New York- Thousands of Occupiers filtered into Lower Manhattan on Tuesday to mark the 1st Anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement with a myriad of protests, marches, and acts of civil disobedience designed to highlight the interconnected issues of unprecedented economic inequality, political corruption, and police brutality.
Rising bleary-eyed from a warehouse in Brooklyn, many out of town Occupiers had ventured to New York City from places such as Florida, Colorado, Maine, California, Oregon, Illinois, and Vermont.
Exploding across the world a year ago, the Occupy movement enters its second year not as the igniter of struggles it was last September, but as a facilitator of dialogue across struggles. Among the movements now networking with Occupy are those regarding the death of Travon Martin and other race motivated violence, home foreclosures in Minneapolis, and the re-emergence of numerous labor struggles such as the Chicago Teachers’ Strike last week.
For many, the day was defined by a renewed commitment to anti-capitalism, anarchy, community organization, and vocal opposition to corporate and government oppression. Old friends were seen embracing at the barricades and speaking excitedly of their rowdy exploits across the country: NATO, RNC, DNC, NATGAT, J10, N17, M17, and a variety of other activities and acronyms mostly unknown to the general public but now legendary within Occupy.
For others, the 1st Birthday Party of Occupy was a day to be celebrated and marked with direct action.
After kicking off the day with a puppet march to the hallowed grounds of Zuccotti Park and around the Financial District, Occupiers began to carry out the acts of civil disobedience for which they’ve become known in America: attempts to blockade the New York Stock Exchange, taking over key intersections, engaging in cat-and-mouse chases throughout the Financial District, and even an abortive attempt to shut down the West Side Highway. Not to be caught off guard or outnumbered, the NYPD deployed thousands of heavily armed personnel to Lower Manhattan in an attempt to put down the protests.
With an extraordinarily low arrest threshold for the day, some 180 people were viciously assaulted and arrested by police using “snatch and grab” tactics. Utilizing the blanket charge of “disorderly conduct”, Occupiers were arrested while crossing the street, marching on the sidewalk, and carrying banners.
One Occupier crossing the street was tackled and held in a headlock as motorcycle police charged into the gathering crowd without warning to prevent legal observers from reading the arresting officers badge number. Bloodied and disheveled, one Occupier was seen being loaded into a police vehicle for no apparent reason during a densely packed march through the canyons of Lower Manhattan.
Additionally, several journalists were also assaulted by police as they attempted to cover the rapidly unfolding activities. One widely publicized video shows a photographer being shoved to the ground by a “community affairs officer.” Such unwarranted beatings of journalists were common: with journalists taking blows from batons to the legs, knees, and back as they attempted to report and photograph. One officer, upon hearing this reporter’s verbal description of an ongoing arrest near Zucotti Park delivered an elbow to the left side of my face with enough force to bloodily knock out a tooth.
Night fell over Lower Manhattan, as over a thousand Occupiers converged on Zuccotti Park, seemingly intent to retake the now hallowed grounds that launched a movement that took the world by storm last year. A drum circle began on the lower end of the park while a “People’s Assembly” began at the other. In an eerie moment, the image of the Zuccotti Park of last September re-emerged as people from all walks of life seemed to be streaming into the park to look, to argue, to debate, and to connect with one another. Many Occupiers spoke of hopes to re-take the park, to re-claim the birthplace of their movement and “make an honest stand” after so many months and so many miles.
At about 8pm police began moving large halogen lights into police around the park, a familiar sign that a raid on the park may be in the works. By 10pm the number of police vehicles and personnel had more than quadrupled to some 300 visible officers.
As the enormous halogen lights filled the park with blindingly bright light, the occupiers began to slowly move out of the park. Person by person, they moved out slowly and exhaustedly. Many had been awake for nearly 24 hours. They had celebrated and marched, they had stood where it all began, and they had given every last drop.
Striking midnight, the 17th day of September ended in Zuccotti park with neither bang nor whimper; the tired, poor, and huddled masses shuffled out beyond the barricaded area and began the long journey to whatever homes they had. Some took trains to Brooklyn, Jersey, and Philadelphia. Others boarded buses and cars bound for Vermont, Chicago, and Washington. Others still walked a just few blocks away in search of some cardboard and an empty patch of sidewalk in front of Trinity Church: their sleepful protest being the last and final action of the night.
Those who were there to witness the last ghosts of the day move out of the park will likely remember the day as a bittersweet event. People converged on a tiny park in a large city to commemorate a day that changed the world, or at least tried to. They were met much in the way they’ve met from the beginning: open arms and promises of affinity and affection were tempered by brutality and repression.
What began joyously, in affirmation of dissent has concluded in the simple human exhaustion of too many miles in too few years. Far from over, Occupy is no longer the sexy party in your neighborhood park. The movement must now face the difficulty of the day after the party and the inevitable pain that comes with it. The struggle continues, quiet and still in the knowledge that this, if nothing else, is merely the end of the beginning.