Occupy Wall Street continues

Posted: November 17, 2011 in News

Latest Developments

Nov. 17 Hundreds of protesters from Zuccotti Park clashed with the police as they tried to reach the New York Stock Exchange in the morning, and at least 50 were arrested. Protesters had vowed to prevent traders from reaching the stock exchange on Wall Street, and some traders did appear to have a hard time reaching the building. But the stock exchange opened for trading as usual at 9:30 a.m. Many members of the group pushed through lines formed by police, waving signs and banging drums as they moved. The police started taking protesters into custody who had sat down on the street about a block away from the exchange.

Nov. 16 Overnight, Zuccotti Park remained largely quiet and unoccupied. As a steady drizzle fell early in the morning, only a few dozen protesters remained. Despite a late-night protest, when members of Occupy Wall Street marched from Zuccotti Park to 1 Police Plaza to oppose alleged police abuse from the previous night, there was little friction between protesters and law enforcement. A bit farther north, at Judson Memorial Church, across the street from Washington Square Park, about 60 protesters had sprawled out on blankets in the church’s lower parish hall.

Nov. 15 Police arrested 140 protesters during a sweep of Zuccotti Park. Just after midnight, hundreds of officers arrived at the park, where they set up bright klieg lights. Through multiple bullhorns, the police issued an ultimatum: Get out of Zuccotti or get arrested. Some protesters grabbed valuables and slipped away. But others resisted. They stood in a tight ring in the center of the park and locked elbows. Some used bicycle locks and chained themselves together. About 1 a.m. the police entered the park and removed tents, tarp-covered bundles and other belongings, which were fed into garbage trucks. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg defended his decision to clear the park, saying “health and safety conditions became intolerable.” After the sweep, one group of protesters briefly occupied a lot owned by Trinity Church a mile north, at Canal Street, until they were flushed out. Another group returned to Zuccotti, awaiting the outcome of a court hearing on a restraining order against the eviction. Later in the afternoon, a judge ruled that the city had the right to enforce rules against camping in the park. At 5:33 p.m., more than 16 hours after the police evicted the protesters, they allowed protesters back in, single file. They can stay as long as they like, the city said, but they cannot sleep there overnight. See updates on the CityRoom blog and Twitter.

Nov. 14 Hundreds of police officers in riot gear raided the Occupy Oakland encampment in the early morning, making 33 arrests and flattening tents after city officials had issued several warnings for protesters to abandon the camp in the wake of a fatal shooting near the site last week. As city officials around the country move to disband Occupy Wall Street encampments amid growing concerns over health and public safety, protesters have begun to erect more tents on college campuses. Tents went up last week at Harvard in Cambridge, Mass., and at the University of California, Berkeley. Protesters in California have vowed to occupy dozens of other campuses in the coming days.

Nov. 11 Volunteers at a medical tent and on a sanitation team were trying to combat the conditions at Zuccotti Park, which have left Occupy Wall Street demonstrators susceptible to viruses.

Nov. 8 Union leaders, who were initially cautious in embracing the Occupy movement, have in recent weeks showered the protesters with help — tents, air mattresses, propane heaters and tons of food. The protesters, for their part, have joined in union marches and picket lines across the nation.

Background

Occupy Wall Street is a diffuse group of activists who say they stand against corporate greed, social inequality and the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process. On Sept. 17, 2011, the group began a loosely organized protest in New York’s financial district, encamping in Zuccotti Park, a privately owned park open to the public in Lower Manhattan.

The idea, according to some organizers, was to camp out for weeks or even months to replicate the kind, if not the scale, of protests that had erupted earlier in 2011 in places as varied as Egypt, Spain and Israel.

On the group’s Web site, Occupywallstreet, they describe themselves as a “leaderless resistance movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent.”

The 1 percent refers to the haves: that is, the banks, the mortgage industry, the insurance industry. The 99 percent refers to the have-nots: that is, everyone else. In other words, said a group member: “1 percent of the people have 99 percent of the money.”

Three weeks into the protest, similar demonstrations spread to dozens of other cities across the country, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Boston.

In October, demonstrations in emulation of Occupy Wall Street were held in Europe, Asia and the Americas, drawing crowds in the hundreds and the thousands.

The political impact of the movement was increasingly plain. Democrats offered cautious support and Republicans were generally critical, but both parties seemed to agree that the movement was changing public debate.

While the protesters seem united in feeling that the system is stacked against them, with the rules written to benefit the rich and the connected, they are also just as often angry about issues closer to home, like education and the local environment. Each gathering bubbles up from its own particular city’s stew of circumstances and grievances, and the protesters bring along their pantheons of saints and villains.
A new set of challenges to the Occupy Wall Street movement began to emerge on Oct. 29, namely, winter. In the Northeast, a storm bearing strong winds and wet snow rolled up north. There was concern in the movement that the effort needed to stay warm — for that storm and those to follow — could eventually be a drain on the movement’s intellectual energies; and, of course, on its numbers.

The Early Days

Within a week of the initial demonstration, the protest grew. On Sept. 24, police made scores of arrests as hundreds of demonstrators, many of whom had been bivouacked in the financial district as part of the protest, marched north to Union Square without a permit. As darkness fell, large numbers of officers were deployed on streets near the encampment in Zuccotti Park, where hundreds more people had gathered.

Efforts to maintain crowd control suddenly escalated: protesters were corralled by police officers who put up orange mesh netting; the police forcibly arrested some participants; and a deputy inspector used pepper spray on four women who were on the sidewalk, behind the orange netting.

On Oct. 1, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators who marched north from Zuccotti Park and took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action, but protesters said they believed the police had tricked them, allowing them onto the bridge, and even escorting them partway across, only to trap them in orange netting after hundreds had entered.

As the Occupy Wall Street message of representing 99 percent of Americans spread across the country, news media coverage of the Occupy movement spread, too, to the front pages of newspapers and the tops of television newscasts.

Michael R. Bloomberg announced on Oct. 12 that the protesters would have to leave temporarily starting at 7 a.m. Oct. 14 so that the park could be cleaned. Many called the evacuation order a pretext for shutting down the protests permanently. The cleanup was postponed shortly before it was supposed to begin, averting a feared showdown between the police and demonstrators.

Buoyed by the longevity of the encampment in Manhattan, a wave of protests swept across Asia, the Americas and Europe the following day, with hundreds and in some cases thousands of people expressing discontent with the economic tides in marches, rallies and occasional clashes with the police.

In New York, the police arrested 45 during a raucous rally of thousands of people in and around Times Square.

Other than in Rome, where a largely peaceful protest turned into a riot, the demonstrations across Europe were largely peaceful, with thousands of people marching past ancient monuments and gathering in front of capitalist symbols like the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Similar scenes unfolded across cities on several continents, including in Sydney, Australia; Tokyo; Hong Kong; Toronto; and Los Angeles, where several thousand people marched to City Hall as passing drivers honked their support.

But just as the rallies in New York have represented a variety of messages — signs have been held in opposition to President Obama yards away from signs in support of him — so did the protests contain a grab bag of sentiments, opposing nuclear power, political corruption and the privatization of water.

Powerful Unions Lend Support

The protest in New York got reinforcements on Oct. 5, when prominent labor unions — struggling to gain traction on their own — joined forces with the demonstrators. Thousands of union members marched with the protesters from Foley Square to their encampment in Zuccotti Park.

The two movements may be markedly different, but union leaders maintain that they can help each other — the weakened labor movement can tap into Occupy Wall Street’s vitality, while the protesters can benefit from labor’s money, its millions of members and its stature. Labor leaders said they hoped Occupy Wall Street would serve as a counterweight to the Tea Party and help pressure President Obama and Congress to focus on job creation and other concerns important to unions.

The Police Response

The police’s actions suggested the flip side of a force trained to fight terrorism, but that may appear less nimble in dealing with the likes of protesters.

In everyday policing situations, the one-two punch of uniformed response usually goes like this: Blue shirts form the first wave, with white shirts following. But those roles seem reversed in the police response to the Wall Street protests.

As the protests lurched into their third week, it was often the white shirts — the commanders atop an army of lesser-ranking officers in dark blue — who laid hands on protesters or initiated arrests. Video recordings of clashes showed white shirts — lieutenants, captains or inspectors — leading underlings into the fray.

And a white shirt is the antagonist in the demonstrations’ defining image thus far: Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna’s dousing of penned-in women with pepper spray on Sept. 24, which seemed to surprise at least one of the blue shirts standing near him.

Police officers, law enforcement analysts and others cited a number of reasons for it. The prevalence of white shirts around Zuccotti Park, the center of the protests, signals how closely the department monitors high-profile events. Strategies are carefully laid out; guidelines for crowd dispersal are rehearsed; arrest teams are assembled. It is all in an effort to choreograph a predictable level of control.

Yet in the pepper-spray episode on Sept. 24, critics say, judgment was lacking.

Deputy Inspector Bologna faces an internal disciplinary charge that could cost him 10 vacation days, the police said on Oct. 19. The office of the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., also opened an investigation into the episode, which was captured on video and disseminated on the Internet.

The police said on Oct. 20 that the “cumulative arrest” number since the movement’s start was 942.

The Political Response

As the protest entered its fourth week, leading Democratic figures, including party fund-raisers and a top ally of President Obama, were embracing the spread of the anti-Wall Street protests in a clear sign that members of the Democratic establishment see the movement as a way to align disenchanted Americans with their party.

But while some Democrats see the movement as providing a political boost, the party’s alignment with the eclectic mix of protesters makes others nervous. They see the prospect of the protesters’ pushing the party dangerously to the left — just as the Tea Party has often pushed Republicans farther to the right and made for intraparty run-ins.

Mr. Obama spoke sympathetically of the Wall Street protests, saying they reflect “the frustration” that many struggling Americans are feeling. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader, sounded similar themes.

It is not at all clear whether the leaders of the amorphous movement actually want the support of the Democratic establishment, given that some of the protesters’ complaints are directed at the Obama administration. Among their grievances, the protesters say they want to see steps taken to ensure that the rich pay a fairer share of their income in taxes, that banks are held accountable for reckless practices and that more attention is paid to finding jobs for the unemployed.

Leading Republicans, meanwhile, grew increasingly critical of the protests. Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, called the protesters “a growing mob,” and Herman Cain, a Republican presidential candidate, said the protests are the work of “jealous” anti-capitalists.

The Media Take Notice

Coverage of the movement in the first week of October 2011 was, for the first time, quantitatively equivalent to early coverage of the Tea Party movement in early 2009, according to data released by the Pew Research Center.

The data confirmed an anecdotal sense that the movement, which slowly gained speed in September, had entered the nation’s collective consciousness for the first time when President Obama was asked about it at a news conference and when national television news programs were first anchored from the Wall Street protest site.

In the first full week of October, according to Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, the protests occupied 7 percent of the nation’s collective news coverage, up from 2 percent in the last week of September. Before then, the coverage was so modest as to be undetectable.

The study showed that cable news and radio, which had initially ignored the protests almost entirely, started to give the protests significant coverage in early October, often with a heavy dose of positive or negative opinion attached.

Some protesters have assailed news media outlets for scoffing at their leaderless nature and lack of agreed-upon goals, but some have also carefully courted attention from those outlets.

The spike in news media coverage is significant because, among other reasons, it may lend legitimacy to the movement and spur more people to seek out protest information on Facebook and other Web sites.

Getting Specific

A frequent criticism of the protesters has been the absence of specific policy demands. Demonstrators formed the Demands Working Group in early October, hoping to identify specific actions they would formally ask local and federal governments to adopt. But the very nature of Occupy Wall Street made that task difficult, in New York and elsewhere.

In New York, the demands committee held a two-hour open forum Oct. 10, coming up with two major categories: jobs for all and civil rights. The team will continue to meet twice a week to develop a list of specific proposals, which it will then discuss with protesters and eventually take to the General Assembly, a nightly gathering of the hundreds of protesters in the park.

A two-thirds majority would have to approve each proposal, and any passionate opponent could call for the entire vote to be delayed.

The General Assembly has already adopted a “Declaration of the Occupation of New York City,” which includes a list of grievances against corporations and a call for others to join the group in peaceful assembly. To many protesters, that general statement is enough, and the open democracy of Zuccotti Park is the point of the movement.

Elsewhere, Occupy Boston, Occupy D.C. and Occupy Philadelphia were among the many groups in the movement slowly formulating demands, though in each city, opposition has arisen from skeptical demonstrators.

Other Confrontations

After weeks of cautiously accepting the teeming round-the-clock protests spawned by the Occupy Wall Street movement, several cities came to the end of their patience and others appeared to be not far behind.

In Oakland, Calif., the police filled downtown streets with tear gas late on Oct. 25 to stop throngs of protesters from re-entering a City Hall plaza that had been cleared of their encampment earlier in the day. Those protests, which resulted in more than 100 arrests and at least one life-threatening injury, appeared ready to ignite again the following night, but broke up peacefully after a well-attended rally and an impromptu march to police headquarters.

On Nov. 2 and 3, a small group of demonstrators in Oakland faced off against police following a peaceful march of thousands of protesters. A roving group of about 100 mostly young men broke from the main group of protesters in a central plaza and roamed through downtown streets spraying graffiti, burning garbage and breaking windows. The police said some in the group briefly occupied a building on 16th Street near the port.

After warning the group to clear the building, officers in riot gear fired tear gas and bean bag rounds shortly after midnight local time. Dozens of protesters “wielding shields” were arrested, the police said; the building was cleared by around 2 a.m.

In San Francisco, city officials had also seemingly hit their breaking point, warning several hundred protesters that they were in violation of the law by camping at a downtown site after voicing concerns about unhealthy and often squalid conditions in the camp, including garbage, vermin and human waste.

In Atlanta, Mayor Kasim Reed ordered the police to arrest more than 50 protesters early on Oct. 26 and remove their tents from a downtown park after deciding that the situation had become unsafe, despite originally issuing executive orders to let them camp there overnight. .

Similar confrontations could soon come to pass in other cities, including Providence, R.I., where Mayor Angel Taveras has vowed to seek a court order to remove protesters from Burnside Park, which they have occupied since Oct. 15.

Continuing a week of crackdowns across the country, 26 Occupy Nashville protesters were arrested early Oct. 29, the second such roundup, for trespassing. And for the second night running, a judge dismissed the protesters’ arrest warrants, according to an official for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.

In Denver, protesters faced off with police officers in Civic Center Park. The melee that followed was one of the most intense clashes with the police since the protest groups began gathering in a downtown park more than a month ago.

www.nytimes.com

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