It’s the first day of a new year. January 1st, 2012. I’m sitting at a dining room table in my friend’s apartment listening to M83, head still cloudy from an amazing night capped off by two beers on an empty stomach. Behind this browser window, Tweetdeck dings every few seconds with a combination of #OWS tweets and New Year’s Day ramblings. Fortuitously, as I started writing this, the following tweet passes by…
@dontbeaputz #2011 was the year that it started, but #2012 is the year that #OWS will happen.
Based on last night, I couldn’t agree more.
That being said, it wasn’t a perfect night and I have some concerns. There was violence, there was miscoordination, there was mixed messaging, there were strategic blunders.
But, there was beauty, there was solidarity, there was passion, there was joy, and there was hope.
d31 started for many of us at the General Assembly in Liberty Park A larger crowd than many recent GAs was gathered, possibly due to a series of events and actions planned for in the park, and nearby, throughout the night. After a few short announcements, the first proposal began. Within moments, commotion started around one of the circular flower beds in the middle of Liberty Park. I looked over and saw maybe a dozen cops, including at least one white-shirt officer, briskly enter the park heading toward the commotion.
A small tent (tagged #tinytent on Twitter) was erected in the middle of the flower bed surrounded by multiple rings of soft-locked protestors. As information started passing around, we learned that a mother and her two 4-year-old children were inside the tent. Organizers were mic checking the General Assembly to explain this was a planned, coordinated direct action.
However, there was not unity amongst those gathered in and around Liberty Park on whether this was an effective or well-timed action. Brookfield Security and the NYPD closed one entrance of the park and limited access at the other, denying many people access to the park and the General Assembly.
Razor, one of the homeless Occupiers, and key organizer among many of the homeless occupier population, was furious with the action, saying it amounted to child abuse. I can’t say I disagree. I believe there is a place for children in the Occupy Movement, and in direct actions. But I’m not sure this was one of those instances. It felt like exploitation and lacked a clear message of why were using children as props to occupy the park. If it was merely to deter police interference, that feels like a lazy cop-out (forgive the pun) to me.
The General Assembly attempted to continue but with people prevented access, trying to participate from outside the barricades, as well as the ongoing saga of #tinytent, little was being accomplished. Eventually, it was announced that the two children would hand over the tent personally to Brookfield Security (in a coordinated photo op) in exchange for the park being reopened.
This was somehow seen as a victory or positive conclusion to the #tinytent stunt. On this point, I couldn’t disagree more and instead of sticking around to witness this farce, I went with a group to join the Noise Demonstration outside of the Metropolitan Correctional Center near City Hall.
I was really disheartened by the conclusion of #tinytent and was so confused as to why there wasn’t more vocal opposition to it. The narrative of Occupy is that we are liberating public space for public use. Handing over the tent, the symbol of an occupation, to a private security force so that they reopen this [privately owned] public space is just ridiculous and so completely antithetical to everything that we’re trying to do. #tinytent emboldened the opposition, empowered our oppressors and voluntarily gave up power to those who seek to control us. While cute, #tinytent was an overwhelming failure of message and execution.
BUT. The night began to turn around with the “Noise Demo Against the Prison Industrial Complex, for the Liberation of Political Prisoners & Prisoners Of Wars,” located in front of Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC, the federal jail in lower Manhattan) - 150 Park Row.
When we arrived, there were about 20-30 people starting to gather on the corner opposite MCC, handing out air horns and noisemakers. Some had drums. Sully, one of my favorite OWS organizers (and people in general), had a marching band brass horn. At a little after 9pm, we crossed the street, and made our presence known.
We were loud. And only got louder. Within minutes the crowd swelled to dozens.
We got louder.
The lights in the prisoners’ cells overlooking the street started to flicker on and off as the prisoners inside showed their solidarity with us as we showed our solidarity with them. It was beautiful.
And then we mic-checked.
It was beautiful.
A speech was made, via the People’s Mic, echoing between the buildings so that the prisoners inside MCC could hear.
This isn’t the exact wording of the speech, but is from the pre-demonstration information…
“We come together in protest and celebration. For those locked up, we bring that celebration. Through the din of revelry and rage, we tie ourselves to those who suffer systematized white supremacy and war against the working class, behind steel bars and safety glass. May this simple night of noise-bringing carry momentum into a new year of open conflict with the state and capital.”
Back in Liberty Park, the General Assembly was called to a close and many of the folks from there joined the MCC demonstration. We made more noise.
And then we marched. While I feel that leaving the demonstration was misguided and off message, it was a great to see the support of New Yorkers as we weaved our way through Chinatown, over to the Manhattan Bridge and back toward MCC.
The march set the stage for what would be a night of aggressive, random, and scary police actions. Several individuals were violently arrested. Several more were violently knocked out of the way in the process of other arrests. I saw one individual knocked so hard into a parked car as police ran after a protestor that it took three people attending him to get him back on his feet.
As we marched south on Centre, near Central Booking, I identified an undercover cop marching with us, passing along directions and information via an earpiece. I started to point him out to one of the live-streamers so we could document him, but we all got distracted by a huge commotion in the street.
Shawn Carrie (@shawncarrie) tried to join the march from the street on his bicycle. On Centre Street he was targeted, ripped from his bike, thrown around, violently manhandled by numerous police officers and arrested. Somehow though, much to our delight, zip ties didn’t prevent Shawn from tweeting from the back of the paddy wagon.
Shaken, we marched back to MCC. The atmosphere was incredible. So much love and solidarity. Not to mention so much noise. The prisoners continued to flicker their lights.
Then word starting spreading via Twitter and text messages that groups were forming in Liberty Park, already at least 150 people. We decided to take the party back to our park.
At some point along the way, as we made the familiar walk from Foley Square to Liberty Park, we started to hear that perhaps the barricades were being taken down and the continuous police presence at the park perhaps wasn’t enough to prevent us from retaking the park.
During the march through Chinatown, I did notice several members of Direct Action (who I won’t mention by name), people I have a great deal of respect for, who I hadn’t seen en force at an action even on D6 (where I know many had specific tasks they attended to, but were not among the larger body, that I could see). Not only were they participating, but they seemed energized and prepared. A few had painted large black blocks across their faces. The feeling was in the air that perhaps there was more to the planned events for the night than what was publicly known.
By the time we got back to the park, clashes between Occupiers and the police were already going down along the south side of the park. From what I was told, barricades were being pushed on both sides, often into people, aggressively. After allegedly being hit with barricades, police used pepper spray on Occupiers. The man in the photo below is being tended to by a medic after getting pepper spray in his eyes.
The clashes on the south side were extremely reminiscent of the N17 day of action, when after rallying on and around the NY Stock Exchange in the early morning, Occupiers meeting back in Liberty Park attempted to take down the barriers on the south side, resulting in mini-raids by the police into the park.
But tonight it went down differently, not taking long for the barricades along the south end of the park to be pulled apart. Over the course of the night, Mt. Barricade, or Barricade Peak, was constructed in the center of Liberty Park.
As it got closer to midnight, the crowd in the park continued to grow, including Occupiers, families, tourists, and New Yorkers of all ages, races, ethnicities, and genders.
Mt. Barricade was bolstered throughout the night by additional barricades from the north side of the park, as well as from the eastern, Broadway side. Interestingly, police only entered the park up to this point to reclaim enough barricades to reform the Broadway side barrier.
As midnight passed we celebrated the dawn of a new year, and with hope in our hearts, the dawn of a new world.
The OWS Bat Signal projected messages of hope and a radical future on buildings nearby. We made noise, we hugged, we kissed, we made more and more noise.
As the night went on, the police presence around the park continued to grow. Formations amassed on various sides and corners, packs of scooter cops zipped around the park. At least 5 cops on horseback stood nearby, or walked down Broadway. The greatest concentration of police was along the northern side of Liberty Park.
Around 1am, a spontaneous march was orchestrated. People who I have never seen before moved through the park encouraging us to take to the streets. A celebratory crowd, used to showing our solidarity, moving together, often taking to the streets as a show of power, was, in my opinion, swayed into making a poor decision by a few loud voices.
I’m convinced that this march was orchestrated by the police to disperse the crowd within the park, to shrink the numbers of Occupiers as their own numbers were bolstered by reinforcements who were able to leave Times Square after the midnight celebrations.
Many of us, sensing that a march was misguided, not to mention message-less and destination-less at this time, stayed in the park. We had reoccupied—why abandon it? I heard the argument said in the moment, and in the days since that, “They were going to raid it eventually, so we might as well march.” Yes, they were going to raid Liberty eventually, but why make it easy for them, why, like tiny tent, just hand it over?
As people continued to leave for the march, members of the NYPD DCPI (Deputy Commissioner, Public Information) Unit, which is responsible for issuing Press credentials, were sweeping the park, asking anyone with professional-looking cameras whether they were credentialed members of the press. We knew something was about to happen, and the police were concerned about media attention.
My friends and I moved to the perimeter of the park. The number of police on the north side numbered in the hundreds. They were in formation, wearing riot gear. The glowing officer below had a box that came up to his waist full of zip ties that he was constructing.
Without notice or warning, the police moved into the park. It was a militarized, coordinated maneuver that they have now had plenty of experience perfecting. From the side of the park, we watched several Occupiers, most likely those who were found standing on Mt. Barricade, being dragged from the park, aggressively, by multiple cops. I saw a protestor, when he fell to the ground along with police struggling to drag him into a paddy wagon, get kicked by a frustrated cop.
As the arrests continued, of which I saw maybe half a dozen, although there may have been more, the cops, in formation, pushed Occupiers to the edges of the park, along the north side, and then west, reforming barricades behind them. At the same time, word was being spread that the march was meeting hostile resistance, protestors facing penning and violent arrests.
As we stood on Church Street, facing south, the view can only be described as awe-inspiring and terrifying.
I’ve lived in New York since August 2001. I can tell you without hesitation, this was the largest show of force by the NYPD since 9/11 that I have seen. Because I wasn’t able to get closer to Liberty Park than Broadway and Fulton on the night of the Nov. 15 eviction from Liberty Park, I can’t speak to how it compares to that night, but this was shocking.
By about 2am, the park had been cleared and Brookfield’s private security was cleaning and reassembling the barricades around the park. I don’t think it hurts to mention that Liberty Park is a public space. And the NYPD, whose job and objective is to protect and serve the public, on New Year’s Eve/Day, served the needs and desires of a private corporation.
With the park no longer a concern, and a march reaching into SoHo and beyond, the cops began speeding off up Church. It was a glorious display of pomp and circumstance, full of sound and fury, unfortunately signifying quite a great deal.
A few of us went to a bar not too far away. We’d been on our feet outside for hours and wanted to decompress. The night began in ways we weren’t expecting and continued in that vein for another 7 hours. As we sat at the bar, sipping drinks, eyes glued to Twitter and text messages, we asked each other if we just saw certain info we knew we all just received at the same time. About friends and acquaintances arrested or assaulted on the march and about those joining jail support at the 5th, 7th, and 9th precincts.
We’re still trying to acquire all the information about what happened that night. What was planned and what was spontaneous. We’re still working through how we feel about what we experienced and what we saw. What we heard. What it all means for the movement and our role within it.
Where we go from here.
What I know, without a shadow of a doubt, with everything that happened on d31 into j1, for better or for worse, our actions, and the actions of the state – a new world awaits us. A new day dawned. The future is up to us.
And this, all of this, is why I occupy.
(photos in this post courtesy of @carriem213, @_girlalex, & @poweredbycats)