Occupy anniversary party rocks Downtown NYC

 

Occupy anniversary party rocks Downtown NYC

Posted by kasama on September 17, 2012

Downtown Manhattan, September 17, Occupy anniversary. Photo: ish

by ISH

It was clear that Occupy movement organizers had big plans for today’s first anniversary of OWS, but it was also clear that the day’s events would be determined in large part by who showed up.

It really surprises me when Occupy is criticized for being disorganized, because everything about this weekend’s celebration and today’s direct actions felt like it had been dreamed of for months, with many possibilities painstakingly thought through. I’d been busy with my local neighborhood Occupy assembly, Occupy Sunset Park, so I hadn’t been able to tap into any of the advance organizing.

I was told that if I wanted to stay safe as a participant on Monday, the best thing to do was attend the Spokes Council Sunday evening after the big anniversary celebration concert, and find out the final plans there.

Planning: The Evening Before

I met up with another Kasama comrade and we went to the Spokes Council at Foley Square and listened as organizers laid everything out. Hundreds of people were in attendance, sitting in a big circle. Downtown Manhattan would be divided up into quadrants, and clusters would be created to take responsibility for actions in each area.

There would be a 99% zone, an Education zone, the Debt zone, and the Eco zone. Each cluster would divide up into affinity groups. Some were self-selecting groups of people with shared interests, some random collections of people.

We joined the 99% zone and ended up in an explicitly anti-capitalist affinity group made up of mostly young people from the Youth Liberation Front, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, and random radical-minded individuals including a visitor from Occupy Tokyo.

We talked about having the red flag with us for the day itself — as a statement and as a rallying point.

Before the whole group an Occupy organizer, a woman named Lisa, asked for a show of hands:

“Who was here a year ago?”

A few dozen hands shot up.

“Who wasn’t?”

Hundreds more shot up.

All of a sudden it didn’t matter that there weren’t thousands of people sitting in this circle: it was clear that a real movement had been born that in the space of a single year had rocked our worlds. Something tangible had been created from nothing, and it was gathered on a beautiful late-summer night to talk about mass anti-capitalist action on the streets of New York City.

We signed on to the text-message loop and exchanged numbers and agreed to meet up in the morning at 6:45 near the once-liberated Zuccotti park. We talked a bit about how to fit into the general outline the organizers hoped to achieve.

Many of us then made a slow mostly quiet procession down to Zuccotti, eerily shadowed by a long line of motorcycle cops.

In one corner of the park “Occupy Rosh Hashanah” was taking place, elsewhere folks just gathered and talked, chilling out this night before. The park was ringed by NYPD steel, barriers fully in place and cops allowing only single-file entry into the plaza.

Sept. 17 early

I got up early and made it back into Manhattan in the nick of time.

My new affinity group comrades were all gathered and waiting, talking about what to do.

There were several assembly points downtown, so this wasn’t all the people gathered for the morning’s direct action, but a few hundred to upwards of a thousand people milled around. It was a larger crowd than the night before. There were some signs and banners. I brought the red flag for our group, and twenty of us strategized our approach. The official plan was to block all the intersections in a circle around the financial district, take some arrests (people volunteered), and then march around the neighborhood making appearances in front of as many financial institutions as we could manage, before heading down for a symbolic storming of the Wall Street bull statue.

The crowd was young. I didn’t at first recognize hardly anyone from the Occupy work I’ve been doing. Occupy is funny that way: you can be active on a half dozen big projects and somehow you end up at something where it’s all different.

I talked with a young woman in my group: she had brought a couple drums from a kit with sticks. She was wearing a great button with a Republican elephant and a Democratic donkey that said,

“Please don’t feed the animals.”

Later I noticed other people commenting to her that they had other versions of the same button.

There was even a high school kid there with his father.

Plan A, Plan B, Plan C

There had been rumors in the previous few days that the cops would close off the entirety of downtown, asking to see ID at checkpoints like they did after 9/11. We had a plan B and even a plan C if it turned out we were denied access to the area, but we were able to move this far with no problem and considered ourselves lucky. That soon changed. The larger group headed toward the two intersections were were supposed to block. The cops effectively prevented the planned intersection sit-downs and herded us down a side-street away from pedestrian and car traffic.

On narrow streets the cops seemed to have us penned. Even though we were on the sidewalks they glared at us aggressively.

Across an intersection at Pine and William there was a commotion: fists seemed to be flying and somebody went down before the blue wall of cops prevented us from seeing what happened. It was the first of many arrests.

A guy with long hair was trying to cross the street. The cops tackled him to the ground. He knelt in a fetal position; they yanked his hair, pulling him to his feet. On went the plastic ties. They dragged him away.

Our affinity group sensed this was trouble. We rallied behind our red flag and circled out of the area to another intersection away from the cop trap. We did this maneuver several more times, and each time the red flag seemed to pull people in behind us. We circled around a couple times, passing banks and stopping here and there for a speech in front of one. In some places we able to take the street not just the sidewalk.

At some point a crowd of anarchists joined us and we held an intersection until the cops figured out we were there. The numbers of our roving band went. up and down from twenty to fifty. All lower Manhattan seemed to be a cat-and-mouse game between demonstrators and cops. And yet, it was civil disobedience.

Nothing actually “illegal” was going on. Those were our streets and we were walking on them.

There were some great chants: the “Ah-Anti-Anticapitalista” chant accompanied by jumping up and down; and

“1 We Are the People 2 We Are United 3 This Occupation Is Not Leaving.”

Finally along the narrow streets I started to run into people I knew from the movement. My friend in ACT UP was there. One of the Indig-Nación editors was there with glitter and an amazing Wall Street piñata they were gonna break open later to celebrate. Friends from Occupy Sunset Park and Occupy Staten Island turned up.

Police and the Bull

At some point it became clear that the cops were gonna change the rules. All of a sudden they started coming closer, announcing we had to “clear the sidewalks.” Not sure where they thought we could go since stepping into the street when cops were around meant instant arrest. The cops got nastier, and we responded.

“No Justice, No Peace, Fuck the Police” was the new and enthusiastic chant.

We got raised fists from workers standing at service entrances to big old Wall Street buildings.

One of the PSL comrades, a young Hispanic man named Steve, made a speech in front of one of the big banks. We were very close to some cops, who were paying close attention to us: they started to try to encircle us but we moved off. About a half block later, as he was again speaking out about the cops, some cops including the dreaded whiteshirts suddenly charged our line.

There were a lot of us then: we were not an isolated affinity group at all. Suddenly bodies started tumbling toward me as the cops pushed and shoved. They made a lunge for Steve. Members of the affinity group pulled him out of the clutches of the cops and we marched on. We were a little shaken, but were still all together.

About a block later, the same whiteshirts had circled around and when we weren’t prepared for it, dived into our line and pulled Steve out again. They threw him down to the street, pushing and shoving people away. They pulled the plastic restraints on him so tight he was screaming as they hauled him to a wagon. The cops pulled the drums out of the hands of the drummer, smashing one of them, and grabbed the red flag away from the person who was then holding it. Our affinity group was split in two, the police dive having acted as a wedge to split us up.

We were in sight of that big bronze bull statue, but we retreated down to the plaza by Bowling Green. Soon other groups started filtering down there, and our fractured affinity group comrades managed to regroup. A couple people we thought had been grabbed by the cops turned out to be safe. But Steve and I think another brother were both missing. We made sure to report the details to the National Lawyers Guild legal observers. Of course the day before the cops had been nabbing NLG observers just as readily as demonstrators. Apparently about a hundred people were arrested that morning.

We were down there to make a political point: About the predatory nature of capitalism, about the corruption of the system and the way the institutions of capital poison everything they touch.

While the demonstrators today appeared to me a younger crowd than I’ve seen at many Occupy events — not surprising on a working Monday perhaps — the crowd also felt more left-wing, more radical.

People were not afraid to shout out “Smash the state!” I didn’t see American flags, or Obama stickers, or racist Ron Paul crazies, or conspiracy theory collectors.

The roving bands of demonstrators were militant, but not destructive or needlessly provocative. Today’s violence came entirely from the state, giving the lie to the alleged freedom of assembly. And it was clear that the cops targeted people who were speaking out as well, so speech is now something only allegedly free as well.

Today New York Mayor Bloomberg tried to wave off the Occupy movement, saying that its ideas are just “irrational.” If he really believes that why is he trying so hard to shut us down? What is he afraid of? I expect large segments of the media to ignore today’s actions. The media that is sponsored by the financial institutions being protested: no surprises there. It’s true that absent the labor element that made some of the largest Occupy events in NYC noteworthy that this morning’s actions were smaller than some past actions. (Labor forces have been invited to appear to this evening’s popular assembly in Zuccotti).

The first part of the day was over. I needed to retreat and rest and write this report. Other folks stayed for the next Spokes Council, and for some more marches in the early afternoon.

I’m heading back out the door back to Zuccotti, back to the birthplace of this amazing, living movement. I’m going to hit “send” now — and pass this to you via Kasama.

Happy birthday Occupy Wall Street!

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