It's Alive! Occupy Actions Across the Country Show the Movement's Impact
Photo Credit: Alyssa Figueroa
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10 AM ET — New York by Sarah Jaffe
There is no longer an Occupy Wall Street.
That's what all the mainstream outlets are saying this week, and they're right in one way. What started as a couple hundred people in a park with no plan has turned into a decentralized, distributed network of activists, affinity groups, organizations and organizers, working on everything from free education to fracking. And so as New York's financial district was choked with glitter, balloons, dance parties and a whole lot of police, Occupy's anniversary feels less like a celebration of what was and more a demonstration of what's becoming.
The plan on paper sounded much like November 17th: Shut down the NYSE bell. But it quickly became very different. Maps handed out over the weekend (along with pre-coordinated text message lists) separated the Financial District into quadrants, each with its own theme: the Eco Zone, the Debt Zone, the Education Zone, and the 99% Zone (which includes the original occupation site at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza). At 7am, groups assembled in each zone to spread throughout the financial district, staging creative actions as well as old-fashioned sit-down protests, designed to confuse, distract, and infiltrate the heart of Wall Street.
From the red cube across from Zuccotti Park, one march headed out and down Broadway, to run straight into the police barricades at Wall Street. But unlike last fall, when the confrontations wound up as heated stare-downs between occupiers and police, this time groups of people splintered off and set off to do their own thing. The maps had marked strategically important locations--bank and corporate headquarters, the US Bankruptcy Court, Emblem Health, TD Ameritrade, and many more.
The NYPD, meanwhile, had set up its own occupation, more thoroughly shutting down and annoying the residents of the financial district than Occupy ever did. Barricades closed off all access to Wall Street and many other locations as well as encircling Zuccotti and lining both sides of Broadway. We spoke to one woman who was headed to her first day of work on Wall Street and was not allowed through the barricades because she did not yet have an ID--she struggled with tears as she told her story.
The police moved away from kettling and mass arrests a while ago and have settled on a much more terrifying tactic--seemingly random snatch and grabs, yanking people off the sidewalk out of a crowd. Artist Molly Crabapple was one such arrest, seized at around 8:00 AM from a march on a sidewalk near her Financial District apartment. So too was student organizer Isham Christie, grabbed off the sidewalk in front of me, seemingly for crossing the street at Broadway and Wall Street around 9:30 AM. While Christie is a longtime Occupy organizer, Crabapple is an internationally-known illustrator and artist (and, full disclosure, a sometime collaborator with this author) whose Occupy-related posters and prints have been wheat-pasted around the globe. According to National Lawyers Guild New York president Gideon Oliver, the 100-odd arrests by 11:00 AM also included a working legal observer, Damen Morgan, arrested while taking down names of arrestees. The arrests have tended to be quick, sometimes brutal, designed to intimidate and unnerve.
We watched the "balloon bloc," "writer's bloc," and "free university" blocs head out, and then an organizer I've known for over a year grabbed my arm and told me, "You don't want to miss this."
I fell in with her and a small group that wouldn't tell me the plan but warned me that arrests were possible, and we moved down Water Street to the Chase building around the corner, where I fell back and watched the crew stroll unhindered through the revolving doors--and pull out bouncing balls, confetti, and a letter to Jamie Dimon, which they read out loud--until the cops finally came in. Most of them, including longtime members of Occupy's Direct Action Working Group, made it out again just fine, though a few arrests were reported, among them possibly NYU professor Andrew Ross of Occupy Student Debt.