Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has announced yesterday that the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrators will be allowed to remain in Zuccotti Park and continue demonstrating: “the bottom line is – people want to express themselves. And as long as they obey the laws, we’ll allow them to,” he told reporters, though he then added that he imagined the onset of colder weather will partly determine how much longer OWS remains camped out in lower Manhattan.
This is a surprising change of tone from the mayor, who at the end of September told reporters that “we'll see” how much longer OWS would be allowed to remain in Zuccotti Park. The mayor’s general attitude toward the demonstrations, though, does not seem to have changed much from his recent assertion that “the protests that are trying to destroy the jobs of working people in this city aren’t productive.”
In his remarks, Bloomberg reiterated his support for the demonstrators First Amendment rights and for the New York Police Department's (NYPD’s) actions toward the protests. He again warned than any OWS demonstrator who breaks city laws will be arrested immediately.
Bloomberg’s statement likely illustrates awareness among the authorities that by continuing to rail against the demonstrators and hint at their eviction, they have only increased the movement’s profile (a lesson that the Democratic Party seems to be learning, though Republican politicians continue to rail against the demonstrators and even express concern that they might actually affect Beltway politics).
The private owner of Zuccotti Park, Brookfield Office Properties, also seems to have grudgingly accepted the presence of the demonstrators – at least for now, while laying the groundwork to possibly evict them if that becomes the desire of the mayor's office. The NYPD says it can only clear Zuccotti Park (which is actually named after Brookfield's chairman) if the firm asks them to on the basis of the protesters not complying with “regulations” promulgated by Brookfield. While Brookfield could likely accomplish this by declaring OWS participants to be trespassers violating park rules, the property management firm has apparently so far refrained from pressing any formal legal claims or filing for a court-mandated eviction order. “We continue to work with the City of New York to address these conditions and restore the park to its intended purpose,”Brookfield said in a statement, citing that while OWS had violated park rules by bringing in tarps and sleeping bags (and was causing an “unacceptable” sanitation problem), nothing has yet been done.
While the public is theoretically allowed access to the park 24/7, Brookfield can determine the nature of that access, so even Bloomberg's “indefinite” remarks are conditional on what Brookfield decides, and Brookfield has repeatedly expressed concern over the sanitation situation at the park (as has the mayor). At this stage, it seems that the mayor, the NYPD and Brookfield are in agreement to allow the demonstrators to remain in the hopes that the movement loses prominence and its numbers peter out as winter approaches.
The mayor’s announcement comes on the heels of moves by OWS to expand their park presence in the city. On Saturday, a group of around 1,000 demonstrators, including Egyptian activist Mohammed Ezzeldin, held a general assembly at Washington Square Park. “They [can] cuff our hands, but they can never cuff our ideals!” Mohammed shouted to the appreciative crowd.
OWS also used the rally to explain the functions of their “working groups,” each of which handles specific aspects of the movement’s outreach and logistics needs. A speaker from the working group that handles donated supplies proudly asked donors and volunteers to “show Wall Street the right way to handle stock.” Media, sanitation and labor outreach group members also spoke on their activities. Despite critical assertions that the movement is hopelessly diffuse, the speakers present illustrated that OWS does possess a comprehensive internal organization to facilitate its “direct democracy” action.
The visual centerpiece of the Saturday event was a 12-foot (give or take) effigy of Lady Liberty. Nathan Leigh, one of the crafters of the object, said that he and his friends on the Arts & Culture Working Group had chosen the Statue of Liberty because of its universal symbolism. Made out of burlap, cardboard, newspaper and broom handles, the effigy will likely be brought to other events.
Hoping to raise student awareness of OWS, an “unemployed superhero,” The Master of Degrees (who wears a graduation gown, a domino mask and is shackled by a student debt ball and chain) was present at the event, though the New York University student body’s reaction to the Saturday event seems to have been somewhat muted. Despite the large number of students participating in the movement, continued student outreach – and outreach in general – remains a high priority for OWS.
As evening approached, the demonstrators, led by individuals bearing an Egyptian flag, then marched down Broadway on Saturday evening to return to Zuccotti Park.
A member of OWS, Alex Fethiere, told this reporter that because OWS does not have a permit to occupy Washington Square Park (the city park closes between midnight and 6 AM every day), the march was undertaken partly to avoid any possibility of confrontations with the NYPD in Washington Square Park, but also to help raise New Yorkers’ overall awareness of the demonstrators’ actions.
The march, which was confined to one sidewalk by the NYPD, caught many bystanders by surprise as it marched past numerous shops and street vendors. For many of those who came upon the march, its existence seemed to come as a surprise. There were audible grumblings from older bystanders who made cracks about the march being an inconveniencing mob of unemployed students. The younger crowd and families seemed to be excited by, if not wholly aware, of the demonstrators, who chanted, “We are the 99 percent and so are you!”
A handful of very vocal marchers near the front – all young men wearing bandanas to hide their faces – attempted to lead chants of “Fuck the police!” during the march, but were drowned out by a far large number of people shouting in response, “This is a peaceful protest!” Throughout the demonstrations, OWS organizers have worked to avoid violent confrontations with police, as the movement considers them to be part of “the 99 percent.”
The NYPD was not keen to let people linger, though, shouting through bullhorns for journalists and bystanders on the other side of the street to not step out in between parked cars to take photos or videos of the demonstrators marching. Despite (or perhaps because of?) a heavy NYPD presence, the march ended without seeing anything like the clashes and mass arrests that marred last weekend’s OWS events.
Meanwhile, in DC over the weekend, demonstrators affiliated with OWS protesting the US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan marched on the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, leading to a confrontation with police and multiple arrests as demonstrators tried to force access into the museum. One of the self-proclaimed provocateurs in that clash (who got pepper-sprayed) is a Mr. Patrick Howley, an assistant editor of The American Spectator, a conservative-leaning magazine. He makes clear in his article that he intended to escalate and delegitimize the protests:
“As far as anyone knew I was part of this cause – a cause that I had infiltrated the day before to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator – and I wasn't giving up before I had my story.”
This wording appeared in his original reporting, but after the original article was removed from the Spectator's web page, a revised version appeared without the “to mock and undermine in the pages of The American Spectator” phrase. Yet his commentary, further revised so that his decision to force entry to the museum has been rebranded as an effort “to find a place to observe” is still openly disdainful of the demonstrators: “socialist indoctrination methods are surprisingly effective,” he quips, especially when many “foot soldiers” are “attractive 20-year old girls,” but he concludes that these “lefties” “lack the nerve to confront authority.”
OWS solidarity demonstrations continue to grow in other US states and in cities around the globe. The large SEIU 32BJ union will be holding a solidarity march this week, keeping in mind their own goal to renegotiate contracts for 25,000 cleaning workers by the end of the year. Despite the endorsements OWS has received from unions, notably the AFL-CIO, its organizers maintain that OWS has its own agenda that is distinct from the unions’, which have specific goals (such as the new contract deal noted above).
And later today, Crain’s New York Business reports, the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change, Strong Economy for All and United NY (“seasoned agitators,” Crain's terms them, blowing the old “bomb-throwing anarchist” dog whistle), intend to lead a “millionaire’s march” through the Upper East Side. In a not unrelated story, Crain’s also reports – rather tongue in cheek, actually – “Amid hard times, Wall Streeters expect higher bonuses.”
The march of the “seasoned agitators” is expected to take in the Upper East Side residences of Jamie Dimon (CEO of JP Morgan Chase) David Koch (co-owner of Koch Industries) and Rupert Murdoch (CEO of News Corp.), among others. The New York Post reports that perhaps 400-800 demonstrators will march up Fifth Avenue “to present them with oversize checks to dramatize how much less they will pay when New York State's 2 percent tax on millionaires expires at the end of the year.”
One has to wonder if anyone will bring a “Stop Kochblocking the Economy” sign with them, as a demonstrator suggested a sign with slightly different wording on display last week should have read.