by Jimmy Carr, New York University student
Protesters representing New York University and the New School marched from Washington Square Park to Foley Square in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Student carried signs for their own varied causes: environmentalism, socialism, tax reform, anarchy, bipartisanship and more. Though no official estimates are available, it is thought the group numbered over one thousand.
The trail of students and professors stretched four blocks by the time it began to head south on Lafayette Street. “Please stay on the sidewalk,” stated the police. “It is illegal to obstruct pedestrian or vehicular traffic,” one officer informed the crowd. Legal considerations aside, the crowd rushed into the street and filled it, stopping traffic in both directions. Unlike the incident on the Brooklyn Bridge that occurred earlier this week and resulted in over 700 arrests, however, the police did not fight this seizure. They may not have been able; the comparably low police presence may indicate that the New York Police Department did not expect the Washington Square rally to draw such numbers.
Whose Street? Our Street!
“Whose street? Our street!” rang through Soho, through Chinatown and into lower Manhattan as the crowd progressed. NYPD officers on mopeds, who had formerly kept marchers on the sidewalk, buzzed slowly alongside the crowd. At the vanguard of the student column was a banner that makes their inspiration plain: “ARAB SPRING, EUROPEAN SUMMER, AMERICAN FALL.” One protester said that her cousin, a revolutionary in Egypt, told her, “You must do the same. You must start a revolution.”
In Foley Square, home to many New York courthouses, it is estimated that around fifteen thousand had gathered to show their support, including a large number of labor and trade unions. The now-unified masses marched to Liberty Plaza, the Occupy Wall Street Movement’s operations headquarters and literal home. Throughout the march, both the protesters and the police officers were generally polite and respectful; one officer kindly pointed out a protester’s unzipped purse so that she might close it in such a crowd.
Once in Liberty Plaza, the activists — and any passersby caught in the human tide — seemed to first do one thing: party. Musicians played looping, tribal rhythms; chants swept the park; individuals engaged in conversation both intellectual and silly; volunteers dispensed free food and cigarettes; others read books from “The People’s Library” as they lay upon air mattresses.
Then the marches started. First, to Wall Street. By the time the first wave arrived and began crossing Broadway, however, the NYPD intervened: No one would be allowed onto Wall Street. “Stay on the sidewalk,” was now an order, not a request, and it was shouted through a megaphone. “If you are in the street, you will be arrested.” Officers formed a human wall on either side of the road, and soon crowds of NYPD officials crowded the street. They brought with them the one thing that has come to instill the most fear and anger in the protesters: the orange nets.
“Are you gonna pen us in? Are you gonna trap us like animals?” shouted the crowd. The protesters claim that these same orange nets were used to force them onto the road on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, resulting in the mass arrests. One protester who has been arrested that day said, “They’re going to start arresting people. They’re going to close us in. Wait for the paddywagons.”
The paddywagons came, as did officers with large bunches of flexcuffs visibly attached to their pockets. As these officers positioned themselves, the real reinforcements arrived from Wall Street: police officers mounted on horses. The protesters screamed their disapproval, disgust and fear at such a show of force. According to witnesses, one woman punched an officer in the face, was sprayed with pepper spray, cuffed and arrested. Another man was cuffed and taken away, though it was not immediately clear what he was accused of doing. “Shame! Shame! Shame!” the crowd yelled.
By now, the students and the fair-weather observers were gone; those camping in Liberty Plaza don’t have homework to do. Yet, during the day, these same protesters held signs supporting particular reforms or changes. At night, it becomes hard to tell which causes the marchers support. Instead, they seem united in opposition to one thing: the NYPD. The marches—which, during the day, were displays of support and of peaceful anger, became little more than a means of frustrating and goading the NYPD.
Evening brings nastier run-ins
After the march on Wall Street, a smaller contingent headed further south toward Bowling Green. Before reaching there, however, the march fell apart into a series of altercations and arrests that sent protesters running and officers chasing to tackle. These happened so quickly and sporadically, however, that it’s tough to figure out why most occurred. At one scene, protesters asked angrily, “What did she do?” The officer responded, “Why did you run?”
After regrouping, the marchers set out again, this time winding a path throughout the Financial District that did finally bring them to Wall Street. Tensions rose, and then subsided, when the orange net again made a brief appearance. In-fighting began in the self-proclaimed “leaderless group” over which direction to take the march. The human mic wasn’t working, so the group broke apart. As the protesters turned west toward Liberty Plaza—temporary home for many—the march became a quieted trudge. Many would continue their night with additional marches and assemblies, but for some, it was time to rest so that they could occupy Wall Street again on Thursday.
This first-person account comes from Jimmy Carr, a sophomore at NYU, where he studies journalism, Arabic and history with a focus on wars and revolutions. He has also written for Movements.org and BornLikeThis.org.
Photos by Jimmy Carr