MANHATTAN (CN) – Seconds after bracing crowds for mass arrests, Occupy Wall Street organizers announced that real estate titan Brookfield Office Properties backed off from veiled threats of evicting protesters from privately owned Zuccotti Park.
It has been more than 4 weeks since protesters filled the half-acre plaza, and renamed it Liberty Square, and fought off an earlier attempt to evict them.
Brookfield, the park’s deed-holder, had been quiet for nearly a month, until the company sent a letter to New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on Monday.
It complained that protesters created an “unsanitary and unsafe”
Hours later, Kelly announced that the park would be cleaned on Friday at 7 a.m., and that demonstrators would not be allowed to bring back sleeping bags, coolers and gear.
A sign posted on the grounds even bars protesters from lying down, a rule that, if enforced, would have made the movement’s headquarters illegal.
Skeptics called the “cleanup” a transparent effort to boot the protesters out of their chosen headquarters.
Preparing for the worst, demonstrators mopped and broom-swept the park for hours, attended teach-ins to educate themselves on the law, and scrawled the phone number for the National Lawyers Guild in Magic Marker on their arms.
Legal observers, wearing green hats, told them that programming the hotline onto their cell phones would be useless because the phones would be confiscated in jail.
Less than an hour before the deadline, hundreds, if not thousands, circled around the square, to “call to order” a session of the planning committee.
Barred from using bullhorns, the crowds amplified each speaker’s words by echoing them, through the so-called “people’s mic.”
“Anybody who plans to stay in the park and defend our community faces a high risk of arrest,” the crowd repeated.
Seconds later, another speaker interrupted the legal organizer to announce that that Brookfield Properties had postponed the cleanup indefinitely; the details were drowned out by cheering and chanting throughout the park.
“Let this moment be sealed in our hearts,” the demonstrators echoed. “We have changed our reality.”
As the cheers softened, an organizer announced, “This session is adjourned.”
Walter Hillegas, a 34-year-old union plumber from Queens, stayed awake all night in the park, and had one word to describe Brookfield’s last-minute about-face.
“Simply put, ‘Wow,'” Hillegas said. “It just goes to show you can’t remove that many people.”
Although the city’s cleanup was canceled, the ground was washed by the night’s heavy rains, and polished with lavender- and eucalyptus-scented cleaning oils mopped throughout the 33,000-square-foot space.
Demonstrators also pruned and replanted the park’s chrysanthemum flowerbeds, which had taken a bruising from the fall season and foot traffic.
Scott, a professional gardener who was pruning leaves and reviving the mums, criticized the city’s flower choice.
“These aren’t sustainable. Even if we weren’t here, they’d be starting to die right now. They may be living for another two weeks, if none of this was here,” Scott told Courthouse News. “They’re expensive. It’s just a waste of money. Something like lavender, you’d never have to replant. They’re gorgeous.”
Jordan, a professional gardener from Vermont, told Courthouse News that Occupy Wall Street’s self-styled General Assembly paid for the mums, with demonstrators making runs to Home Depot and other stores.
CNBC reported that the movement has more than $200,000 in its coffers from private donors around the country.
Hillegas, who said he wants to become known as “Walter the Plumber,”
volunteered his expertise for on-site waste management.
“I think that community boards and other people are trying to get portable toilets here,” he said. “If it were up to me, I’d love to build portable bathrooms.”
Some local businesses have complained about demonstrators, who have few public alternatives, using and trashing their restrooms.
In the past 24 hours, the movement’s “Sanitation Working Group” worked hard to show they could clean the space without help from the city.