MANHATTAN (CN) – Weathering eviction, checkpoints and wintry November winds, Occupy Wall Street activists celebrated their two-month anniversary by gathering near the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday for an “International Day of Action” taking place in cities around the world.
The New York Police Department set up barricades on the corner of Wall Street and Broadway, lining up rows of officers clad in riot gear down a narrow stretch of sidewalk. Only people with work-issued identification for the Financial District were allowed to enter into this zone.
In a classic manifestation of the haves versus the have-nots, the opposing Wall Street factions sparred near the barricades. “If you don’t have a corporate ID, you cannot walk down that street right there,” activist Tyree Robertson shouted. “Take your corporate ID out, or else they’re going to arrest you,” he told a man in a business suit.
“I’ve got one,” the pedestrian replied, before exchanging less polite words with the protester.
Thursday’s strike ushers in the next phase of the Occupy movement, complete with unpleasant weather and new park rules banning tents. At 1 a.m. on Tuesday, police raided the movement’s headquarters at Zuccotti Park, renamed Liberty Square by demonstrators, without giving protesters advanced warning and barring media from observing the eviction.
Officers tore down tents and signs; dismantled the makeshift kitchen, hospital, spiritual shrine and communications center; and destroyed more than 5,000 donated books from the so-called People’s Library, according to the movement’s estimates.
Protesters reported being beaten with batons, blinded by pepper spray and doused with tear gas, in incidents that were difficult to confirm because of press prohibitions.
Their response called for “Mass Non-Violent Direct Action,” using a storied phrase that dates back to the Industrial Workers of the World. In 1910 the Wobblies, as they are more conventionally known, defined “direct actions” as those taken by workers themselves, rather than through elected officials or other representatives.
About a century later, the radical union endorsed Occupy Wall Street.
Self-described “angry barista” Liberté Locke, who has been an IWW organizer at Starbucks for four years, described the connections between the two movements.
“In my opinion, the largest commonality between the IWW and the Occupy Wall Street movement is the constant reminder that we’re all leaders,” Locke told Courthouse News. “We’ve been saying that since 1935! I’ve recently learned that there were I.W.W. members and other members of community organizations that were planning something similar to this three weeks before [the Canadian anti-consumerist magazine] Adbusters called for Occupy Wall Street.”
As for the differences, Locke added that IWW members, whose charter is explicitly revolutionary, believe that Occupy Wall Street has been too accommodating with the NYPD.
“Sometimes they’re feeding them free food,” she said of the protesters. “Sometimes they’re trying to hug them, giving them flowers.”
In between arrests, the love fest between protesters and police officers was on full display.
On the corner of Pine and Nassau Streets, hundreds of demonstrators serenaded rows of helmeted officers with the chant, “You’re sexy. You’re cute. / Take off your riot suits.”
Minutes earlier, the same officers had arrested about a dozen protesters for obstructing traffic at the intersection.
One protester dissented, “Fuck the NYPD,” while another chided, “That does not represent the 99 percent.”
Retired Philadelphia Police Capt. Ray Lewis, who was reportedly arrested at around 9:15 a.m., became an icon of the movement by joining Occupy Wall Street in uniform and carrying handcrafted signs.
The one he held shortly before his arrest read: “-NYPD- / Watch ‘Inside Job’ / Then Join Us.” Charles H. Ferguson’s documentary “Inside Job” argues that Wall Street was complicit in the financial collapse.
Lewis told Courthouse News that police stopped him from entering Wall Street at the checkpoint, which he called “complete oppression.”
“This is not the fault of the police department,” he said. “They’re taking orders from Mayor Bloomberg, and that’s official oppression of your right to peacefully assemble and protest.”
Lewis said he believes many officers were “troubled” by the directive and that other encroachments of civil liberties are on the way.
“There’s a fine line between how far you allow protest,” he said. “If you squash it too early, you add to the frustrations of people. So you let it go for a while, hoping that it’ll just dwindle out. Then, if it doesn’t dwindle out, and it starts growing, ‘Wow!’ Now, you’ve got to squash it.”
By midday, organizers reported more than 200 arrests.
An NYPD spokesman did not immediately reply to an email asking to confirm the most recent estimates.
Later in the day, tens of thousands descended on Foley Square for a union-sponsored demonstration. Unlike activities from earlier in the day, this segment was officially sanctioned with a permit. Protesters were allowed to speak using electric bullhorns, rather than the human-powered “People’s Mic.” Instead of free-flowing leaderless dialogue, large crowds patiently listened to chosen speakers. Mass-produced signs far outnumbered the handmade ones.
The movement’s more anarchic side resurfaced at around 6 p.m., when a handful of people shook loose the barricades NYPD had set up to contain the crowds, who spilled by the thousands onto the streets leading to the nearby Brooklyn Bridge.
Police tried to stop the crowds from passing through these breaches, ultimately succeeding in containing them further down the road. Riot police surrounded the area on foot, horseback and helicopter, until officers opened up a passage leading to the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. It was a detour from the roadway where the protesters intended to enter.
Dozens believed to have moved the barricades initially were arrested and put in NYPD buses.
While crossing the bridge, Occupy Wall Street activists were greeted by light projections on the eastern face of the Verizon building. The subversive slogans held a deeper meaning on the headquarters of a communications giant battling union employees in a recent strike.
Eliciting sympathetic horn-honking from rush-hour drivers, the light show displayed messages like “We Are Winning,” “99%” and “Do Not Be Afraid.”