10.14.11

The Battle For Wall Street

A showdown at New York’s Zuccotti Park was averted, but John Avlon reports that some protesters turned a sympathetic story of celebration into one about manufacturing conflict.

A little after 6:30 a.m., a cheer went up from the protesters gathered in Zuccotti Park. A press release by New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway announced that Brookfield Properties—the owner of the park—had decided to call off their cleaning, which would have required the park to be vacated, with police help if necessary.  

“This is our victory,” shouted a heavyset bearded man with red suspenders from the speaker’s wall on the north side of the park, as his words were echoed in waves across the crowd. The Occupy Wall Street brass band led a dance line through the square as the kitchen area offered scrambled eggs, salad, bagels and blueberry muffins. “We even got some fucking scones here!” exclaimed one guy in delight. 

A conflict with the cops had been averted in full view of television cameras. Unions like SEIU/1199 had sent members to bolster the crowd along with the Working Families Party, while the ACLU sent official observers, adding to the atmosphere of impending oppression.   

In the tense hours before, protesters set about cleaning the park themselves, using soap and water and scrub-brushes, trying to prove that they did not need to be displaced. Homemade signs like “Today we clean up our park; Tomorrow we clean up Wall Street” dotted the perimeter along with prefab printed jobs like “Stop the War on Workers” and “NYPD Protects and Serves the Rich.” Overall, it was an earnest show of self-reliance with characteristically light-hearted touches, like the guy dressed as Santa Claus in the early morning hours, wielding a blue broom, who flashed a peace sign as I took his picture. 

But the sense of celebration born of a reprieve did not last long. In the twilight afterglow, talk of a new march on Wall Street swept the crowd. There was no point in wasting all the media attention already assembled this morning. And so a relatively small group of a few hundred protesters began a march down Broadway as the green and black-clad brass band played a buoyant version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister behind a large cardboard sign saying “Keep the Peace.” It would prove disingenuous. I overheard one protester tell a cameraman: “The intersection will be at Exchange Place—that’s where we’re going to get arrested.”  

And so it was. One block south of Trinity Church, in sight of Alexander Hamilton’s grave, the marchers crossed into the middle of Broadway, blocking the morning traffic.  They got less than one block before a dozen cops on scooters rushed up to meet them.  Cameras flashed as the sounds of whistles pierced the air.    

The sense of relief that had greeted the wise decision to delay the forced cleaning of the square had been replaced with a determination to orchestrate a conflict in front of cameras.

Another set of protesters apparently doubled back through Trinity Place and paraded a few blocks further down Broadway, only to be stopped on the left side of Bowling Green and diverted down Beaver Street—ironically, also the home of the Sanitation Department offices.  

The sense of relief that had greeted the wise decision to delay the forced cleaning of the square had been replaced with a determination to orchestrate a conflict in front of cameras. The vast majority of the protesters in Zuccotti Park are peaceful, but there is a professional protester element that wants the visuals of oppression to help build public sympathy for their movement. Like all extremes, they will ultimately be their own worst enemy, alienating more people than they attract. Already this morning, they succeeded in turning a sympathetic story of celebration into a story about manufacturing dissent.