I got the text message at 1:07 AM: URGENT: Hundreds of police mobilizing around Zuccotti. Eviction in process.
I made the decision to go at 1:08 AM.
I got off the train at Rector Street—this was before all the subways except the R train were shut down only an hour later. Muscle memory took me to towards the nearest exit—the exit from which you can almost immediately see the characteristic red structure and flags, signs and bodies crowding the park—and was immediately stopped by a transit worker.
“You can’t take that exit. They are evicting those people from the park tonight.”
That’s when I knew this had just gotten serious.
I finally got out of the subway station and found that not only had Zuccotti Park been completely blockaded, but there were barricades all the way to Rector Street, two blocks away from the park itself. Those of us who had rushed down immediately upon receiving the emergency text message realized it was too late—we weren’t going to get to the park in time and the most that we could do was occupy the sidewalk in solidarity.
We did not know that Liberty Plaza was being destroyed in that moment. We did not know that bulldozers were moving in. We did not know that everything that had been built—the library, the kitchen, the health clinic—was being destroyed and that protestors were chaining themselves to trees, which were then chopped down.
We only knew that the police were descending upon us in full riot gear—and in that moment, they were not police—they were hired, uniformed thugs.
We were corralled, tear-gassed and ordered to leave the sidewalks. The police told us that we were all risking arrest—and had been warned. What they would have arrested us for, I’m not sure—but does it matter when Mayor Bloomberg explicitly states that, “no right is absolute?”
It was chaos—though we won in numbers, masses of non-violent resisters are helpless in the face of a line of riot cops, advancing randomly on protestors with batons, beating them, pushing the crowds with their force and their shields away from the park.
We took to the streets. We marched to Foley Square, then Washington Square, splitting, segregating, convening, catching up—all the while as the police surrounded us—sirens, paddy wagons, flashing lights, and helicopters surrounding us from every direction possible. More and more police forces were deployed, chasing the protestors through lower Manhattan.
Meanwhile in Zuccotti Park, the police were taking bulldozers to the encampment. All of the infrastructure—the health clinic, the women’s safe space, the kitchen, the bicycle generators, and all of the other beloved symbols of a new, sustainable world were brutally destroyed and thrown into sanitation trucks by the New York Police Department.
Perhaps most symbolic—and most devastating—were the over 5,000 donated books that the police snatched from the library and promptly threw into a sanitation truck. These great works of literature are on their way to be ground and incinerated in a landfill somewhere in Pennsylvania or New Jersey.
It is a dystopian modern day love child of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984.
Around 5 or 6 in the morning—after the pictures of a completely cleared Zuccotti Park had been released—Folely Square began to crystallize as the new home of the occupation. An impromptu kitchen station was resurrected from the salvaged remains of the old one. The police tried to evict everyone from lower Manhattan—racing towards Broadway and Canal one moment, and deploying more forces to Folely Square the next—but to no avail.
Because that’s the thing about Occupy—even if the police were physically able evict everyone from lower Manhattan, which would have been physically impossible, it is impossible to bulldoze or brutalize this idea that has consumed our minds, hearts, and souls with the radical—and sometimes palpable—hope of liberation. Occupy Wall Street is not about tents—it is not about infrastructure, it is not about a park, and it is not about hand signals—it is about what all of these things come together and stand for. It is about coming together and learning from each other. It is about imagining the radical, and then criticizing our imaginings for not being radical enough.
It is about identifying our failed system, recognizing that we are not alone in our frustration and coming together to create an alternative that pushes our broken political and economic structures into obsolescence. It is about the radical notion that democracy should be of, by, and for the people—and that we no longer tolerate it as an empty word to fuel inflated notions of world supremacy.
It is about being occupied—occupied by corporate greed, by capitalism, and by Wall Street. It is about being occupied by a country that spends our tax dollars on foreign military occupations, instead of investing in affordable education, healthcare, and economic justice. It is about our current system which is preoccupied by debating and deliberating over its own self-inflicted deficit, rather than discussing the rampant income inequality that occupies and preoccupies its own citizens.
It is about occupying against oppressive acts of occupation—and preoccupying ourselves with occupying the country that we deserve.