Taking Times Square: Occupy Wall Street Movement is Becoming Very Powerful
At least one hundred US cities participated in an October 15 Global Day of Action yesterday. Each demonstration was part of a growing “Occupy” movement that was ignited by Occupy Wall Street just over four weeks ago.
A few of the cities attempted to start permanent camps, like Occupy Wall Street has successfully done in Liberty Park. But, in cities like Chicago, the police enforced a park curfew and arrested about 175 protesters who refused to leave Grant Park.
I was in New York City to cover the day of action. The day began with a march on Chase Bank in Manhattan. It was peaceful and 800-1000 people participated in the march.
From Chase Bank, the march headed to Washington Square, a site where. It stretched for at least five to six blocks. The police were noticeably overwhelmed. They had to keep traffic moving and manage a march of about a thousand people.
An Occupy Wall Street organizer maintained communication with a police sergeant. They discussed options for the march route and formed an agreement on how to move in and out of the park.
The march was kept on the sidewalk with police motorcycles riding along the curb to prevent anyone from stepping in the street. The police also walked alongside the curb to keep the protesters on the sidewalk.
Pedestrians walking in New York congregated on the corners to watch the march that was moving toward Washington Square. Many took out their cameras to take photos and video and some even cheered. “Those are the Occupy Wall Street protesters,” some said. There was an interest among bystanders that I think many protests rarely receive and that should make Occupy Wall Street proud. One woman told her kids why she had cheered: “I support them. I wish I could be with them.” [cont’d.]
The demonstrators entered Washington Square just after noon. A general assembly was held. In the middle of the assembly, an antiwar march that had been organized on Wall Street under the banner of “Wall Street is War Street” entered the park from the east side.
Meanwhile, reports of a “sit-in” at a Citibank branch near Washington Square surfaced. Twenty-three people with Citibank accounts tried to close their bank account. They were locked into the bank by Citibank security guards. The NYPD was called to arrest those locked into the bank. One woman was even outside the bank and was pushed back into the bank to be arrested by NYPD.
By 3 pm ET, the march re-formed and took off from Washington Square to take Times Square. It marched up 6th Avenue for more than twenty blocks. Like the march to Washington Square, everyone was corralled onto the east side of the sidewalk until a group of protesters came up on the west side of the street.
White-shirted officers became agitated and scrambled over to stop the protesters moving up the west side of the street. I watched as it appeared the protesters were going to be kettled like they were on September 24 when Officer Tony Bologna pepper-sprayed the female protesters on the sidewalk. Police blocked off the sidewalk and attempted to defuse the “situation” by sending protesters to join the march on the east side. Pedestrian traffic became backed up because of the officers’ decision to move people across the street. After it appeared all the protesters had been sent across the street, police let pedestrians through. But a few blocks later another group of protesters was back on the west side marching. The police ended their futile attempt to keep a much smaller group from walking on the west side of 6th Ave.
Along the way, I noted that the police were scrambling to stand in front of any bank branches that were passed to protect the entrances from any direct actions. At the HBSC bank branch and at a Citibank, officers stood right in front of the door and prevented any protester from going in and out.
The march finally reached Times Square around 5:30 pm ET. There were already thousands of people waiting behind police barricades in Times Square. I walked into Times Square and was caught in a swell of pedestrian traffic. No police were around to keep the pedestrians moving. So, what happened was people were pushing their way through a mob to go north on 7th Avenue.
I managed to push my way through and get to 46th St , 7th Ave and Times Square to stand on a space right in the middle of the street across from the area where there are risers for tourists to congregate and take photos of Times Square. I was right next to the area where white-shirted officers, TARU and uniformed police were organizing the operation they had planned to arrest and control the demonstrators.
The dynamics shifted when a white-shirted officer led the march from Washington Square, which had been stopped on Broadway, down 46th St. This fueled the energy in around the intersection. A group of people in front of the T.G..I. Friday’s on the corner excited to be joined. But, this move by police helped create the standoff that resulted in a few of the arrests from the night.
Police on horseback were brought in after 6 pm ET. The police wanted to re-open the street to traffic. They attempted to move the barricades. But, the protesters wanted to stand their ground. The NYPD commanded the police on horseback to gallop into the crowd to force the protesters back. Also, officers began to rush into the crowd to pull a few people out for arrest.
The arrests were violent. One arrest I witnessed involved a white-shirted officer putting the megaphone in the ear of young man being arrested. With the blue-shirted officer kneeling on the back of the young man, the white-shirted officer shouted through the megaphone, “Stop resisting arrest! You’re resisting arrest! Put your hands behind your back,” as if he could physically move his hands with the officer kneeling on him.
The barricade began to shake and the police fought to keep the barricade from falling. Instantaneously, the barricades across the street where I was standing began to shake. Police scrambled over to steady those barricades.
During the arrest, I watched a horse shit on the police officer making an arrest. A surreal moment played out as the officers had a Times Square cleanup crew of African-American men, who probably barely make minimum wage, come in to sweep up the shit that was all over the intersection. Right in the middle of a scene that could have erupted into something crazy, these men in red uniforms pushed trash barrels into the intersection, put the shit in the trash can and then sauntered off to go clean some other shit somewhere else.
Following this incredibly tense moment and the surreal horse shit cleanup, I watched the police presence in the intersection increase exponentially. The officers had flexicuffs for arrests and orange netting. There were even police in riot gear. Police vans showed up and a few more police on horseback arrived. But, nothing decisive was happening. It just seemed like the police were going to wait around here for hours before calling on people to disperse.
I looked into the distance and saw police in riot gear headed down 46th St. They were coming up behind the group of protesters that were on the street. The group was surrounded. A white-shirted officer got on a blue megaphone and started hollering at the crowd to empty out of the street. Some left, but a sizeable group remained at 46th and Times Square right by the barricades.
Right at 8:00 pm, the police began to move the barricades back so no protesters would be on the street. The protesters wanted to stand their ground and they pushed back. The force of the police was overwhelming and resisting the movement of barricades ultimately was a waste of energy.
The focus of the standoff now became the group in front of the T.G.I. Friday’s. They did not want to leave. The horses were right there to rush the crowd. The police presence grew and closed in on the protesters on the corner. The protesters refused to leave before the police backed down and were told numerous times over a megaphone by a white-shirted officer that they would be under arrest if they didn’t move.
Across the way, by the risers, there was still a sizable group of Occupy Wall Street protesters. The group on the corner that was being ordered to disperse wanted to join this group. A few of the demonstrators pleaded with the white-shirted officers to let them through to the other side. The group by the risers held up the megaphone they had constructed in Liberty Park.
The barricades were moved and the protesters were allowed to cross over. They were not arrested. The officer gave into the wishes of the group. It was then that I realized how powerful the movement had become. Weeks ago, if that had happened, a mass arrest would have taken place but in Times Square the police did not want to make headlines. They did not want to further energize the movement like they had with the pepper-spraying incidents and the mass arrest of over 700 demonstrators on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Add this victory to the one achieved around 6 am ET on Friday when Brookfield Properties decided it would not use the police to force Occupy Wall Street to leave for a cleaning. Add to this the fact that representatives of Mayor Michael Bloomberg have tried to meet with lead organizers of Occupy Wall Street. The movement is gaining a kind of power that occupiers probably never thought they would achieve.
I left the scene just before 9 pm ET. My phone was dead. I was tired. What I had witnessed was the security state of America in action. The NYPD escalated a demonstration with their presence but surprisingly found a way to get the crowd to leave without anything incredibly violent happening.
The media reported Occupy Wall Street went global yesterday. The truth is Occupy Wall Street was already global and had been since it began. The organizers themselves launched an occupation action because they were inspired by what citizens in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain and Greece had done this year. They saw what they were doing as part of a global revolution that had to happen against the forces of greed and corruption in the world, which are forcing austerity measures on people in many, many countries.
Who knows where the “Occupy” movement is headed? That is the beauty of the moment. Possibilities for a better future in America are more possible now than ever before. Young people are stepping out and putting their bodies on the line all because they believe in the revitalization and reinvention of democratic society. They understand that the power has to be shifted from the few—the corporations, the political class and the richest 1%—to the many—the citizens, who should be more included in the decision-making process. They understand that citizens have to take responsibility for putting this country on the right track so that casino capitalists, greedy bankers and even war profiteers are not allowed to expand their adventurist and entrepreneurial neoliberal agenda and ventures.
Rebellion is changing the terms of the debate. The presence of people out in the street is influencing what politicians and talking heads say on news programs.
It is only the beginning. It will only continue to escalate and grow because Americans are angry, they’ve had enough and they see the system is rigged by two parties that operate in service to Wall Street, the military or the security industrial-complex, which protects the financial and ruling elites. They will deliberate over what to do about the systemic problems in this country and rebel until they think these systemic problems have been addressed.