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Dispatches From the Day of Action: Occupy Wall Street Takes the Financial District and the Brooklyn Bridge

Days after New York’s Occupy Wall Street movement was driven from its home in Zuccotti Park, OWSers took to the streets as part of a long-planned “Day of Action” that now carried with it added importance. Would OWS carry on or crumble? Its ”Shut Down Wall Street” effort was to be its first test.      

The seven o’clock start time came and went, but when the march to ”Shut Down Wall Street” finally kicked off, it got heavy really fast. As the march left the environs of Zuccotti Park, headed up Cedar Street and turned onto Pine Street amid chants and cheers, an NYPD van partially blocked the street on a diagonal. At the same time, officers on foot shouted contradictory commands and scooter-borne cops revved up the commotion, sowing momentary confusion. 

In the end, the Occupy Wall Street crowd stayed calm, forged ahead -- funneling past the vehicular blockade -- and spilled into the intersection of Nassau and Pine as chants of “Whose streets? our streets!” and “We are the 99 percent!” echoed through the granite canyons of the Financial District. 

As it threaded its way through the maze of crooked streets, the march got livelier and more raucous. From Pine Street to Water Street to William Street and beyond the protesters seemed to have the upper-hand while the cops appeared to be back on their heels. 

On block after block, traffic was snarled as OWS demonstrators filled the tiny streets, moving in between cars and delivery trucks as they advanced. At the corner of Wall Street and Hanover, the march ran smack into a police cordon that had the effect of shutting down several blocks. “Lock down this intersection,” a young woman yelled, imploring those near the police line to move onward and those at the rear of the block to move up and then hold their ground. “Stay here and shut it down.”

“We are the source of all your wealth,” performed to the familiar tune of ““We are the 99 percent,” was the chant on the lips of the group of demonstrators who heeded her call and moved down Hanover Street. 

At the intersection of William and Exchange, the march ran into another police line and again started the “Whose streets? Our streets!” chant. On the sidewalk, one police officer clapped his hand against his megaphone in time with the call-and-response protest staple.

Increasingly stymied by police, the march nonetheless kept twisting along, moving onward to the intersection of Beaver and Broad streets where it stalled. As street medics, legal observers, reporters, photographers and demonstrators all milled around and police demanded everyone move to the sidewalks, a young woman wandered into the fray. Speaking on her cell phone, she had to repeat herself to be heard over the din of the crowd. “This is history I’m living through here!” she shouted. “History!”

Continuing on, the march fragmented as some protesters held intersections and broke off and police swarms, cordons and street closures took an increasing toll. As the marchers looped back up to Broadway, they ran into counter-protesters: all two of them. Two men in business suits held homemade neon green signs. The first, reading “Get a Job,” won no points for originality, but the second, “Occupy a Desk,” elicited a few grudging chuckles from the demonstrators. 

Back at Nassau and Pine streets, demonstrators had bottled up the intersection, as NYPD barricades and horse-mounted cops protected the approach to Wall Street.  On one sidewalk, on the southwest corner protesters staged a sit-in for a time. Many others milled about in the street, as cops pushed back, attempting to clear the way for cars and delivery trucks left stranded by the march. Slowly but surely, the police methodically pushed, cajoled and corralled most of the crowd onto the sidewalks, but some resisted, stood (or in some cases sat) their ground and paid the price. Cops began grabbing people, one at a time from Nassau Street and dragging them across the intersection, through the metal barricades to the secure area held by the mounted police. There, they were wrestled to the ground -- often by three or more cops -- cuffed and lined up to be carted off to jail.

About 10 hours after it began and after enduring cold temperatures, stiff winds and drenching rains, long and tiring marches around Manhattan, not to mention, police intimidation, harassment and in some case, beatings, OWSers were still at it and wound up their day with a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.

In its most desperate hour, facing its greatest test, Occupy Wall Street showed staying power that many doubted it had and others secretly feared it did. While a single “Day of Action” may not be a definitive gauge of a movement’s health or future, New York City’s Occupy Wall Street did send a message that its movement doesn’t require an encampment or any symbolic space to have a major impact on the city. Where Occupy Wall Street goes from here is anyone’s guess, but if today’s action was indication, it’s got some staying power, and free from the burdens inherent to holding the park, the movement has a chance to spread, as the marchers said, “everywhere.”

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