New York – Activists from the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City flooded Times Square on Saturday as part of a global day of action, with protesters packing the sidewalks and some streets as far as the eye could see in every direction, centered on the plaza where the famous ball drops on New Year's Eve.
“You couldn't see the ends of it,” said El Tarver, an organiser with Occupy Wall Street, adding, “It was militant but orderly and completely peaceful.”
This was only one part of a day filled with protest, direct action and civil disobedience in New York City, aimed at the financial system in the United States, which many feel is increasingly favouring the top one percent at the expense of the rest, giving rise to the rallying cry “we are the 99 percent” a slogan that has spread to occupation movements around the world.
Protests in 82 countries on Saturday identified themselves with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, including the first appearance of the movement in Asia, with solidarity rallies in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, among others. Actions were peaceful around the world, except for in Italy, where protestors set fire to the defence ministry annex, burned cars and broke bank windows.
In New York though, where hundreds of anti-capitalist activists have moved into and “occupied” a privately owned park only a block from Wall Street for four weeks, protestors resisted police provocations and remained peaceful.
The Oct. 15 global day of action kicked off in New York with a thousand-person labour march on Chase Bank, where Chase customers were encouraged to – and did in some cases – close their bank accounts on the spot. Chase bank is number one in U.S. home foreclosures, received 94 billion dollars in federal bailout money, and has since laid off 14,000 workers.
But that wasn't the only bank targeted by protestors. The day also included similar actions at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citibank locations. In one case, Citibank managers shut bank doors when customers affiliated with OWS entered and tried to withdraw their money, effectively kidnapping the withdrawees inside.
Police not only arrested those in the bank, but also found two people who had already withdrawn money and left the bank and arrested them.
“I was standing outside in the protest with a women who had closed her account and made it out of the bank” Meaghan Lenick, an organiser with OWS, told IPS.
“A plain-clothes police officer then approached and said to the woman, 'You were inside with everyone else, come with me.' She replied that she was a customer and was trying to close her bank account and held up her Citibank receipt. He got aggressive, grabbed her and dragged her against her will into the bank where she was mass arrested with everyone else,” said Lenick, who has video of the incident.
The actions of the day culminated in a massive, non-permit rally at Times Square that lasted hours. Protestors chanted slogans like “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!” and “How to we end the deficit? End the war, tax the rich!”
Police had been prepared with barricades on every street in the area, and were accommodating of the march at first, but turned more hostile by 6:00 PM, an hour in.
“At first the NYPD seemed pretty ok with us, but after awhile we started to see cops in riot gear and cops on horses with a very different attitude,” said Eric Eingold, a participant in the demonstration.
Around 8:00 PM protestors reported police beating and dragging people in the street, and at least 45 arrests were reported around Times Square.
Just as the police cracked down though, OWS activists made use of the subway by the thousands, gathering in Washington Square Park, near several private universities, and spoke of occupying the park as a second location in Manhattan. The original occupation, in Zuccotti Park, survived an attempt by the private owners of the park and the NYPD to clear the ongoing demonstration the previous day.
Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Plaza by occupiers, asked the police to clear the park so it could be cleaned, stipulating protestors could return after, but without any tarps or sleeping bags or being able to lie down.
But many answered the call of the occupying activists to defend the park, as thousands took to Liberty Plaza at 6:00 AM on Friday, an hour ahead of the scheduled police sweep.
As protestors steeled themselves for a confrontation with the police, Brookfield Properties backed down, telling the deputy mayor of New York City that they could reach an arrangement with the occupiers and would indefinitely postponing the cleaning.
Around 300 people remained at Liberty Plaza Saturday night, even as hundreds more challenged police orders to leave the park by 12. When riot police showed up and pushed people out, all but 14 left, the remaining people arrested, bringing the day's total arrests to 94, with three people being reported injured by the police.
Occupy Wall Street began on Sep. 17 and has since spread to over 200 locations in the U.S. The OWS movement, sometimes called the “American Autumn” to connect it to the Arab Spring, links itself to recent anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian movements in Europe and the Arab world.