|Members of the Occupy Wall Street movement were removed from Zuccotti Park on November 15 [Reuters]|
Bloomberg News was standing by as its founder Mayor Michael Bloomberg ordered his Cossacks in riot gear to “cleanse” Zuccotti Park in the middle of the morning to replace one group of occupiers with another.
No doubt emboldened by earlier evictions in Oakland and Portland, and with a sound truck emitting noise to disorient protestors and add to the chaos, Bloomberg’s office was saying, “protesters can return after the park is cleared”.
Until this point, the mayor had gone back and forth with threats to clear the park in the name of preserving public safety, of course, and upholding the wishes of the huge Brookfield Realty group, which owns the “public” park and on whose board Bloomberg’s girlfriend sits.
For weeks, the Murdoch press had been baiting Bloomberg as weak and a wuss for not getting tough as they focused on any act of depravity they could find or invent. But now, the park is gone – for now – but the Movement says it will go on.
As the cops and the Sanitation Department dismantled tents and occupied the area, keeping pedestrians out, the Occupy Wall Street media team was issuing a statement that began, ”You can’t evict an idea whose time has come”.
The statement continued: “This burgeoning movement is more than a protest, more than an occupation, and more than any tactic. The ‘us’ in the movement is far broader than those who are able to participate in physical occupation. The movement is everyone who sends supplies, everyone who talks to their friends and families about the underlying issues, everyone who takes some form of action to get involved in this civic process.
“Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces – our spaces – and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people – all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe that is a highly popular idea, and that is why so many people have come so quickly to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99 per cent movement.”
The mayor acted after authorities in Oakland, California and Portland, Oregon evicted occupation activists from camps there. In both cities, activists have seized new parks and areas to use as launching pads for more protests.
In New York, the New York Times reported, “The protesters resisted with chants of ‘Whose park? Our park!’ as the police began moving in and tearing down tents. The protesters rallied around an area known as ‘the kitchen’ and began building barricades with tables and pieces of wood. Officers told the demonstrators that the city had ‘determined that the continued occupation of Zuccotti Park poses an increasing health and fire safety hazard’.”
Demonstrators had been cleaning the park and cooperating with the fire department. Most felt this concern was a pretext to justify an eviction of the kind that has now occurred.
Polar Levine, a local resident and musician who worked with me on my film “Plunder” about Wall Street crime, walked to the park but was turned away. He shared his experience in a rushed mid-morning account:
“The cops blocked off access to the park. They humiliated themselves. Pathetic. Pushing people back and back. I ask what is this about as [I] was told by a number of cops – apparently this was the talking point – that we’re blocking pedestrians.
“I pointed out that this is my neighborhood and I know that the only pedestrians to be found are us. Everything is closed. It’s 2AM. No workers, no shoppers. Why insult me with bullshit? Why not just say we were told not to let you see what’s we’re doing a couple blocks south?
“I’d understand. But I won’t be told to go home for no good reason. I was talking to them the whole time non-stop, very slowly and calmly. Interesting, they would listen. A few broke rank enough to respond at moments of calm and then get violent and stupid. You can see I’m speaking to you with respect. I know you go home to some of the worst-hit neighborhoods – foreclosures, etc. You’re union guys. We consider you to be allies. Please think later tonight about what you were doing.
“I’m in front with a very large cop’s hand pushing on my neck, then sticking his bat in my gut. All about nothing. No property being even spat at, no violence. A pretty dumb spectacle. A hard place for them to be – they’re on the job following orders from above. No way to know to what degree they’re conscious of why they’re doing what they’re doing aside from the on-the-job-following-orders rationale.
“I told them we understand you’re working a job, probably supporting families. But later on – think about it on the way home – people are being banged up, arrested. I say, in a tone that resembled a concerned friend – if your kids ask you why you’re doing this to people with absolutely no pretext, what do you say? Your faces are being broadcast all over the web right now and will be all day tomorrow. You’ll see yourself on the side of creating a riot about nothing.“
It’s still early morning in New York, and there’s a call for an assembly at Foley Square, a park that fronts on the New York courts. Reports on internal divisions within the movement have given way to a united response to the police action undertaken in what’s always been thought of as a “liberal city” presided over by a liberal mayor. Polls in New York had shown support for Occupy Wall Street by a three-to-one margin, with even more New Yorkers backing their right to protest. It was police arrests of protesters that turned public opinion in their favour in the first place.
Until this point, the Fox News media assault on the Occupy movement had not really changed public opinion. But none of that may matter now. as the movement and the city face a new situation.
Occupy Wall Street as a movement is hardly dependent on access to one park. This is an issue that the government is taking seriously, too, amid reports that young people are turning away from and against President Obama.
There’s nothing like police overreaction to harden attitudes. The rousting of the park will lead to more conflict and polarisation. You can count on it.
News Dissector and blogger Danny Schechter called for protests in his film Plunder: The Crime Of Our Time, exposing financial crimes on Wall Street. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.