Occupy Wall St. Prepares for Crackdown -- Will Bloomberg Try to Tear It All Down?
"If Bloomberg really cared about sanitation here he wouldn't have blocked portapotties and dumpsters."
On Thursday afternoon Occupy Wall Street called an emergency General Assembly down at Liberty Plaza to deal with the announcement that Friday will see a cleanup of the park by the City, starting at 7 am. Representatives of Brookfield, the company that owns the park, said in the clean-up notice that everything left behind will be thrown away. On Thursday it was also revealed that Brookfield had sent a letter to police commissioner Ray Kelly asking the NYPD help clear out the protestors. A group of New York civil liberties lawyers warned the CEO of Brookfield that forcing protestors from the park violates their first amendment rights, stating, "Under the guise of cleaning the Park you are threatening fundamental constitutional rights. There is no basis in the law for your request for police intervention, nor have you cited any. Such police action without a prior court order would be unconstitutional."
The densely packed crowd is aware that reports are circulating that they will not be allowed to bring any gear back into the park after it's been cleaned, and they are discussing next steps.
"We have been self-governing and self-organized and taking care of our space," the woman facilitating the GA calls through the people's microphone earlier today. "Today we clean to call their bluff." The sanitation team is calling for all hands to clean the park, and indeed all morning volunteers have been picking up trash with gloved hands. The willingness of the protesters to embrace such tasks is part of the reason they’ve been successful in camping out for nearly a month.
Occupy Wall Street, as many have noted, isn’t just a protest, it’s a reclamation of public space, a new commons for people who feel left out and left behind by the current system. Arun Gupta, editor of the Indypendent and one of those who helped create the Occupied Wall Street Journal newspaper, says, “You have this uncommodified radical public space right in the heart of global capital. There is no money being exchanged, and that's remarkable in a city that is kind of the height of the idea that we exist to consume.”
He points out that the people claimed the space, and from there came up with the idea of the “We are the 99 percent” slogan that has taken hold across the country. “The mere presence itself,” in the square, he notes, “became almost the politics of it. It's through the space that we can bring real democracy into being.”
Symbolically snatching that space back just shouting distance from the New York Stock Exchange and holding on to it would be protest enough, but inside that space the protesters guilt a model for the communities they’d like to see. They created infrastructure, and the infrastructure they chose to build stands in stark contrast to the hacking and slashing at public infrastructure spending done over the last 30 or so years and rapidly accelerated in the age of austerity.
“People who couldn't afford food or health care, that's no longer the case. They can come here and get what they need,” says Red, a street medic at the medical station. “It's probably my favorite part of this movement.”
Red explains that the medical station is staffed by anywhere from five to 12 people at a time, some of whom are EMTs or trained medics, others are nurses or doctors. “We have five or six doctors that rotate in and out,” he says, “They work for free, sometimes they stay up all night.”
The medical station can't provide every bit of health care that people might need, of course—it's hardly set up for surgery or treatment of serious illnesses. But they're surprisingly well stocked, with donations from 1199 SEIU and the National Nurses United as well as supplies bought with cash donations. In a country that still balks at the idea of “socialized medicine,” having a place where one can get a free doctor visit is all too rare.
It's not just health care and free food that the occupiers are modeling in the park, it's everything from greener lifestyle techniques to support for arts and books.
The People's Library might be the most impressive structure in the park. It's now extended from the concrete benches along one wall onto tables, and the books have been stickered, labeled, and had their barcodes scanned and cataloged onto the web. This, as libraries across the US face budget cuts and closure.
“Our working group has 15 or 20 people,” Betsy Fagin, a Brooklyn librarian who is currently not working, tells me. Instead, she spends her days at Liberty Plaza, labeling and cataloging books, and her nights working on the online catalog. “We have a librarian in Indiana who is cataloging online for us,” she notes. As of Tuesday, Oct. 11, the library had around 400 records, and more donations are coming in all the time.(That's Day 25 of the occupation, according to a board that also provides a weather report, a donations count of more than $40,000 and an arrest count of 834-plus.)
On Tuesday, as I make my way through the park, there's a sign declaring the Arts and Culture space, and a man carrying a “Roving Help Desk” sign. A man with a broom and dustpan is sweeping up, and another scuttles to bring paper towels to wipe up some coffee that's spilled a bit too near some sleeping bags.
Over the weekend, the computers throughout the plaza (at the media station as well as the “Internet cafe” and phone charging station) were powered not by the generators that have kept them going most of the time, but by a solar panel-laden truck brought up by Greenpeace.
Robert Gardner, whose business card describes him as a “Coal Campaigner” for the organization, explains, “It's a two-kilowatt array on the truck, which rolls down. I'd take up the whole street if I could,” gesturing to the panels. It provides 50 kilowatt-hours of storage, he tells me, and can provide for the energy use of an average American home—or for several laptop computers and cell phones as well as a few lights that stay on as the late-night crowd works. Greenpeace normally uses the truck as a campaign tool to demonstrate clean energy, he says, but they heard the occupation was using gas generators and came up to donate clean power and lend their support.
That's not the only way the occupation is modeling more earth-friendly technologies. The kitchen, which now has several racks of dishes and supplies, has created agray water system to filter the water used to wash the dishes before using it to water the plaza's flowers.
It's not just the New York occupation that is creating institutions to provide care. Jamieson Robbins, who has been involved with Occupy Dallas and Occupy Fort Worth in Texas, tells me:
“The experience that I've had with my 3-year-old daughter out at Occupy Dallas and now Occupy Fort Worth has been nothing short of fantastic. Several days before our first march, discussion began on OccupyDallas.org about children being involved. Many people felt that having children present at our march was a liability and many were waiting to see how it goes before bringing out their young ones.
"I, and many others, thought about it a little differently. I think people should involve their families, their friends, their co-workers, their neighbors, but most of all their children. What are we fighting for if not for the chance to one day answer the question, 'Grandma, what was Occupy Wall Street?' with 'It was the beginning of change, my love. The country wasn't always the way it is now.' Not only that, but what a fantastic statement to onlookers to see not just hippies and anarchists, but families with their children's futures at stake.
“Now, I'm proud to say that Occupy Dallas, even under threat from city council to either buy a million-dollar insurance policy or face eviction, has set up a permanent 'Occuplay' child center within Pioneer Park.”
The shifting, growing infrastructure at the occupations around the country is taking shape differently in different places.
Street medic Red says, “It really restores your faith that there's some level of decency left in our culture.”
And it appears to be exactly what will be targeted by the mayor, the police, and the wealthy park owners. The infrastructure is exactly what makes Occupy Wall Street different from other protest actions, and by cleaning the park and trying to dismantle that infrastructure they're attempting to reduce the occupation's symbolic power.
"We are now creating a society that we envision for the world. Being responsible for ourselves is as the heart of that," the People's microphone rumbles.