So the billionaire bully and coward Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York, waited until the middle of the night to spring a surprise eviction on the occupants of Zuccotti Park, the home, for the last two months, of the Occupy Wall Street movement that has spread across the US and around the world (see here for my archive of articles).
Shortly after 1 am, police began clearing the park, and the disdain for the occupiers and their possessions was palpable. Despite promising that residents would be able to retrieve their possessions from the city sanitation department, everything was destroyed. People’s possessions — and the entire 5,000-book OWS library — were all tossed in the back of garbage trucks. In addition, journalists were prevented from having access to the park, and some were attacked by the police, which was a troubling development.
It was, no doubt, not coincidental that the eviction came just two days before a planned day of action to mark two months since Occupy Wall Street was established, but it is difficult to see how such a dark and underhand move by the Mayor was supposed to crush the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street protestors. In a statement, the Mayor said that he had “become increasingly concerned — as had the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties — that the occupation was coming to pose a health and fire safety hazard to the protestors and to the surrounding community.” He also said that yesterday, as the New York Times described it, “Brookfield asked the city to assist in enforcing ‘the no sleeping and camping rules,’” but he added, “Make no mistake. The final decision to act was mine and mine alone.”
In an attempt to make the eviction sound palatable, he also stated that protesters had been told that they would be” free to return to the park once Brookfield finishes cleaning it,” and that they “are welcome there to exercise their First Amendment rights, and otherwise enjoy the park,” but they “will not be allowed to use tents, sleeping bags, or tarps and, going forward, must follow all park rules.”
However, despite mentioning the protestors’ First Amendment rights, Mayor Bloomberg also made it clear that, in contrast, his decisions regarding health and safety trumped the protestors’ First Amendment rights when it came to evicting the camp. “From the beginning,” he stated, “I have said that the City had two principal goals: guaranteeing public health and safety, and guaranteeing the protesters’ First Amendment rights. But when those two goals clash, the health and safety of the public and our first responders must be the priority.” So finally, it seems, “health and safety” has even vanquished the US Constitution.
The decision to evict — as “Occupy” camps in Oakland, Portland, Oregon, Salt Lake City, Denver and Atlanta have also been targeted by the authorities — was undoubtedly intended not only to “break” the New York occupation, but also to undermine the movement as a whole. However, it only took hours for the National Lawyers Guild to fight back, securing a restraining order at 8 am that obliged the city authorities and the owners of Zuccotti Park to allow the protesters back, with their belongings (emphasis added), although the authorities kept the park fenced off, with hundreds of police blocking access, awaiting the result of the New York Supreme Court’s hearing into the restraining order, which began at 11.30 am.
As the hearing was taking place, Michael Ratner, the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, “marched back down to Zuccotti Park with several hundred protesters,” and told the Guardian that the Mayor should be “held in contempt” for violating the court order allowing the protesters to return to the park. “There have been half a dozen arrests,” he said. “These are riot cops, it’s pretty rough and a clear violation of the order.” he added that the court battle dealing with the restraining order was a “critical first amendment issue.”
For those unfamiliar with the First Amendment, and its importance in the US, the Guardian explained, “Freedom of speech is protected under the first amendment of the US constitution. Different types of speech have different levels of protection and political speech is the most sacrosanct of all. ‘Expressive protest’ is the right to express a political opinion through action, the most famous, and controversial, example being the burning of the US flag.”
Ratner explained, “If there is ever a case of ‘expressive protest’ this is it. Occupying the center of Wall Street in protest against the damage that these protesters believe those who work there have done to this country could not be a clearer example of expressive protest.”
That was a rousing defense of the First Amendment, and should, I believe, have served as a vindication for the protestors’ right to remain in Zuccotti Park, but at 4.46 pm, the court ruled against the protesters, denying the temporary restraining order issued this morning. What happens next is, as yet, unclear, but as the protesters work out where they can establish a new camp — which surely, is essential for the survival of the movement — I’m cross-posting below an article that a number of OWS organizers wrote last night for the Guardian, where it was published earlier today.
Two months ago, just 200 of us set up an encampment at Wall Street’s doorstep. Since then, Occupy Wall Street has become a national and even international symbol — with similarly styled occupations popping up in cities and towns across America and around the world. A growing popular movement has significantly altered the national narrative about our economy, our democracy, and our future.
Late into last night, we on the Occupy Wall Street PR team were reflecting on the successes, challenges and the aims of our movement up to this point. Over the weekend, some 20 writers sent us their thoughts on their experience with direct democracy and the evolution of the movement. We sat in awe for a moment at the various perspectives, backgrounds and motives of each OWS contributor and their journey through this burgeoning movement.
At exactly 12.54am — as the PR working group was culling final articles for this very editorial page, the Outreach team nearby was developing orientation materials for the new initiative “Occupy Your Block”, and the Movement Building working group engaged in a conference call about national plans for the Day of Action on 17 November — an alert rippled room to room. At 1.20am, our phones started buzzing off the tables, overloaded with text messages. Three blocks away, and within seconds, we knew that hundreds of riot police were arriving, dump-trucks rolling in, subway stops shutting down, and the Brooklyn bridge had been closed. Via Twitter we knew our fellow Occupiers were chanting, “This is what a police state looks like.” Half the people in the off-site office space ran to Liberty Square, leaving their laptops, their wallets, their phones even, behind.
PR working group member Jason Ahmadi texted the team from a police van full of 13 arrestees, and we soon discovered that NYC council member Ydanis Rodríguez had been arrested and was bleeding from the head. One after another text message alerted us to the effect that those not yet arrested at Liberty Square were being chased up Broadway, towards Chinatown. Some of our people headed to Foley Square by City Hall, some to Washington Square, and others to Judson Memorial Church, where so many of our meetings have been held these past weeks.
Occupiers undeterred by the unprovoked brutality rained on them by police instantly regrouped and launched a fresh General Assembly, which took place at Foley square. More General Assemblies are planned throughout the day. An interfaith gathering planned for 9.00am aimed to offer comfort and encouragement to the occupiers.
At 2.43am, the New York Observer reported that photographers with credentials were barred from Liberty Square. Seconds later the director of editorial operations at Gawker reported that a CBS news chopper were ordered out of the sky by the NYPD. New York Times journalist Jarid Malsin went to jail in zipties. And 20 minutes later, we heard the NYPD was cutting down trees in Liberty Square, and from our office space we could hear the deployment of a Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), a sound cannon. To be certain, we could see and feel that this operation had been planned carefully to exclude all media coverage, sending out a loud message about how dissent will be treated in this democracy.
But we are not deterred. Our spirits our high, our resolve indomitable.
This burgeoning movement is more than a protest, more than an occupation, and more than any tactic. The “us” in this movement is far broader than those who are able to participate in physical occupations. The movement is everyone who sends supplies, everyone who talks to their friends and families about the underlying issues, everyone who takes some form of action to get involved in this civic process.
This moment is nothing short of America rediscovering the strength we hold when we come together as citizens to take action to address crises that impact us all.
Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces — our spaces — and, physically, they may succeed. But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people – all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power. We believe this idea resonates with so many of us because Congress, beholden to Wall Street, has ignored the powerful stories pouring out from the homes and hearts of our neighbors, stories of unrelenting economic suffering. Our dream for a democracy in which we matter is why so many people have come to identify with Occupy Wall Street and the 99% movement.
As of filing this morning, with 100 people sitting in jail, a judge has declared that we have a right to return with our belongings, while Mayor Bloomberg insists that the park will remain closed. It does not matter. We will reclaim our streets block by block: we will occupy our public spaces, everywhere, knowing that this idea cannot be evicted.
And there you have it: You can’t evict an idea. And as I’ve been saying all along, why do the authorities think they can persuade people to return home, when there are no jobs, and that’s why they’re out on the streets in the first place? People are waking up, and those in power will have to deal with it, and come up with answers. Answers and jobs. And an explanation of how the 1 percent can justify its ever-increasing wealth at the expense of everyone else.
Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to my RSS feed (and I can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Digg and YouTube). Also see my definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, updated in June 2011, “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” a 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011, and details about the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (co-directed by Polly Nash and Andy Worthington, and available on DVD here — or here for the US). Also see my definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all my articles, and, if you appreciate my work, feel free to make a donation.
On Facebook, Gabriele Müller wrote:
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Digging and sharing, Andy.
Thanks, Gabriele and George, and everyone sharing this.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Right now I am confused. Despite this text, it might be that the protestors will be allowed to return.
Allowed to return to the park, but not with tents or any baggage, George, from what I’m hearing via Twitter. It’s why I asked where the protestors can go now, as I believe they need a physical place for an “occupations,” but are now running up against land ownership problems, and the extent to which, over the last few decades, public spaces have stealthily been privatized. These are issues that have been raised in London.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Thanks Andy, that’s what I thought I read. Was not sure though.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
I’m sure they have been raised in London. More people there are aware of the Enclosure Acts.
I think you’re right, George, and it’s also quite easy to tap into other land reform movements in the past — the Diggers and Levellers, for example — and in comparatively recent history, in the traveller/free festival/road protest movements of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
The US, I think, can probably tap into a whole Emerson/Whitman/self-sufficiency thing, but I’m not sure how much leverage that has in the cities. Worth promoting though, I think …
Rosie Much wrote:
In view of what’s occurred over the last day, it’s even more important than ever.
Thanks, Rosie. Yes, I think so. I do believe the questions OWS is asking, and the ideas that communal living and “occupation” have been introducing can be located in a different physical location, but it doesn’t seem that we’ve reached that point yet, hence the need for another public space — or a “private” space that can be claimed as public. In the longer run, as I’ve been discussing elsewhere, the problem is not just jobs and the colossal greed of the few, but land — who owns it and why, how much it’s worth and why, and what’s built on it, and who owns it and why.
George Kenneth Berger wrote (in response to 8):
The Emerson etc stuff suffers from their excessive romanticism. In the USA, all I ever heard were talks about civil disobedience, back to nature, and unreadable (for me) Emersonian transcendentalism. Not much there to build a movement on, imho.
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
Andy, before I turn in, one thing. In all the online discussions I’ve had in the past two weeks, I have heard not one mention of Emerson, Whitman, or even Thoreau. These writers have been absorbed by academics to such an extent that they’ve nearly vanished from public discourse.
I think that must mean something and I suspect it’s not good, George. Some of those writings may be dull or pompous, but there was a wildness and energy to Walt Whitman that shouldn’t have been lost, surely. Perhaps, though, there’s a whole process of rediscovering history that needs to take place. If I wasn’t a child of the 70s and 80s, I wonder what context I’d have grown up with these last 15-20 years?
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
That is one reason I was glad to get out of teaching when I did. The texts that were canonical for us in the 60s, when I was in college and graduate school (in NYC), were all but unknown, starting around 84 in Holland and the USA. I felt that essential cultural inheritances were being lost. At this moment, it’s worse. I attribute this to (at least) postmodernism, the dumbing down of education, ditto for much popular culture, and above all a feeling by business and its friends in government that general, broad, education is unnecessary because it is unprofitable. A technologically highly-developed society needs, I think, few broadly educated yet skilled workers. So the politicians (motivated by economic considerations, mainly) say, ‘Great, then let’s cut funding for public education bt downsizing it.’ They don’t dare say this out loud, or so explicitly, since that might mean political suicide. Instead, they go on and on about excellence, efficiency, preparing for the future, modernization, and probably more diversionary phrases. Then, even the knowledge that there are bodies of knowledge that are valuable to know a little about, gets lost. I’ve seen this happen in at least four countries. Quite apart from this might (i am uncertain) be a desire to stifle critical thinking and analysis, by cutting off the knowledge of how to do so, and the sources that one can use in the process. All this isn’t just my pessimism and suspicious nature at work; I’ve heard the same things from respected political scientists in several nations.
I tend to be more cynical about the motives, as I believe we’ve seen the steady triumph of leaders committed to stifling individual thought, because of their fear of dissent, which is about as counter-productive as a society can get, considering that a dull, drone-like population trained to be hooked on regular doses of material gratification does not yield entrepreneurs of any kind (whether intellectual or financial), and without lawbreakers, iconoclasts, innovators and gamblers a society stagnates.
I also blame the bean-counting model of politics that was particularly favoured by Tony Blair, which involves setting targets for everything, even though almost everything worthwhile cannot be measured that way In education, for example, schoolchildren are relentlessly monitored and graded as tough education itself was some sort of laboratory experiment.
Donna Ellison wrote:
It seems likely that the order to evict the occupy protesters in several US cities over the last 10 days has come from the Fed. Homeland Security, the FBI, and other federal agencies are helping to coordinate the evictions and also providing tactical strategy to local law enforcement. That may seem like splitting hairs, but federal action is much more sinister in this situation.
Rosie Much wrote:
Wow Donna, hadn’t thought about that.
Zeeshan Kureshi wrote:
When they won’t allow peaceful protests to take place, then people may get violent, as unemployment and hunger will eventually bring them back on the streets. It would have been wise to let people vent their anger through peaceful means.
Jez Cuthbert wrote:
Thanks, everyone. Donna, yes, I agree that there are clear signs of federal coordination when it comes to the evictions, and that’s troubling, of course. Also, Zeeshan, I think you make a good point. If peaceful occupations are prevented, then people’s indignation and anger will be expressed in some other manner. I’ll be writing more about this over the course of the day.
George Kenneth Berger wrote (in response to 15):
Now that you mention it, and I’ve thought about it during lunch, all these motives might fit together quite neatly, as part of one package. Start with education. If that is cut, the first victims are often the humanities (threatened now in the UK), sometimes along with pure mathematics (happened in Amsterdam). This not only saves the government and business money (less need to invest in schooling and employees), but amputates exactly those university divisions where critical, logical thinking is fostered. Then you can get the drone society you mentioned, which is as counterproductive as you say. So destruction of the ability and desire to dissent and think individually, and cost-cutting, can go hand-in-hand. I think they are now doing just that.
The bean-counting procedures help, in part by setting upper cost limits to almost every governmental expenditure except defence. It also prioritises functions, with particularly bad results in healthcare. I too like iconoclasts (and am one) etc. They are dying breeds, at least at the universities I know. There, it’s conformity, low-profile, ‘safe’ behaviour, all the way.
Thanks, George. Yes, it’s why I’ve been pining for some collective anger, as it seems to me that, along with this desire to suppress dissent by politicians who, having moved beyond ideology, are hollow men (and women) and everyone is a potential threat who might see through them, and discover that they merely blow in the wind wherever the money is, and have huge egos and nasty authoritarian impulses, there has also been a transformation of the psychology of dissent. In this field of collective suppression, political anger is regarded as the result of a psychological imbalance, and the message is that, if we were all at one with ourselves, we wouldn’t take umbrage at the disgraceful lies and distortions with which we are bombarded day and night. I recall first noticing this happening around 1984 (funnily enough), when a biography of Picasso was published which was a kind of psychological deconstruction, in which he had “issues” and a questionable attitude to women, and my alarm bells started ringing …
George Kenneth Berger wrote:
It is because they are hollow men that the world might end with a bang, not a whimper. But seriously, you are right. Perceived dissent is now seen as one more psychological issue, even a disorder. I guess Picasso had an “issue” with the mass dive-bombing of small Basque towns, and with military dictators. In Holland, it was standard to reply to many critical statements with “you are angry,” which neatly avoids talking sensibly about anything, even anger, which is often justified. Bad psychology, New Age, and the postmodern reduction of many things to stories of merely personal interest, have, imho, so infected Europe and America, that many have been diverted from thinking clearly and rationally, since these doctrines often hold that there’s no such thing as logic and meaning. I too saw the signs early, around 1971. After I moved to the Netherlands in 72, it became worse throughout Europe. With such mental numbing, one becomes pliable, quietistic, and accepting of almost anything. I just don’t read this kind of literature, and have stopped reading book reviews written in this mushy fashion (I switched from the TLS to the LRB at the sound advice of a solid British literary person). I have gotten into arguments about this, and lost a friend as well. Your alarm bells were and are properly responsive.
Thanks, George, for the invigorating response. Great conversation. Such a shame that it’s necessary to unpick the madness of the last 30 years, so pervasive has been the influence of Thatcher and Reagan’s generation.
Dejanka Bryant wrote:
Sharing, thanks, Andy.
John McAlpin wrote:
Thanks, Dejanka and John. Good to hear from you.
Shawna Marie Murray wrote:
Thanks for calling out the bullies, Andy. We need to move forward with legal action like lawsuits.
And we need to move forward by not giving up, Shawna. Our leaders want an atomised, enslaved population, whereas Occupy is collective dissent, and very public. If camp after camp is to be evicted, we need to find ways to stick together, and to be noticed. I’ll be following forays into housing very closely, as I think focusing on the foreclosure crisis targets the banks, raises the issue of those evicted and let down in the wake of the financial crisis, and also provides an opportunity to make a case for putting empty properties to good use.
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