camera and hat in the bag to see how things would play out. No one really believed they would arrest everyone. Transportation would become a glaring issue.
MTA buses appeared as garbage bags full of zip tie handcuffs were distributed. After a while most went peacefully. Arrest became inevitable, uniforms on four sides. The escorting officer warned the arresting officer “he’s a charismatic charmer” after the stroll through an honor guard of arrested comrades, seated along both sides of the bridge.
a song entered my head as the bus began moving. suddenly the bus broke into chorus:
“the prisoners on the bus
they hurt hurt hurt
hurt hurt hurt
hurt hurt hurt
the prisoners on the bus
they hurt hurt hurt
all the way to jail”
Three hours later a busload of prisoners slowed to stop in front of the third Manhattan jail visited since the bridge. The first two were full. Booking took a long time, four or five at a time. Officer Smith allowed smoking. Teamwork allowed most tasks to be accomplished even with everyone in cuffs. Gave away the last stickers and necklaces.
The Midtown North facility was constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1939. The WPA was an organization created by President Roosevelt to put out of work men back on the job during the Depression. Seventy years later it housed a lot of unemployed persons. It was apparent little had been done for the cells since construction.
Six hours later cheers as Officer Smith opened the human cage. A pair of summons were handed to each. 700 occupiers now shared the same court date in December. Hopefully someone plans an after party.
Food, water, dry clothes, anti-obama gear and a lawyer greeted the liberated. A lawyer took names and offered opinions about where things would move from here. Water was wonderful and the doorway to an apartment building was occupied to get out of the cold while waiting for friends and loved ones’ release. The police had been fairly courteous. The stay was not unduly long based on the amount of paperwork required. However, the showing of force by the NYPD was unmistakable. I told one officer they’d just made things worse for themselves. “It’s alright. You kids are making me rich. My pocket’s out to here,” gesturing a few inches in the air.
The train I wanted to take was closed. Walked the seventy blocks back from midtown to the park. Stopped to have a beer and decompress. Walked into an Irish pub to the start of Ireland v. Italy in the Rugby World Cup from New Zealand. The place was packed, national anthem ringing loudly. Tight game, but out of money by halftime.
Slept in McDonald’s. The manager supported the movement, allowing use of the bathrooms, cell phone and computer charging and shelter from the elements. A worker roused after dawn while cleaning. Staggered into the light. The park was still occupied when it’d been reached in the dark. Met the radio station host until collapse. Daylight brought movement and a half dozen early bird media members.
Looking for detainees in the aftermath. 700 arrests seemed to have an effect on the American conscious. One had brought the zip ties back to the park along with the court summons, providing the props ready waiting for an interview. Considerate fellow. News vans sat on a pair of corners as well, broadcasting the scene to morning viewers.
Left before most were up. Train to catch to catch a ferry. The time had been well spent. Two days and a bit brought unforgettable experience and belief in what a few started two weeks previously. All the questions weren’t answered but it didn’t matter. It would come.
So what is Occupy Wall Street? It’s dissatisfaction with the status quo and the destructive way we live our lives. The exhaustion of not having a voice in a government that’s supposedly by the people has driven citizens into the streets across this nation in the weeks since Occupy’s beginning. Occupiers realize that major change is needed to ensure a productive, healthy future for this nation and the human family around the globe. Our political message is one of freedom, real freedom, not the bush variety. The Constitution still rules this nation and it is time to return this democracy to what it was meant to be. By us. For us. For all.
Only time will tell where things go from here. Get involved. Talk to strangers. Care about your community more than simply talking about it. Travel in solidarity to support your brothers and sisters. People are fighting for their rights around the globe. Our time has come. The moment is now or never. Apathy can no longer rule the day. This moment is yours. You dictate our experience. Think, question and help the learn world that
2 Responses to The Occupation of Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge