Occupy Wall Street's Anniversary
For those who have been tracking Occupy Wall Street since its earliest days, yesterday's anniversary often felt familiar to the point of deja vu.
Lower Manhattan was once again transformed into a city under siege, with metal barricades at almost every intersection, police trucks, vans, scooters, horses, and legions of police officers and corporate security.
And when hundreds of people mustered in the early hours of yesterday morning to ring the New York Stock Exchange and protest the widening gulf between rich and poor and the growing control of government, the canyons of the Financial District again rang with drumbeats and familiar chants: "We! Are! The 99 percent!" "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!"
Some of the protesters' plans were familiar; ringing the stock exchange is a tactic they used to some effect on November 17th. But after a year of skirmishing with police in the streets, protesters have learned some new tricks as well. Most of yesterday's disruption was caused by hundreds of small, barely coordinated clusters of five or ten people, hitting their targets and racing on to their next ones before police could arrive.
A cluster of debt activists stormed into the lobby of 4 New York Plaza, showering the area with confetti and bouncy balls and presenting a letter to Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase, one of the building's tenants. Later, some of the same people teamed up with education activists to block traffic at the corner of Water and Broad streets, provoking a Tienanmen-tank-style stand-off with an NYPD truck.
Later in the afternoon, scores of protesters feigned northwards, causing security at the World Financial Center and the offices of Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch to lock down the buildings, then veered east to briefly block the West Side Highway at Albany Street.
All the while, the occupation of Zuccotti Park was also reprized, despite the reappearance of dubiously legal barricades. Hundreds of people poured in, creating, with the familiar mix of signs, puppets, costumes and the irrepressible drum circle, a carnival atmosphere reminiscent of last October.
The police strategy for handling yesterday's protests was certainly familiar. More than 180 people were arrested, some for taking part in civil disobedience, many seemingly at random, plucked from the sidewalk, roughly forced to the ground, and handcuffed.
On Broadway near Morris street yesterday morning, a woman with her young daughter chastised police after they shoved protesters.
"There are children here!" she said. "Why would you be so reckless when there are children present?"
The officer's response was simple: "You shouldn't have brought them."
As has been true throughout the past year, the police appeared to be targeting journalists. The day before, photojournalist Charles Meacham was arrested. Yesterday, independent photographer Julia Reinhart was arrested. Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix was arrested. Radio journalist John Knefel was arrested. The Voice's own photographer, C.S. Muncy, was next to Knefel at the time, and described his own encounter with the police:
I had been following the crowd during the march away from Zuccotti for a while. After a few arrests, the crowd found itself at Nassau and Pine. Officers who had been following pushed everyone back onto the sidewalk. After a moment, a captain or deputy inspector stepped forward with a bullhorn and ordered everyone off the sidewalk. "This will be your only warning," he said. The officer directly in front of me looked at me and said "I'd get going if I were you, dude." It wasn't a threat or anything, just a suggestion. Didn't really matter, I had about a second after he said that before officers started moving in.
I got ready to start taking shots when an officer grabbed me and pulled me into the crowd of officers. Me and John were taken literally at the same time. I didn't put up a fight (I've seen enough arrests to know that you'll just end up with nasty bruises, broken gear and a resisting arrest charge) so I was dropped like you see in the photo, and put my arms out as ordered. Just as they were getting ready to put the cuffs on a senior officer (I didn't catch his rank or name or anything) bent over me and asked if I was press. I said yes, and he asked to see my card. I rolled on my side to show it to him, figuring it was probably going to get yanked. After a moment, the officer told me to get out of there. "Next time an officer tells you to move, you move."
If the heavy-handed policing was familiar, the armchair-media's treatment of the anniversary was also mostly indistinguishable from the tone of the movement's press coverage throughout the past year: The movement is over; it was silly; it didn't accomplish anything; what remains are just a band of crusty shiftless die-hard malcontents.
Much of the rhetoric coming from the anniversary's organizers was true to character too, ambitious to the point of bombast, promising to "Shut down Wall Street." But for the protesters, yesterday's actions and the weekend of trainings, teach-ins, and concerts that preceded it were never about actually bringing the financial industry to its knees, or even returning Occupy to the position it held before it was evicted from Zuccotti Park in November.
Rather, it was a weekend of celebration, a chance for Occupy participants who no longer share a physical commons to meet and share their experiences with the dozens of project and campaigns that were germinated in the park. It was a demonstration that despite police repression and a perpetually dismissive media, the animating grievances that brought people to the park last fall are only more acute, and that the number and resolve of people who want to do something about it isn't diminishing.
"It's not like the conditions that sparked Occupy in the first place have gotten any better," said long-time participant David Intrader at the end of the day. "Why would anyone think that this has gone away?"
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