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Triumph In Zuccotti Park!

2011 October 15

Apparently, “indefinitely” does not mean very long to Michael Bloomberg. Two days after the Mayor announced that Wall Street occupiers would be permitted to remain in Zuccotti Park indefinitely, he announced that they were to evacuate by the end of the week. The evacuation was allegedly intended to allow sanitation workers to clean the park of its rampant waste. However, with little waste visible and the promise of a police presence, it became distinctly clear to the occupiers just what waste Bloomberg intended to remove.

The evacuation was initiated by the park’s owners, Brookfield Properties, who had deemed the conditions in the park “unsanitary” and “unsafe.” Brookfield’s CEO, Richard Clark, had written to police commissioner Ray Kelly requesting police support for the dispersal of all varieties of unsightly rubbish. Fearing that the “temporary” evacuation might quickly become permanent, protesters promised peaceful resistance, planning to form a human chain around the perimeter of the park before its scheduled tidying at 7:00 am on Friday morning.

Bloomberg’s announcement was distinctly threatening for a number of reasons, not least of which that the occupation has foremost converted Zuccotti Park into a living space with a group of sanitation workers whose charge is to maintain the health of the park. As blogger and Wall Street occupier J.A. Myerson indicates, “Anyone who has spent time there (Mayor Bloomberg and Brookfield ownership have not) knows that there is a constant ongoing effort to keep the place clean: sweeping, tidying, removing trash, &c.” There is simply no need for such an interruptive measure.

Secondly, as Myerson points out, similar “cleanup” efforts have a long history of instigating the total dispersion of protests and occupations. We need not burden our minds to recall the employment of this same measure by Wisconsin governor Scott Walker when his capitol building became cluttered with union workers. It was also no comfort to Wall Street occupiers to recall that when a similar cleanup effort was supported by police in Spain this spring, the confrontation ended in bloodshed.

To top it all, if the eagerness of the city to comply with corporate interest seemed suspicious, that may be because the Mayor’s office is literally in bed with the company that owns the park. Bloomberg’s live-in girlfriend sits on the board of Brookfield Properties.

Needless to say, sleep must have been difficult for those on Wall Street. However, by the time the sun had risen, calls for cleaning supplies and able bodies had been thoroughly answered. Thousands of occupiers filled Zuccotti Park.  The square was flooded with brooms, mops, and new faces, tidying the park for the arrival of the NYPD. Moveon.org had circulated a petition to be sent to Mayor Bloomberg requesting the desertion of the evacuation plan. Echoes of solidarity had rung out across the world.

At 6:20 am, forty minutes before the scheduled evacuation, Bloomberg and Brookfield backed down.

Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway issued this statement:

“Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park—Brookfield Properties—that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation. Our position has been consistent throughout: the City’s role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”

The New York Times described the motivations for the postponement:

Behind the scenes, interviews suggested, the change in course was fueled by an intensifying sense of alarm within city government, shared even among some of those who work for Mr. Bloomberg, that sending scores of police officers into the park would set off an ugly, public showdown that might damage the reputation of the city as well as its mayor.

Bloomberg has stated that Clark’s decision was influenced by pressure from elected officials who had been calling Clark throughout the night, saying, in summary, “If you don’t stop this we’ll make your life more difficult.” Daniel Squadron, a state senator, had spoken with the Brookfield CEO four times throughout the evening, telling him, “The plan is bad for protesters’ First Amendment rights and bad for the community.” Just before midnight, Clark wrote an email to Holloway, saying, “Based on input from many, we have decided to postpone the cleaning operation for Zuccotti Park. Accordingly, we do not require the assistance of NYPD.”

This is nothing short of a triumph.

It has been said that the Occupy Wall Street movement lacks focus, purpose and strength. Yet, in each day of the nearly month-long occupation, the intentions of the movement have been made clear. If you don’t know what the movement wants, you are not listening. Alan Grayson summarized it this way:

“They’re complaining that Wall Street wrecked the economy three years ago and nobody’s held responsible for that. Not a single person’s been indicted or convicted for destroying twenty percent of our national net worth accumulated over two centuries. They’re upset about the fact that Wall Street has iron control over the economic policies of this country, and that one party is a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street, and the other party caters to them as well.”

Chris Hedges summarized it this way:

“They know precisely what they want; they want to reverse the corporate coup that’s taken place in the U.S. and rendered the citizenry impotent and they won’t stop until that happens. And frankly if we don’t break the back of corporations we’re all finished anyway since we’re rapidly trashing the ecosystem on which the human species depends for survival. This is literally a fight for life—it’s that grave, it’s that serious.”

The President of the United States summarized it this way:

“I think it expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we have the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street. And yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.”

Their intentions can no longer be unclear.

The movement has also been criticized for being insignificant, yet there are, at the time of writing, solidarity movements in 1,567 cities worldwide. The movement can no longer be dismissed but by those who seek to perpetuate their own ignorance.

On Friday we witnessed the power of solidarity in the face of aggression and the victory of peaceful activism over forces that would seek to suppress it. The voice of the people was raised and it was heard. There can be no greater inspiration than this. The occupiers risked their safety, perhaps more than ever, facing the threat of a police force that has already bullied and brutalized them. They have been beaten, pepper sprayed, and arrested, and yet they stood their ground. Their patience and dedication was rewarded. On Friday morning, nonviolent activism faced a very real and very grave threat, and on Friday morning it won. Long live the occupation.

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