Occupy Wall Street to World: This Is So Not Over!
When I asked a young woman why she was linking arms as part of a human barricade at Hanover and Wall Streets during the morning portion of Occupy Wall Street’s November 17th Day of Action, she explained that she had been in Zuccotti Park, the movement’s home of two months, during the surprise raid and eviction of the park at 1 a.m. Tuesday morning. She wanted, she said, to show that “the more they kick us around, the bigger this is going to get, because its time has come.”
It was this mood of jubilant defiance that characterized the day’s events—the morning attempt to disrupt the New York Stock Exchange by forming human chains in front of major financial-district intersections, a 3 p.m. student rally in Union Square and several marches downtown, and the culminating march of thousands over the Brooklyn Bridge. According to both The New York Times and Occupy Wall Street’s own website, at least 200 protesters were arrested over the course of the day, including City Council members Melissa Mark Viverito and Jumaane Williams and SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry in an attempt to block a roadway leading onto the Brooklyn Bridge.
The day of action, which was intended to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the movement, was planned before the protesters and their belongings were cleared from Zuccotti Park. But coming two days after the raid, it offered occupiers a chance to prove, as one protester’s sign read, that “this is so not over.”
“We coordinated today without a park, you know, without a hub,” said Kevin Sheneberger, who had been part of the occupation since its first week and is a member of several working groups, including information and facilitation. “People have been here for months; they’re in it for the long haul,” he said.
For Kevin, the goal of the day of action was the same as the goal of every action taken by the movement: “We’re sending a message, we’re waking people up, and we’re taking back our country, we’re creating democracy, this is what it looks like, this is what it takes, and we have to do it every day,” he said, acting out his words as he linked himself into a human blockade during the morning action.
The celebratory atmosphere only increased by the time of the march across the Brooklyn Bridge, which began with a 5 p.m. meet-up in Foley Square and continued past 8. When I finally made it onto the pedestrian walkway around 8 p.m., someone had found a way to project captions onto the Verizon Building—an appropriate choice given that the Occupy Wall Street movementhas marched in solidarity with Verizon workers negotiating a union contract. Messages included, “It is the beginning of the beginning,” “We are winning,” and “Happy Birthday Occupy Movement,” which elicited a chorus of “Happy Birthday” from the marchers, accompanied by an almost constant stream of supportive honks from passing cars.
In one of the most troubling details of the raid on Zuccotti Park, police confiscated the occupation’s library of more than 5,000 books (some of the books were later returned). William Scott, a member of the people’s library working group for the past six weeks, explained that after protesters were allowed back into the park on Tuesday evening (though they were prohibited from bringing camping gear or other supplies), they brought new books to begin rebuilding the library—only to have it confiscated again on Wednesday by the NYPD and private security guards.
On November 17, occupiers set up two mobile People’s Library stands on the Brooklyn Bridge. Scott said the library now planned to have a mobile presence at any future OWS actions and events. The eviction, he said, “has only breathed new life and energy into the movement.”
What direction that energy will take now that the occupation is not maintaining a physical encampment remains to be seen, but occupiers are confident that the community they’ve formed will not disintegrate. Athena Soules, an artist who had made a large “Occupy Wall Street” banner that was used during the march over the Brooklyn Bridge, pointed out that the movement had access to a donated office space and that over 90 working groups had already been meeting in locations other than Zuccotti. “It’s a wonderful physical symbol, but the working groups will keep working,” she said.
And she pointed out that the movement, sans tents, still has a presence in the park itself. Back in Zuccotti late Thursday night, I spoke with Rich S., an information and community alliance working-group member from Pelham Bay who has been spending the nights since the eviction in the park, alongside a team of 30 to 40 others “to let them know that we’re still here, that they can’t just scare us away.” Without sleeping bags, the volunteers walk around and drink hot chocolate for warmth. Other occupiers who came from out of town have found places to sleep at friendly churches; the occupiers’ kitchen, now operating out of nearby Trinity Church, still feeds the movement.
Asked about what would come after the day of action, Rich answered, “We have to keep on occupying places, keep on demonstrating, keep on disrupting things that go on here, so that the bankers in Wall Street know that it’s not business as usual anymore.”