Occupying Wall Street

All Day, All Week, and Beyond

Bored police near the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York.
William York Hyde


Hell, No, We Won’t Go:Just suppose you want to go somewhere and join a growing movement of angry and frustrated citizens driven by the crazy idea that we can replace a powerful and corrupt corporate plutocracy with a system that treasures people over profits.

It’s really not that difficult. Once you’re in New York, jump on the 1 Train to the Rector St. Station. Or take the A, C, J, Z, or 2/3 Trains to Fulton St. You might find it easier to take the E Train to the World Trade Center. Or, maybe, you will ride on the 4/5 Trains to Wall St. I ride the R Train from the Village to Cortland St. Station.

Each one of these train stations is only a one to three short block walk to your final destination: Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Park by the Occupy Wall Street protestors.

Today, Thursday, October 13, it’s cold and wet. It’s been drizzling on and off for most of the night.

Occupation Central is alive with activity. They are preparing themselves for a massive confrontation.

At 11 a.m. this morning a couple dozen police officers moved single-file through the park and quietly handed out printed notices that they would be returning the following morning (Friday), at 7 a.m. with a cleaning crew to wash out the place with high-powered water jets.

Turns out that Zuccotti Park, a tree-dotted half-acre plaza bound by Broadway, Trinity Place, and Cedar and Liberty Streets in Lower Manhattan, is privately owned by Brookfield Office Properties, Inc. Brookfield wants to clean their park and they’ve asked the police for help. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has granted the request.

Oh boy, have you ever shoved a stick into an anthill?

Galvanized, electrified, jolted doesn’t begin to describe the energy in the park. Cries go out for volunteers.

The Sanitation Working Group, like army platoons, moves through the park, focused on scouring the place, down to scraping gum and bird droppings with putty knives. Other occupiers begin wrapping their belongings in tarps. The Kitchen Working Group, the Press Working Group, the Library Working Group, the Medical Working Group, and others, stash their things in large plastic tubs. The siege is on and they don’t want to be caught unprepared.

My response is to join the Direct Action Working Group. They announce training workshops to be held in Battery Park, about an eight-block walk down Broadway to the southern shoreline of Manhattan.

The training, led by the professional activist organization “The Other 98 Per Cent,” includes practice sessions on how to be arrested, or how not to be arrested, how to properly lock arms and hands together to form either a “hard blockade,” or a “soft blockade.”

We are shown how to counteract the pain compliance techniques used by the police and how to protect ourselves from police assault, pepper-spray and plastic hand ties. (Tightly flex your wrists to expand them when the ties are strapped on so when you relax them you’ll have some wriggle room, thereby lessening the chances of cuts and bruises).

The group I was in included about two-dozen people.

One of the protestors tells us, “When we were pushed [by the police] onto the [Brooklyn] Bridge, we sat down, formed a circle and locked arms. But then the mounted police rode in. Man, we went over like bowling pins. You don’t go up against a horse, no damn way.”

Rain abruptly ends the first training session. The group facilitator announces that we can move the advanced training session to the 19th floor of the American Federation of Teachers’ building up the street at 52 Broadway. We trot the few blocks there.

Once settled in, we are given a list of those areas of assistance that one may offer in a direct confrontation with the police. They include: Direct Support, Videographer/Legal Observer, Arrestee (or Arrestable), Police Liaison/Crowd Liaison, Jail Support, Media Support/Liaison and Medical Help.

A representative from the National Lawyer’s Guild arrives and describes the arrest process, what methods the police might use to disperse us, what kind of treatments we might encounter, what various types of tickets might be issued and how to handle them.

“If arrested, the police will confiscate your phone or any communication device, so write the Guild’s phone number (212-679-6018) on your forearms using a Sharpie or Magic Marker. Don’t talk to anyone when you’re in there. You don’t know who you’re talking to, and they will use anything you say in there against you. Just call our number and we’ll take it from there, free of charge. We’re here to observe and protect your rights. Understood?”

We were asked to close our eyes and to look within ourselves and ask why were there and what our individual role was at the protest. This had a profound effect upon me. I realized that I did not want to be arrested. Some in the group were more than eager. I did not wish to get pepper-sprayed or ridden over by a horse. I volunteered to stand with the Lawyer’s Guild as Legal Observer and picture taker.

Back in Liberty Park, the General Assembly has called for a 5 p.m. special session. Normally, the GA meets nightly at 7 p.m. near the Broadway entrance to the park, sandwiched between the Library Center and the Press Center. The only topic of discussion is what to do about the impending confrontation with the police.

Do we make a symbolic stand and then relinquish the park? NO.

Do we leave the park and then return once they’ve finished cleaning? NO.

Do we hold sections of the park while they clean one area and then re-occupy the cleaned sections until the process is complete? MAYBE.

Well? Okay, YES.

But how?

We don’t trust the police. They could by lying. They could show up in the middle of the night, drive us out. We must hold an all night vigil. We must keep cleaning the park ourselves. We must be prepared. We must not panic. We will not lose the park.

Now, what’s the plan when they arrive?

We decide: As proposed by the Direct Action Working Group, we will essentially comply with the police request and allow sections of the park to be cleaned.

However, if necessary, we will maintain three lines of passive resistance.

On the front line will be the Arrestables. They will put up the most resistance, forming circles of “soft barricades,” lying down in locked knots of bodies, etc., knowing that they will, in all likelihood, be arrested and carried off. But it will slow down or stop the police in their advance.

The second line will be those who aren’t opposed to being arrested but will avoid it by simply falling back slowly, jamming up the line, forcing the police to take more time trying to control them: a chaos-creating retreat from one section of the park to another.

The third line will be the Legal Observers. Mostly Lawyers Guild members, wearing bright, lime-green baseball caps to identify themselves, and people like myself. I am told to run if real trouble starts and find a safe place to observe from, but keep taking pictures and notes. When it comes to defending the rights of protestors, the Lawyers Guild really likes pictures and notes.

One last resolution is passed: a call to mobilize. Get as many people as possible to the park by 6 a.m. the following morning. Phones and laptops go into overdrive.

It’s 7 p.m. I remember that I’d been invited to a friend’s birthday dinner party uptown. I call. He says dinner won’t be served for another hour. “Come on up.”

During dinner someone says they’d heard I’d come from Occupy Wall Street. They want to know what’s going on down there. I tell them. The moment dessert has been eaten, four of us, including the birthday boy himself, head downtown.

11 p.m. It’s drizzling. My dinner friends have melded into the park. I don’t see them again for another hour. I move through the park, check in with a few Direct Action Working Group members, chat a bit, realize that the Drumming Circle is silent, notice the Kitchen is shut down and packed up (which means no coffee), go over to the Press Center, and ask if they’ve heard anything new concerning our Police Liaison. “Nada,” someone tells me. “The police aren’t talking to us.”

Not a good sign, I think.

I walk my birthday friend to the subway. The two other friends who’d come with him, both college students, decide to hang around a little longer. They’ve established a bond with the protestors and wish to show some support. Good kids. I’m proud of them.

It’s just after 1 a.m., Friday morning. It’s raining a bit. The park’s atmosphere is subdued. The Sanitation Working Group continues to clean. They are scrubbing the sidewalks and cobblestones with brushes and soapy water.

I can see hundreds of lumps wrapped in tarps–protestors trying to get a bit of sleep before rising at dawn. I find a reasonably dry place to sit and close my eyes. I can’t sleep sitting up.

At 1:30 a.m., I go over to one of the food vendor trucks parked on the sidewalk and buy a cup of coffee. It’s horrible. There’s a loud clap of thunder, the sky opens and water cascades down. A roar of defiance fills the park. Nothing dampens the spirit within.

It’s 2:30 a.m. It’s pouring rain. My shoes and socks are soaked through and water has wicked up my pants to the knees. Little police presence–groups of two or three huddle here and there just on the sidewalks trying to stay out of the rain. I’m having another cup of dreadful coffee at the vendor’s stand, standing under a narrow canopy, sharing my umbrella with a policeman. We share jokes about the weather. He keeps checking his watch. I guess he can’t wait for his shift to end.

I leave the park for a couple of hours and try to sleep. I can’t.

At 5:30, I return. The rain stops. I watch hundreds of people coming into the four corners of the park, coming from the nearby subways. People are coming out from under tarps. The energy is scratchy. Still no real police presence.

6:30 a.m.: The call to mobilize has succeeded beyond belief. I figure about 10,000 people now occupy the park and more are arriving. In anticipation of the police arrival at seven the crowd begins to chant: “The people, united, shall never be divided. The people, united, shall never be divided.”

The sound echoes off skyscrapers and office buildings, drowning out any other street noises. As if one mind controls the crowd, the chant changes, becomes defiant and challenging: “Hell no, we won’t go! Hell, no, we won’t go!”

Wave after wave of the chant rises and falls, filling the park completely. As 7 a.m. approaches, nearly 15,000 people have drawn their line in the sand and dare anyone in authority to cross it. Still no real police presence. From where I’m standing I can see no more than a dozen blue uniforms standing across the street, not even near the park.

7 a.m. comes and goes. No police, no sanitation trucks, no cleaning crews, nothing like it. Lots of network camera crews. I see cameras and reporters from the BBC, Germany, CNN, CNBC, ABC, CBS, FOX NEWS and others. Bright klieg lights from the network vans parked along Cedar St. cast weird shadows over the massive assembly.

7:15 a.m.: The crowd erupts into celebration. Trumpets, drums, chanting, roar after roar rises and falls. A college jazz band snakes through the crowd playing its heart out.

The pulse of thousands of bodies surge in and out: a heaving beast bellowing its pleasure to the heavens.

I’ve made my way to the end of the park bound by Trinity Place. From my vantage point, standing on one of the polished granite tables that pepper the park, the crowd is less dense. Something doesn’t feel right to me.

I can see the other end of the park. The swell of protestors has spilled out, filling the street. Broadway looks shut down.

I hear a roar of noise. The cry of “March on Wall Street” rumbles through the park. I guess the Arrestables need a victory parade. I can see a mass of people moving out of the park down Broadway.

I later learn they didn’t get half a block. The police were waiting for them.

I wish I could have told them that would happen and that any attempt to march down Wall St. would be impossible.

I know this because yesterday, as I walked down to Battery Park, I’d taken a stroll down Wall St. just to see what was happening. On the block where the New York Stock Exchange stands is an armed fortress.

The street is completely shut off to traffic. Massive cement-filled steel tubes stand in rows both sides of the Exchange. Knee-high blocks of metal lie scattered about in the street. Row upon row of steel barricades force pedestrians into a narrow, almost single lane path along the opposite side of the street. Reminiscent of the original wall, inch-thick sheets of large steel plate held up by hydraulic arms rise out of the street, locked into place.

The police are present in force: on foot, in cars, in vans, mounted on horses, patrolling, watching, armed and itchy. What struck me as most frightening were the number of men dressed in black, head to toe, armed with pistols and short barrel rifles, their black flak jackets bearing the label “SECURITY” in large, bold, white letters.

Wall Street seems to have hired its own private army. Right in front of my eyes was the raw, naked power of capitalism. I’ve seen pictures of the Green Zone in Baghdad. This place looks more fortified.

What could Wall Street be afraid of? They have guns and all the money, while the rest of us have laptops and cardboard signs.

But I couldn’t warn the futile marchers. The authorities are never going to allow any protest within two blocks of the Stock Exchange on Wall Street. Never.

Later tonight I watch the news, surprised that only about a dozen protestors were arrested.

Right now the sun has risen. The clouds are breaking up. It’s warming up and so are the revelries.

I notice that several flatbed trucks loaded with sections of barricade have slowly rolled onto Liberty and Cedar Streets and parked next to the park. I don’t like it. I jump off the table I’m standing on and hop onto a wide granite wall, polished to the point of punishment, which helps define the shape of the park and keeps the city at bay.

8 a.m. Sirens, loud sirens, their shrieks stabbing the air. Caravans of police cars, police vans, black cars, white cars, fire trucks, ambulances, their red lights flashing, push their way up and down Broadway, up and down Trinity Place. These motorized phalanxes turn onto Liberty and Cedar Streets.

Police emerge and form a shoulder-to-shoulder line around the park. The crowd on Broadway is pushed back into the park. Teams of men pull sections of barricade from the flatbed trucks and begin erecting additional rows around the protestors. Within minutes, three sides of the park are completely sealed in.

If the police wanted us out of the park I don’t understand why they’ve gone to so much trouble penning us in. Unless their plan is to squeeze us out of one end like a tube of toothpaste. If that’s so, then the police are going to create a mess beyond description.

I thank God friends of mine back in Santa Barbara offered to spring bail money if I needed it. I look for the best way out of the park.

The massive gathering of protestors actually quiets down. They seem to be taking stock of the situation. Someone runs my way yelling, “The cops are here in full riot gear.” Voices in the area tell him to calm down. I don’t see anyone in riot gear.

On the corner of the park bound by Liberty St. and Trinity Place stands a young tree ringed by cobblestone and granite benches. The protestors have made this area their Spiritual Center. Around the tree is an altar covered with offerings of hope and prayers left by countless people.

On the opposite corner, next to the Spiritual Center, is the Drumming Circle. Normally the drummers take up most of the space at that end of the park while the altar space might have a handful of worshipers. Not today.

I gaze over and see at least a dozen rings of protestors radiate out from the center of the space, crowding into the Drummers Circle, kneeling, praying, keening and meditating. This gives the Spiritual Center the appearance of a giant, colorful pie. One large pie-wedge-shaped section is occupied by a group of Buddhist monks in their bright saffron yellow and orange robes, kneeling, quietly chanting in unison.

The keeper of the Spiritual Center walks around the circles of praying protestors wafting a smoldering sage bundle, an act of purifying and cleansing the space. He’s followed by a young woman wafting a bundle of smoking incense sticks over the heads of the worshipers.

It’s an amazing sight. What the police must think as they stand there, motionless, batons at the ready. Do they silently hope that they are not ordered into the park to beat up on Buddhist monks and kids at prayer?

I sit down. A middle-aged woman is sitting next to me, her head down, quietly crying to herself. I think out loud, “My God, don’t let someone do something stupid.”

The police stand in place, motionless, staring into the park. At least the sirens have been turned off, but not the flashing red lights. For a moment it feels like I’m on the twisted dance floor of a weird, ugly discotheque.

For an hour, eddies of anger, fear, doubt, and confusion swirl through the park. Occasional rumbles of noise rise from pockets in the park but it seems to be a standoff.

If it is the intention of the police to watch over the cleaning of the park, I continue to wonder why no cleaning or garbage trucks have arrived. The park is so crowded with people it’s impossible for me to get over to the Press Center and ask what’s going on.

The news arrives via the low-tech method of repeating messages as they sweep through the park. We learn that Brookfield has postponed their plans to clean the park, today. Cheers roar out.

All stand down. The majority of police begin pulling away, leaving the rest of their brothers and sisters in uniform to direct traffic and keep the tourists moving along.

It’s 11 a.m. The protestors have unpacked and unwrapped their things. Since the rain and clean up have destroyed all the protest signs, the Art Center is creating new ones. The Planning Working Group is reorganizing the sleeping area to make it less chaotic. The Kitchen Working Group is serving food and coffee again. The Medical Center is back up. The Library Center is functional. The Press Center is pumping out information. The park’s population has dropped to its manageable level of three or four thousand. The tourist buses are rolling by again. The small groups of police standing by the barricades look bored. All is back to normal.

I’m exhausted. I lay my arms and head down on a cold, polished granite tabletop, and fall asleep.


All Day, All Week, Occupy Wall Street: Once the Dutch had established New Amsterdam, a colony on the southern end of the Manhattan Indian Island back in the early 17th century, they built a wall across the tip of the island to keep the natives out so they could feel safe inside.

Time passed, the colony flourished, was traded away to the British, and renamed New York. The wall became obsolete and fell into ruin, but the path along the wall used for trading with the natives and each other remained.

Business was good. Buildings went up. The path widened. It was paved with cobblestones. Custom had named it the Wall Street. The surrounding area grew to become the Financial District.

Occupy Wall Street protestors interview each other
William York Hyde

One short, narrow block away from Wall St. is Liberty Park. Today, where I now sit, Liberty Park is occupied by thousands of protesters. They are angry and frustrated by what Wall Street has become and the massive economic and political abuses it represents.

The movement, calling itself “Occupy Wall Street” began innocently. Three Saturdays ago, about 200 twenty-somethings, dressed in costumes and the like, went down to Wall Street and began yelling out their anguish at empty buildings. It was harmless enough, and, besides, Wall Street doesn’t work on weekends.

The police would have nothing to do with it. They moved in on the crowd, corralled them into small groups with orange netting, tasered them, batoned them, and pepper-sprayed them. Eighty or so were arrested for obstructing traffic.

Why do I know this?

Because, unlike the political and social protests of the 1960s, the young people today carry with them virtual television and radio stations: iPhones, iPads, video phones, video cameras, Blackberrys, Blueberrys, laptops. All of these devices are connected to the world wide web.

As soon as the police began their “not-well-thought-out” beatings and harassment on the non-violent protestors, the uploaded images and video went viral on the net at the speed of light. The response was immediate and obvious. New York’s finest now have a public relations nightmare on their hands and are spending, according to NYC Mayor Bloomberg, about $2 million a week protecting the public from the demonstrators.

And I’ve flown out here to join the occupation.

Located one block off Wall Street, two blocks from the New York Stock Exchange, and one and a half blocks from the Federal Reserve building, Zuccotti Park is a long, narrow rectangle of concrete paths, flowerbeds ringed by granite cobblestones, and a handful of young trees scattered about. The park is small, boxed in by skyscrapers and office buildings.

One end faces the Bank of America; on the other a row of multi-storied fast-food chains and the American Stock Exchange. The longer sides of the park are bounded by black and grey skyscrapers filled with countless offices; the lower stories occupied by Brooks Brothers and investment firms.

Ironically, the park is caddy-cornered a half block away from the 9/11 Memorial and lies in the shadow of the rising girders and glass skeleton of the new Freedom Tower where once the World Trade Towers sat. It’s almost spooky to be in the middle of the protestors as they scream out for economic freedom in America while I can see the new tower in the corner of my eyes.

The protest is a mish-mash or amalgam of diverse opinions and ideologies. Each is expressed with a sign and there are hundreds of them.

One very interesting and compelling image is to see hundreds of people ring the park’s edge, facing out, like sentinels, silently holding their signs as the tourists walk by, drive by, ride by in double-decker busses, taking pictures as if they were seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.

In contrast, the police are on the other side of the sidewalk, also ringing the park but facing in. Tourists and pedestrians are told to keep moving, keep moving. “Take your picture and keep moving, thank you.”

The protestors invite the spectators into the park. I was surprised to see how many do venture in.

Inside the park is occupation central. The protestors have set up a small town inside. There is an outdoor kitchen. The food is served for free. Nearby, clothing, blankets and sleeping bags, in piles chest high, are handed out at no cost. There is a library, an art center, a post-office, a public notary, a recycle center, a medical center and a media center.

When I asked who was in charge no one seemed to know. There was no spokesperson, no committee, no leader, running the place. Some spoke of the group who’d been there since day one, and maybe they had some influence. I don’t know.

One young fellow I spoke to was going about his business sweeping up and collecting recyclables. He told me that he was coordinating the cleaning crew.

He told me that he didn’t want to give the city of New York any excuse for coming in and shutting the place down because it might be unsanitary. He mentioned that he’d asked the City for permission to install Port-a-Potties but had been refused because the park was not zoned for that sort of thing.

Just imagine: squatting in the middle of the Financial District is a new village of 4,000, maybe 5,000, people, and they aren’t allowed to set up bathrooms.

In an ironic twist, the McDonald’s just one-half block down the street allows the use of their facilities. Good PR for them, eh?

Speaking of media, I was amazed at the technical sophistication of the protesters. Two large, round tables are covered with laptops, satellite linkups, WiFi portals, Ethernet hookups, lamps, cameras, the works. They are streaming 24 hours a day.

Also, and really impressive, scattered throughout the park you see dozens of protesters with their video cameras, microphones and little klieg lights, interviewing other protesters. This, too, is being streamed on the Internet.

I heard on the local news that the Huffington Post reported that there are no less than 450,000 pages on Facebook devoted to the protest.

That means that millions of people around the world are watching this event live and unedited.

Whereas, the major networks are conspicuously absent. I have seen a couple of the local network trucks roll up and park on the outside perimeter next to the police riot squad vans. A network reporter rolls out, videos a few minutes of stuff, records a few sound-bites and then, just as quickly, drives away.

Sunday morning I saw Geraldo Rivera step out of a van, record a few minutes and then disappear.

The protesters are doing their own reporting and their audience is in cyberspace. The revolution is on.

At one end of the park is a drum circle. It’s a large circle. I mean big, really big, with every kind of drum and percussion instrument that one could find. The drumming and chanting is loud, made even more so as the sound echoes off the skyscrapers. It can be heard for blocks away and goes on non-stop.

What else goes on, non-stop, is the political and economic discourse. Everywhere you go in and around the park, you can listen in, or join in, the discussions about what’s wrong with the country. And what should be done to fix the problem.

What is evident to me, these kids are scared. Their futures are about as bleak as it can get. The stories I’ve heard of student loan abuses by the banks, foreclosures, repossessions, blatant disregard of human compassion, the bottomless greed of corporations. Man, it just goes on and on.

One of the ongoing chants throughout the marches is, “The banks were bailed out, we were sold out!” Imagine hearing that as 3,000 angry people march down Broadway, waving their signs and fists at the office workers pressed up against thousands of windows lining the street or the cars that are jammed into side streets. It’s a sight.

Since no one seems to be in charge, I wondered how the protesters communicated with each other. No one has a megaphone, there is no central stage or platform, no amplifiers, etc.

My question was quickly answered when I heard someone shout, “Mike check.” In response, a number of others yelled out in unison, “Mike check.”

Then someone would yell out a short, simple message. The message was then yelled out by a dozen or more people, again, in unison.

My first day here, I heard a message being yelled out. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. The noise in the park is loud and constant. People are standing on boxes shouting out speeches. The drumming never stops. Thousands of people are talking, eating, sleeping, laughing, and singing.

But the message was being repeating by dozens and then scores of screaming voices. “March on the Fed. March on the Fed.”

The chant spread and, within minutes, more than a thousand people had lined up and began moving out of the park. The police sprang into action and formed a corridor, a gauntlet if you will, keeping the protestors in line and on the sidewalks.

I noticed that many of the police had bundles of plastic ties hanging from their belts and canisters of pepper spray at the ready.

As I walked with the crowd, I also noticed that all of the banks — and there a lot of banks in The District — had erected temporary steel barricades in front of their buildings.

Expecting a long walk, I was surprised that we arrived at the Fed within minutes. Even though I’d lived in New York for years, I’d forgotten how close everything is in that part of town.

Constructed of large, crap-brown blocks of stone with massive bars covering all the windows, the Fed is one ugly building. No one was looking at us out of those windows.

Once in place, nearly surrounding the building, the protestors began chanting, “We are the 99 percent. We are the 99 percent.”

It all remained peaceful. No one was arrested. The march returned to the park.

Signs at Occupy Wall Street protest
William York Hyde

I keep wondering what will become of this movement. Seemingly leaderless, yet filled with passion and a deep desire to see things change, will someone emerge out of this organic movement to channel it and guide it? What direction will it take? Or will it simply fade away once winter sets in and the police sweep out the last few die-hards.

I don’t think so. The key, to me, is the Internet. I’ve heard that more than 100 other cities across the United States — including Santa Barbara — have started their own movements, occupying buildings, city squares, etc. The common bond is not just the desire for change and reform, but the connection made in cyberspace.

Millions, not just thousands, of people are in Liberty Park by virtue of the Internet. Sitting in their rooms, or in libraries, or schools, or cafes around the world, there are millions of people electronically tapped into the movement, occupying Wall Street.


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