Two weeks after a small band of protesters set up camp in New York’s Liberty Plaza Park, deep in the heart of the financial district, our numbers have expanded to staggering numbers. This is true in two senses. Firstly, the size of the New York protest has virtually grown too big for the park – a rumor on Friday that Radiohead would play drew so many attendees that no one could move in the park, and those numbers grew so that yesterday, when no famous band was expected, every inch of the sidewalks all around the park were also swarming. Secondly, the solidarity protests around the country now range from thousands in Los Angeles to hundreds in Seattle to protests yet to begin in Portland. There are even occupations organizing in Tokyo, Sydney, Montreal, Tijuana, Stockholm, Hamburg and at the London Stock Exchange.
Major news outlets are granting the Occupy Wall Street movement prime coverage, and major labor unions are coming out in support of the occupiers efforts, 1199/SEIU – a hospital workers union with 350,000 members from Florida to New England – agreeing to sponsor a week’s worth of food, to send a team of RNs to the plaza in order to train medics there, to develop a team to liaise with the protestors and to recruit further labor support at the Central Labor Council.
As Liberty Plaza Park saw its largest ever number of protesters yesterday, the group retained its devotion to non-violence. That is, when one protester spotted Rep. Charlie Rangel mugging for the press at the focal point of the crowd, and shoutingly tried to bum-rush him, thousands began to chant “This is a peaceful march!” Perhaps the protester didn’t like Rep. Rangel’s support for the TARP bailout of Wall Street, his receipt of Goldman Sachs PAC money or his sell-out of tax justice groups to GE.
And so it was that the group jubilantly marched through the streets of downtown New York, past City Hall (fitting because of Mayor Bloomberg’s callous and idiotic comments on the occupation the day before, not that he’s ever in town) and up to what my friends and I thought was going to be Police Plaza (we had missed the beginning of the extensive march preparations at Liberty Plaza Park where, among other things, guidelines are set for potential encounters with police.
I couldn’t believe it when the march appeared to turn onto the Brooklyn Bridge (what was everyone going go do in DUMBO, get Grimaldi’s?), but on it went. I was roughly 1,000 people back, according to the count of a man standing on a platform on Broadway counting every marcher, so I cannot attest to what happened at the front of the march, but I know that as I entered the bridge, cops lining the sides of the march stood and watched, registering no protest as I walked onto the roadway (I didn’t even realize at the time that it was the roadway). Several hundred feet up, it became clear that this was a poor decision, so the people I was with decided we’d hop the dividing fence onto the pedestrian walkway.
The crowd on the bridge chanted “Get up! Get down! There’s revolution in this town!” as it neared what it didn’t yet know was to be the end of its march, the occupiers meeting heavy police walls about a third of the way down the bridge. Seeing where this was going, my group decided that if our jokes that this was some kind of nefarious plot were true, then surely the plot involved police seizure of Liberty Plaza Park, whose retention is obviously critical to the success of the occupation. We headed back.
As we left the bridge, our fears became corroborated: huge numbers of cops with police nets and plastic handcuffs were boxing the protesters in. I want to make this absolutely clear: after allowing thousands of peaceful marchers onto a part of the bridge we weren’t allowed to walk on, the cops trapped in on both sides and arrested what is now being reported as roughly 700 of them.
Video leaves no doubt that, whatever the NYPD told the first group of protesters, cops were at the head of the march as it moved onto the roadway — whether this was deliberate or not, it constitutes entrapment, meaning the police leading people into the commission of crimes in order to arrest them, which is illegal. This on the day one of the largest firms on Wall St. donated $4.6 million to the NYPD, without any fear of the perception of impropriety.
Buses and paddywaggons were dispatched from places as far away as Riker’s Island to come pick up the hundreds of civilians to be arrested, none of whom, to the best of my knowledge, was a banker who had defrauded America, crashed its economy and extorted its taxpayers for staggering amounts of wealth. Those arrested were taken all over the city: to 1 Police Plaza, the 75th precinct, the 79th precinct – nowhere had the capacity for all of them.
Among those detained on what I suspect was the biggest march in New York since the 1930s to level a critique specifically at capital, were Democracy Now reporter Ryan Devereaux, New York Times freelancer Natasha Lennard, Gawker’s Adrien Chen, AlterNet’s Kristen Gwynne and at least one small child.
As the sun dropped and the rains began, the hundreds of protestors defiantly and proudly continued the process of democratic deliberation by consensus at Liberty Plaza Park, where they were joined by a number of marines pledging to stand between protesters and police violence. “This is the second time I have fought for my country,” one of them declared. “But it’s the first time I’ve known my enemy.”
This morning, a New York Daily News poll indicates that 74% of New Yorkers describe #OccupyWallStreet as “a great cause.” It is certainly the most beautiful engagement in democracy I have ever been a part of.