Saturday, November 19, 2011

Shrub / Forest Block Storms the Castle: Bat signals and Mythmaking on N17

“Shrub/ Forest Block is growing!  must be all the rain.”  That was the email I got Wednesday night.  “It looks like we have about 11 shrubs, a group of dancers and we will align with RMO.”  There it was, the plan I'd almost forgotten.  We'd talked about it Monday night during a quiet meeting, which ended with a crazy all night cat and mouse game between police protecting the 1% and activists speaking out for the other 99.  A strange experience, it would take me a day or two to get my barrings back after being told over and over again that I cannot stand on the sidewalk, that I will have to move along, as the police said all night long Monday night during Bloomberg’s eviction on Wall Street.

We were supposed to meet the Shrub Block on the corner of Trinity and Liberty by the coffee shop at 7 AM.  November 17 was planned as a day of direct action

by Blake Walker 

Enough of this economy that exploits and divides us. It's time we put an end to Wall Street's reign of terror and begin building an economy that works for all. We will gather in Liberty Square at 7:00 a.m., before the ring of the Trading Floor Bell, to prepare to confront Wall Street with the stories of people on the frontlines of economic injustice. There, before the Stock Exchange, we will exchange stories rather than stocks.

My alarm started to ring at 5:45.  I got up at 6; drank a quick cup of coffee and rode back into the city.  An ominous feeling fluttered through my stomach.  We had a faculty meeting at school today and I did not want to be the one calling in from work as I have done on other occasions, during other police sweeps, and the like.  Direct action and work rarely coordinate that well.

Riding past the newly the newly squeaky clean Zuccotti Park, I parked my bike in front of the Burger King, just as I had Monday night.  While some were not happy with Judge Stallman’s  decision to prohibit tents from the space, there was nothing ideal about the encampment.  It was an experiment, with tends increasingly getting in the way of organizing General Assemblies.  The fact that the police were not allowing people carry signs into the space felt like overkill.  The bottom line of the ruling is it reaffirmed our right to be in the space 24/7. 

I t  would appear that  Zuccotti  Park is a privately owned public-access plaza, created in 1968 by a City Planning special permit  issued pursuant  to then existing author i ty of the New York City Zoning Resolution (Holloway Affirm. 119), which encouraged the creation of  space for  public use in exchange for  additional or  "bonus"  development rights given to the owners of  adjoining properties. Brookfield Properties, Inc. is the alleged owner  of Zuccot t i  Park. I t  is undisputed that  the special permit requires that Zuccotti  Park be  open to the public and maintained for  public use 365 days per year.

Across the country and the world, the movement was expanding and expanding.  Observing street actions which harkened back to the days of the Free Speech movement in Berkeley, my friend LM Bogad described the scene at the campus of the University of California at Berkeley in a text message:  “1,000s and 1,000’s  filling the plaza here in Berkeley campus is bursting at the seems, in the roof, in the trees, huge historic.”  The campus was teeming with people. 


Here in New York, the dynamic had shifted from one of open space to a feeling which harkened back to the 1984 like police conditions witnessed in 2004 when police arrested thousands, often for little more than walking on the sidewalk.  Much of this was on my mind as I walked over to the coffee to grab a donut and wait for the action.  Gradually activists from the Shrub Block began to appear.  Some from the Living Theater; others from Rev. Billy and Times Up!  We started dressing in elf costumes with branches and leaves attached to our hats and arms.  Waves of rallies would take off at separate times, starting at 8 PM.  We were going to be part of the Black Block. 

"When a forest comes to the castle Macbeth would be undone."
N17 the forest was invading another castle.
 Photo by Erik McGregor

Our theme was simple.  We were part of the park which we had been kicked out of, finding our way into the streets throughout the city.  “Kick us out the parks, we’ll take the streets,”  we chanted throughout the rally. 

 We started rehearsing our chants. 

“Hey Bloomberg, Beware!  Now Liberty Park is everywhere.”   

Photo by Peter Shapiro

LM Bogad mused that  the action invoked the twist ending of Shakespeare’s Macbeth when the seemingly impossible prophecy–“when a forest comes to the castle Macbeth would be undone”-was fulfilled. We were the forest to coming to Castle.  While there was no prophecy that Wall Street would fall when we occupy it, the forest was compelled to storm the castle nonetheless.  And perhaps some new mythology was already being created.

 Photo by Erik McGregor

“Get up! Get down! Take the parks all over this town!” we chanted moving up to
Broadway, “Happy Birthday Liberty! Happy Birthday Liberty! Liberty Square!” we chimed in as the Rude Mechanical Orchestra played.  

"Happy birthday Liberty!" by Peter Shapiro

And  we sang:

            “This park is your park
            This park if my park
            From Zuccotti to Tahrir Square
            Up at Oakland and down to Boston
            This park was made from you and me.”

We were part of the seeds of the movement dispersed all over the city, now taking roots around the world.  “Shrubs and Trees Occupy Wall Street!”   

At Broadway, we vamped it up, starting our chants, bringing a little levity and meeting activists from
RMO, the PSC, and FIERCE also being kicked out of their own Occupation at the West Side Piers. 

 We were supposed to march on Wall Street with the last wave, which we joined.

 Photo by Erik McGregor

 Photo by Erik McGregor
 Photo by Erik McGregor

We marched to Pine and Nassau, where activists took the street around 8:40 AM.  The streetscompletely clogged up the arteries into the financial district.  With more and more people clogging thearteries toward Wall Street, we moved further East, singing all the way.  At WIlliams and Pine, a group filled the street, congesting another corner.  The police stood watching, calling in reinforcements.  With members of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, the Shrub Block, Health Care Now, and FIERCE holding the space, police in riot gear started to push back.  Sensing we were being surrounded, I ducked out of the space.  Turning around I saw a policeman punch Monica in the face, as more and more police pushed in.  By this point, activists hunkered down, sitting down filling the corner.  By 9 AM, police started arresting people, dragging those they could grab out of the space.  More and more activists and journalists moved in, some joining activists now being arrested, others observing and photographing from the street.  RMO would play “We Shall Overcome” while another group sang an ironic rendition of the Star Spangled Banner as police dragged activists away. 

Photo by Peter Shapiro

Photo by Erik McGregor

This would go on all morning as activists clogged the streets from Nassau to Pine and Beaver Streets.  With an eye out for the orange protest netting used to sweep up protesters, I moved from site to site in the financial center before eventually moving back to Zuccotti Park.  I had never seen the financial center so jammed up. 

Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh
Photo by Brennan Cavanaugh
Joshua Stephens

By lunchtime, activists city wide would reconverge on Zuccotti, removing the police barricades surrounding the space. One man said he thought the yellow in the trees felt like an Akira Kurosawa film. While some reveled being back in the space, celebrating with dancing, the nerves of police as well as activists were fraying.  Clashes escalated with reports of blood and injuries from both sidesThe police pounced on young man, whose bloody image found its way into papers across the city and the world.   The next day, rumors circulated that Bloomberg was asking papers to refrain from publicizing the injuries in the park until his administration was able to investigate the matter.  His administration was also sending detectives to papers to stop further stories, as well as arresting reporters - all under the guise of the Patriot Act.  The actions were part of a pattern of brutality taking shape from coast to coast.  (A letter condemning the particularly nasty attack on non-violent students in California is being circulated nationally). 

Photo by Blake Walker
Aaron Ben Acer 

After running to school for two meetings, I jumped back on my bike for my second trip into the city at 4.  Unions were to be meeting at 3 PM in anticipation of the 5 PM scheduled rally at Foley Square.  Students had already started marching downtown from Union Square. 

Arriving at 4:15 Foley Square was already filling with people.  Members of indomitable Rude Orchestra were hanging out.  The square was getting so tight there was no where to even park.  I walked across the street, parked, and went to get a cup of coffee.  Standing in the bathroom line, there was Norm Siegel, the Civil Right’s attorney who took Giuliani to task for creating the authoritarian model of urban living resisted by OWS and supporters of a vibrant public space.  We talked about the Stallman decision.   Siegel noted that once he heard Stallman was on the case, he knew they would lose.  Upset with the news that police and activists had endured violence he chimed in:  “If you hear about any more of people being told they can’t being pizzas like they were today, call me, especially if they want to search anyone going into that space.  You should be treated the same way in that space as you are treated in any other space in the city.  If you want to bring in a pizza, you should be able to.”  Yet, a pattern was taking shape in which regular people were being denied access to the space, told they could not bring bikes or other things which have nothing to do with tents into the space.  And lawyers were requesting a conference with Judge Stallman in order to clarify his order.  

While we were talking, the rally was joined by students marching from Union Square. 
By 6 PM, tens of thousands carried candles to celebrate the two month anniversary of the movement.  As they marched, many were surprised to see a bat signal across the Verizon Building with the # “99.”

 The projection was  the creation of movement veteran Mark Read.  The message of love as an alternative to violence, as an alternative to business as usual would propel the movement, connecting it with Gandhi’s repertoire of non-violent civil disobedience, the Quakers, King, labor, ACT UP, and the Global Justice movement dovetailing with OWS through actions such the march of some 32,000,000 people cascading over the Brooklyn Bridge. 

Later that night …
There was another birthday, for this writer.  Since the Battle of Seattle and the Reclaim the Streets Buy Nothing Day action of 1999, a group of activists, friends and conspirators and I have taken part in an ongoing monthly, sometimes by-monthly salon.  And one was scheduled for later in the evening of November 17 at Blarney Stone, or for some of us “The Office.” And so around 9:30 PM, a few of those of us who had been on and off the streets, the Financial District and the Brooklyn Bridge would reconverge for a celebration of our day and collective efforts.  After riding West across the Manhattan Bridge for a third time that day, I would join those activists.  Arriving I ran into friends such as my co-editor Ron and movement veteran LA Kauffman, whose essay on consensus was published in Occupy #2, on OWS Inspired Gazette.  Members of Times Up!, had not only recovered 12 of the 14 stands and generators  confiscated by police from the police precinct on Wednesday, but participated in the day’s actions.  As Brennan Cavanaugh would point out, those deep cell batteries, just retrieved from NY Sanitation after the raid, helped project a little love on the Verizon building, "a little tearing down of the walls."  Activists who had been in jail fortwo days after the eviction caught up with others arrested earlier in the day, who had just gotten out of jail.  

 Photo by Erik McGregor

We would share war stories, compare notes on the day’s events, reflect, horse around and dance.  Word on the street was the stock market had not been able to open on time in the AM, disrupting business as usual.  The disruption of the everyday has long been part of the goal of such movements.  For many of us, there was a lot to celebrate in the nascent movement, which had taken a hit and kept pushing forward.  “You cannot evict an idea” many declared after the eviction.  Already, activists were thinking about ways to cope with the new restrictions on Zuccotti. 

As news of crack downs spread over the media and news, police were looking more and more authoritarian. Their response hearkened back to another era. Others would plead for the police not to behave as mercenaries for Wall Street

And activists were more than willing to push back, not with violence, but with assertive non-violence.   Tomorrow activists will continue to invade Bloomberg's castle, starting a 24 drum circle at Gracie Mansion at 2 PM, followed by a love-in in Central Park. 

Passing that little light
Throughout the movement, the Freedom Songs have found expression during demonstrations, rallies, and quiet moments at Zuccotti.  They were part of the performance by Pete Seeger for the movement at Columbus Circle.  And they are part of the daily ins and out of the movement.  “We Shall Overcome” was performed as people clogged the streets of the Financial District November 17th

Word on the street  is that Veterans of America’s 20th Century civil rights movement will enter the 21st Century Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles on Sunday, November 20.

Known as the “Council of Elders,” they will step inside the nationwide encampments to symbolically share the torch of hope and justice and engage the Occupiers in dialogue about defining movements of the past.  “We want to contribute to this intergenerational movement,” says Dr. Vincent Harding, activist and writer in the civil rights movement. “We are thankful for the efforts of Occupy Wall Street to unite the 99% and bring the many gifts and great energy of millions into effective action to transform our nation.”   

The Council of Elders is an independent group of leaders from the farm workers, sanctuary and human rights movements that shook the nation’s conscience with public protests over the past 50 years.
“We see Occupy Wall Street as a continuation, a deepening and expansion of the determination of the diverse peoples of our nation to transform our country into a more democratic, equitable, just, and compassionate society,” excerpt from the statement of solidarity by the Council of Elders to be read at each of the Occupy encampments.

By bringing their voices to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the elders are addressing a litany of social grievances, including poverty, mass incarceration, and what they call a culture of war and violence.  Dolores Huerta, activist with Cesar Chavez and the farm-workers movement, believes today’s conditions create bitter divisions among peoples across the United States and throughout the world.

“We applaud the miraculous extent to which the Occupy initiative around the nation has been non-violent and democratic, especially in light of the weight of the systematic violence under which the great majority of people are forced to live,” says Rev. James Lawson, leading theoretician, tactician and theologian of the civil rights movement.

The economic crisis which sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement also motivated the veteran protesters.  They cite soaring unemployment rates, home foreclosures, and inadequate health care as issues that require public outcries.

The Council of Elders promotes compassion and non-violent action as the highest values to reverse trends that put profits ahead of people in its quest to contribute to the much-needed movement for a more just society and a more peaceful world.

The council members are urging elders from around the nation to join the Occupy Wall Street movement.
It will be yet another pulsing day, in an already fascinating movement, which is already growing, succeeding, and creating its own mythology.  While it is not widely known, the prophecy that the world as we know it will no longer be when we Occupy Wall Street is already taking shape.  November 17th ,we stormed the castle.  

Occupy London

No comments:

Post a Comment