Outside the Frozen Zone


NEW YORK CITY, January 30—Helicopters chop-chop overhead, backpackers emerge from subway stations fanning out in search of lodging, and metal barricades demarcate what’s known as the “frozen zone.”

On the eve of the World Economic Forum, a security perimeter surrounds the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, drawn in lines of police blue. Undercover cops, poorly disguised as demonstrators, josh with uniformed officers. Police vans sit idle along Park Avenue and 51st Street, while NBC and Fox news vans position themselves near St. Bartholomew’s Church. In front of the Apple Bank at 47th Street and Park Avenue, hundreds of police amass. It’s 7 p.m., the changing of the guard. By Thursday morning, 4000 police will be on call, riot gear at the ready. By Thursday morning, 3000 WEF guests will have checked in, and will be traipsing off to such workshops as “Global Governance: What Needs to Change?” or “The Root Cause of Conflict.” The number of demonstrators who will swell into the streets remains a fool’s guess.

Beneath the Waldorf’s awning, WEF participants step out of their limousines, smoke, watch emergency lights blur in a nearby window’s reflection. At Lexington and 51st Street a sanitation truck positions itself as a roadblock, weighted down with sand to “keep anyone from driving a car full of explosives through,” says one officer. White tents have been erected, beneath which police will search cars and stay out of the rain.

Local newscasters bleat about another winter storm watch, a glaze of ice jeopardizing the safety of our streets. A mixture of fear, of the unknown, of who could lose control first–police officer or protester? No script exists, except maybe the riot-prepping police received at Shea Stadium, or the legal training offered to protesters at Columbia University.

In the East Village, the streets appear quiet, although furious puppet-making, radical cheerleading practice, and banner-painting takes place behind rainy windows. The tiny three-floor 6th Street Community Center, painted sunny red, yellow, and green, will open Thursday as a welcome center for visiting demonstrators. “500 years of resistence” is painted on the windowsill. The spacious Charas Community Center on 9th Street might have been command central, had the city and a greedy landlord named Gregg Singer not yanked the decades-old abandoned school from the community’s hands. In the end, that’s what much of these protests will be about, unabashed and shameless greed, corporate bloat and a willingness to turn a blind eye to suffering beyond one’s “frozen zone.”

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