Wall Street and the showdown that wasn’t

A planned 6am ‘cleaning’ of Zuccotti Park was called off by the authorities at the last minute.

Tension between protesters and police has been growing at the Occupy Wall Street- NYC protest [GALLO/GETTY]

It had all the makings of a classic confrontation. No doubt that’s why all the TV trucks and cameras were in Zuccotti Park in Downtown Manhattan on Friday morning.

There was a smell of blood in the water after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a surprise five minute strut through the Occupy Wall Street encampment in the financial district on Wednesday, pronouncing it “filthy”.

I was there and am not sure what he could see in the darkness. He did not speak to anyone and attracted light heckling.

He had determined that the police would enforce a call by the realty company that owns and operates the park nominally to serve the public to shut it down for a “cleaning”.

To the protesters, that term sounded more like “clearing”. They saw the cleanliness issue as a pretext for an enforced political cleansing.

And so the conflict flared. Activists and labour unions in New York mobilised. Even The AFL-CIO sent out an alert urging members to go to the park. By 6am the park was overrun with sympathisers.

Sympathetic local politicians endorsed the occupiers in the name of free speech. The city went silent, but behind the scenes the real estate company had second thoughts when the telephone numbers of their CEO and international offices were circulated.

A rare outbreak of common sense seems to have erupted. The expected 6am battle of Wall Street was called off – for now.

On Thursday, the occupation marshalled a volunteer army of their own cleaners to scrub the park down. The New York Times featured a front-page picture of activists with the headline, “We spruced up the park, now can we stay?”

At the last minute, the protesters were allowed to stay in the park [GALLO/GETTY]

Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway issued some official speak: “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.”

When it was clear the police cavalry was not coming, there were shouts of victory and calls to march on Wall Street two blocks to the south. Police mobilised quickly with scooters and horses. One man was reportedly run over by a cycle, leading to a physical confrontation resulting in arrests.

As I write, it seems the police may be preparing a wave of mass arrests after a police commander fell to the ground tussling with protesters.

So far the Occupy Wall Street approach has been non-violent to a fault but tempers are rising on all sides, along with the testosterone of the more militant marchers. This violence could have a negative impact on growing public support although recent police overreactions actually swelled the ranks of the protest.

They insist that the city does not have a right to prevent protests on Wall Street and question Mayor Bloomberg’s deep ties to Wall Street where he and his company have made billions.

The protesters may have the sympathy but Wall Street owns the property. A story earlier this week reported on how many Wall Street firms hire off duty policemen. JP Morgan Chase recently donated $4.6m to a police charity.

An ever-growing movement

The Occupy Movement was reported to have sympathisers in 866 cities in 78 countries. It has clearly captured the imagination and support of activists worldwide. More than 700,000 people have signed a petition of support.

The Iranian government, under attack for a “plot” against Saudi and Israeli officials has endorsed the movement as a sign of a deepening crisis in the US.

This occupation activation continues to focus attention on economic inequality in the US and allegedly criminal conduct by Wall Street firms. It is now a big story, creating space for dissenting voices that have been denied airtime.

“[Ann Coulter] claimed the protesters, now in the thousands in New York, are ‘directionless losers [who] pose for cameras while uttering random liberal cliches.”

– Walter Brasch

Far right writers such as Ann Coulter remain on the attack, calling protesters “tattooed, body-pierced, sunken-chested 19-year-olds getting in fights with the police for fun”. Walter Brasch writes: “She claimed the protesters, now in the thousands in New York, are ‘directionless losers [who] pose for cameras while uttering random liberal clichés lacking any reason or coherence’.”

When you spend time with the Occupation, you know this is blatantly untrue – but we are in a world where images create impressions that shape conflicting narratives.

Occupy Wall Street has lived to fight another day, but not all the occupations have. Police raided the Occupy San Diego, vamped on activists in Austin Texas and arrested 100 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Many see themselves as part of an awakening, an “American Autumn” in the spirit of the Arab Spring. There is an ongoing face off between the upholders of a selective “law and order” and a movement for economic justice.

Writes journalist John Pilger: “The Occupy Wall Street Movement is one of the most exciting signs that the US resistance is finally waking from its Obama-induced sleep. This is the critical issue, above all others, that will ignite support across the US. On the day in 2008 that Bush announced the first bail-out of Wall Street, the White House received some 24,000 emails, most of them from ordinary Americans and all of them angry. If the current protests can join up with this populism, in the best sense of the populist tradition, it will give rise to genuine hope – and, more important, an unerring resistance.”

One side in this continuing conflict has physical power but lacks moral power.

And that can make the difference as the Martin Luther King Jr statue on the Mall is officially unveiled. It was King who said: “We have a right to fight for what is right.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter writes the newsdissetor.com blog and made the film Plunder The Crime of Our Time (Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com) on financial crimes and the economic crisis. Comments to dissector@mediachannel.org

The views expressed in this article are the authors own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeeras editorial policy.


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