Thursday, November 17, 2011

On November 15th

I keep thinking about what happened those 24 hours and it's been a constant cycle of emotions: intense anger at the state and the NYPD over the cowardice brutality in the dark of night; then sadness over all that was lost; and pride in knowing we built all of that in 60 days, and we can easily do it again. But invariable I come back to anger. So I'm just gonna recap my experience here and hopefully get it out of my system:

The text messages and twitter feed started blowing up around 1:30 am Monday morning. Occupy Wall Street was being violently, brutally evicted. I bolted immediately for Liberty Square, not really sure what value I could offer, but I had to be there if only to take one last look at my community. Trains ran slow and nowhere near that area of the financial district. Absolutely every aspect of this shut down was being done to minimize the public outcry. NYPD moved in like it was a war zone, literally bulldozing our infrastructure. There was liberal use of pepper spray/tear gas/batons. Little warning was given and no time offered for people to clear their personal belongings. In Oakland a few weeks ago, a couple of black bloc protesters broke off and smashed a window or two. Media declared vandalism by protesters. What happened on Nov. 15 by police was the deliberate destruction and discarding of people's private property by the entire NYPD - the literal definition of vandalism. How many media outlets describe it as such? Zero. They reveal their statist bias. For some of these people, they lost literally everything they own in this world. Vandalism is, if anything, too kind a word.

Arriving a little before 3:00 am, sprinting from Canal St. only to find the park barricaded and inaccessible from blocks away, even to media. NYPD pushed us north as a fellow protester showed me a youtube video already posted of the cops indiscriminately teargassing our beloved and completely peaceful kitchen crew. Worming my way around to the south side of the park I saw a couple familiar faces - two people righteously and defiantly walking back and forth on the little block of street they were barricaded in on and chanting - a mini-march on Wall Street. An impotent gesture? Maybe. But if we were going down, we were going down kicking and screaming.

Eventually word got around that people were congregating in Foley Square, so we organized a march with people at Wall St. to get up there. I helped pull a bin on wheels while people threw in whatever personal property they managed to salvage. At Foley, we consented to solidarity in our action and marched to a planned rally at Duarte Square to meet up with organized labor and interfaith spiritual leaders. I say this as a largely irreligious man, but when those priests, rabbis, imams marched into that square like the damn cavalry and everyone erupted in cheers, it gave me chills.

Then began the plan to occupy the adjacent lot. Owned by Trinity Church (who have been supportive of OWS) we took the reasonable chance that they wouldn't evict. At the moment they were holding a delegation to decide on granting us permission. Some hopped the wall until others cut through the chain link and about 50 of us piled into the unused lot. Then, the NYPD showed up in force. We were told this was trespassing and could mean up to a year in prison so I bailed. I was arrestable, but I wasn't that arrestable. At least 15 brave individuals stood their ground, while Amin, an organizer at OWS, acted as liason between the police, the protesters, and the radical priests come to get us released through Trinity Church (who despite their best efforts, could not get the property owners on the phone). Amin didn't enter the lot except to briefly relay what other parties had said verbatim to the protesters.

Just outside the lot one officer started pushing a couple of us with hate in his eyes - just a nasty, aggressive, power-crazed dude with too much testosterone coursing through his body. Pushing me into a wheelchair-bound woman behind me, I shouted "There's a woman in a wheelchair here, show some compassion!" At which point the officer standing next to him had to step in and calm his partner down. Even he seemed uncomfortable with what he and his fellow officers were doing at this point.

What followed was truly one of those awful images that stays with you. Amin, again standing outside the privately-owned lot was grabbed violently by three officers and hurled to the ground like a rag doll. No justification for why he was being arrested whatsoever at the time. The actual reason, I would imagine, is that the police have a very difficult time comprehending horizontalism. When all they know is the chain of command, they can't really comprehend power in any other form. So whoever is doing the most talking at any given moment is surely the clandestine secret leader of OWS and taking him/her down will surely leave the rest of us wandering around aimlessly. 

The rest of the cops moved in and started coming down hard on the 15 or so still in the lot. A lot of elbows and knees thrown. It's still unclear to me exactly what authorized the police action at Duarte Square. The private owners of the park gave neither permission nor request to leave. I'm not sure if the absence of either legally justifies police to call it trespassing, because presumably only the private owners of the private property can say if someone isn't permitted to be there. A high-ranking officer on site said he got the go ahead he needed, but it certainly wasn't Trinity that gave it. In any case, I can't imagine Trinity pressing charges so hopefully the legal ramifications are nonexistent.

By this point it was about 1 pm and we decided to march back to Zuccotti. Frustrations had boiled over and we marched directly in the street. The prevailing attitude seemed to be that we were tired of being the only lawful party in this conflict. This will be a major consequence of the mayor's actions: violently cracking down on law-abiding protesters only removes incentives to behave lawfully; might as well take this opportunity to be openly defiant.

We had a temporary restraining order on the city/NYPD/FDNY upheld by a lower-circuit court since 6 am. Legally, we had every right to retake the park, even as the city appealed to the New York State Supreme Court. But NYPD and Kings Security (a private firm hired by park owners Brookfield Properties) were barricaded inside, refusing to let us return in direct violation of the law. No reasons were given.

And so these illegal Occupiers held the park for nearly 12 hours. It wasn't clear who the leaders were and they did not have a clearly articulated list of demands. And some protest - they were only hanging out in the park. Don't these people have work to do? "Please disperse in a calm an orderly fashion!" I yelled in to no avail.

I talked to one of the private security guards who seemed nice enough and was sympathetic to our cause, but mostly his attitude about the eviction was "What's the big deal?"

Security: "When the ruling comes in you'll be back in the park."
Me: "You understand this is an appeal right? And legally you have to uphold the latest ruling, which says let us in. Right now you're in contempt of court."
Security: "You'll be let back in soon enough and look, you'll have a nice clean park."
Me: "Yeah a little too clean. We're missing a few things."

Bloomberg and the NYPD's strategy seemed to be ignore the legality until the legality is in their favor. They didn't want to have to let us back in immediately because it would mean we could have our tents and structures. Around 5 pm the ruling came in and we lost and they announced we'd be let back in with many caveats. There was now only one entrance and one exit among the barricades for the thousands to use - kudos Bloomberg on fixing the "fire hazard" that was Occupy Wall Street. Prohibiting tents and structure was to be expected, there's legal president for that, but now they would not be allowing sleeping bags, tarps, blankets, large bags (size not specified and cops seemed to be totally using their own discretion on the matter), etc. Basically, Brookfield went to the park, wrote a list of things any protester had on them, and made them against the rules. They also searched all bags upon entry. I went to one of the National Lawyers Guild team members (who are total bad asses by the way, not only fighting for us in court but putting themselves in the most dangerous areas of police crackdowns to observe arrests) and asked if he knew they were searching bags and how did this not constitute illegal search and seizure. "Certainly raises a lot of 4th amendment issues in my mind," he answered. It's also unclear to me how Brookfield can use tax-funded police to enforce private rules. They should legally have to use their own private security team.

But we had the park back. Within 10 minutes, the People's Library was back up, recollecting from scratch, but already had more books than when I first came to OWS 7 weeks ago. (I've just heard NYPD again confiscated their books, along with breakfast bars water, none of which are even prohibited in the new "rules.") By 7 pm we held our General Assembly on schedule, one of the largest GA's we've ever had. And November 17 looks to be a day of major response and nonviolent direct action.

All day, all week. Occupy Wall Street.

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