ALL NIGHT AT LIBERTY SQUARE, WATCHING WITH OCCUPY WALL STREET

If it had not been so scary, it would have been ridiculous.  The heavy about the middle police officer just a foot away from me on Broadway where I could not fail to notice was wearing a bullet proof vest!  The only people present with guns were the police.  He and a cohort of his fellows had been there for a long time now, sometime after daylight on Friday morning, when my fellow protester James, a musician whose mother had been active in the Civil Rights movement, pointed out to me that the police car that had just pulled up had a trunk full of night sticks which the police were now taking out.  Guns and sticks.  All the better to beat and shoot us with.

It was actually a motor scooter that did the most damage when the policeman riding it drove over the leg of a National Layers Guild legal observer.


He was also beaten with one of the sticks.  If you have not seen some of the footage of that incident, click here.  As so often in this now massive protest, that was many blocks from where I was and I didn’t even know about it till later in the day when I was home and could watch online news.  I think in retrospect that I witnessed the head of the legal observers team informing some of the other observers about the incident.  They were standing not far from me and I caught snatches of what he was saying that made no sense at the time.

National Lawyers Guild Legal Observer

I had been with the occupiers in the late afternoon on Thursday and was moved, often literally in response to requests that I do so, by the occupiers armed with mops and brooms, who were scrubbing and cleaning.

In their typically creative, cheerful, and positive response to the threat of being shut down under the pretext that the owners of the square wanted to clean and the accusations that the occupation was a health hazard (it is not), they were making a huge public event out of cleaning.  I had held up a sign about the cleaning on the northeast corner of the square on Broadway and directed people to please avoid the spot behind me that was being scrubbed at that moment.  Committing to coming back at 6am on Friday to be there for the invasion, I went home shortly after dark.

During the World Can’t Wait national conference call where the occupations all over the country were discussed and people reported about events in Washington the week before, I mentioned that I would be at Liberty Square the next morning and heard for the first time that the call had changed and we were asked to go down at midnight.  It was nearly 11pm.  When I got off the phone, I saw an email from Bonnie saying she was going and suggesting I join her.  I agreed and told her to look for me there.  It is really hard to find people on that crowded plaza, but she did find me and we began one of the greatest adventures of our friendship.

We were interviewed by a young documentary film maker named Chris.  He is 27 years old and has been interested in photography and film since high school.  Just after high school graduation, he was harassed by the FBI for making photographs of a bridge and a body of water somewhere north of New York City.  Not politicized at the time and having no agenda at all but an aesthetic one, he was astounded to be contacted at home by FBI agents and harassed.  Even worse, while flying with his mother to visit his grandfather a few years later, he discovered he was on the “no fly list.”  What kind of country does this to its teenagers?

The sky opened up and poured rain down upon us.  A cheer went up from the occupiers. Someone remarked that he did not believe in any god, but that it appeared the universe was helping clean the plaza.  I had an umbrella which I held over Chris and the camera as he wrestled a plastic raincoat out of his backpack.  We continued to talk for a time in the pouring rain.  I was really glad I had thought to wear boots.  My right side got completely drenched and I remained wet the rest of the night.  Fortunately it was not cold.  Bonnie had on sneakers which began to squeak as she walked.  It helped me to know where she was.

In her generous and thoughtful way, Bonnie had brought food which she delivered to the kitchen area.  Sweeping and mopping continued and one or two of the young people doing that work asked us why we were there and what people were saying.  It was a cheerful and positive group.

The occupiers were not permitted to install portable toilets, but the McDonalds on Broadway in the next block is open all night and allows them to use the facilities there. Bonnie and I had an interesting and disquieting encounter in that restaurant.

By that time, a charming young man named Jay who had been awake for three days had joined us.  Though still coherent, he was understandably in a fatigue induced altered state.  It would be his job to talk to the press in the morning, but for now he seemed to want to be with two calm and supportive old ladies.  Grandmothers can be very soothing.

Bonnie waited in the long line for the rest room and she and Jay got something to drink and sought a place to sit down.  The entire space was filled with occupiers; at three o’clock in the morning in the financial district no one else is awake.  Two young women with a rolling suitcase and hand luggage who had come from Occupy Seattle to connect with the young people here sat next to us.  Like everyone there, we were all wet and tired but calm and cheerful.

Suddenly, the police roiled into the restaurant.  In a few minutes, the young manager accompanied them out.  Jay told us he was going to try to find out what was going on.  He had met the manager before, so he went to speak with him.  Jay reported that the police had been called but not by the manager; someone from above had ordered this.  In minutes, the situation was very tense.  A woman came in and announced in a very loud voice that everyone should buy something.  We were among the first people to choose to leave.  The restaurant, which provided the only restrooms in the vicinity, was closed within minutes and did not open again till 6am.

We went to the other side of Liberty Plaza because I had wanted to get some New York diner coffee instead of McDonalds coffee, and we three sat on a bench with water dripping occasionally on our heads and talked.  Jay said that he was not normally prone to premonitions of this sort but that he had felt evil about all day and that something was definitely up.  Well, of course it was.  The authorities were trying to shut the protest down.  He told us to stay on the sidewalk whatever happened.

Several other occupiers joined us.  One was from Arizona and we shared desert stories a little.  Someone remarked that a large coffee had been a bad idea with the McDonald’s closed.  A young woman went in frantically to ask the people in the place if they had a restroom.  They didn’t.

The drumming had been stopped since 10 pm because city ordinances proscribe music after that time.  The place was not as noisy as during the daytime, but still lively.  We chatted and waited.

There is a construction site nearby so the hard hats were coming along to be ready to get started on the job in a little while.  Some of their union buddies in yellow T-shirts with the union logo arrived to participate in the protest.  I was glad to see the burly construction workers among us.

Eventually, I told Bonnie that I was going to find restrooms.  I went nearly up to Canal Street from west of Church Avenue to Broadway.  Nothing.  At something before 5am, I saw people inside a Starbucks, but the store would not open until 5:30.  I returned to our spot where Bonnie and the boys were still hanging out.  Jay had left us some time before I went on my bathroom explore, we saw him much later when he said things were going well.  He was still upright and able to speak.  His concern had been that he would not be able to string together coherent sentences when talking to the media later.

Things were getting crucial in my case.  If I did not find a restroom soon, I was going to have to go home.  I told Bonnie I had not explored Broadway south of the plaza and would.  Two and a half blocks down, I found a coffee place that had just opened with a clean bathroom!  I returned telling everyone I saw about it.  When I got back to Bonnie, someone else had found a place west of us about two blocks down as well.

I am making a big deal of the bathroom story because it was a big deal.  That order to close the only facilities available was evil.  The pretext of hygiene that had been trumped up was unfounded, but a complete lack of restrooms would certainly result eventually in serious hygiene issues.

Sometime soon after that, the young people began chanting.  “I am not afraid,” was one of the ones that struck me the most.  These people have been beaten and thrown in jail and faced they did not know what, but they are not afraid.

Finally, Bonnie said she was going to cross the street into the plaza, that if they were going to march down Wall Street, she had to go with them.  I had committed to avoiding arrest if I possibly could and told George I would.  I had an important meeting scheduled at 1 pm that had been put off once already; I was committed to making that meeting.  I was very proud of Bonnie and told her she was the bravest woman I know as I hugged her before she went behind the barriers.

I did not leave the area, but posted myself on the other side of Broadway along with a lot of others.  I stayed there, joined eventually by my buddy James the musician, and watched until a little before 10am.  A blogger interviewed me about why I was there, but the notebook in my backpack was sopping wet, nearly paper maché, so I could not write down the web address and can’t remember it.  He was trying to address the issue that the major media do about the lack of focus of the Occupiers.

My response is that the question itself is a reflection of the Wall Street corporate model, which the Occupiers repudiate.  An agenda of specific demands would be working within a system that want to see replaced.  They say that they are experimenting, that is their word, with another model.  They have four hours a day of General Assembly discussions.  Extremely smart and creative, they are discovering how to work differently.

I have been on the streets protesting for a decade, but these efforts have led to nothing like this.  Camp Casey, which was also fixed in one place for a month, drew more response than most of the protest in which I have participated.  Occupy Wall Street owes some of its success in my mind to the fact that it is an occupation, that it has a locus, that it does not end.  Not only at Liberty Square in lower Manhattan but now in many other cities, people are present all the time.  It is very well organized, though not in the way many people in the US now can recognize, and also open for all the world to see, transparent in an age of secrecy.  The young people are very savvy about communications.  They actually have a global communications network in place already (click here to go to it) where they can tell their own story their own way, the best circumvention of the locked down corporate media I have seen.  They are very glad for other organizations to join them, but they are so clear about what they are doing that they will not be distracted from doing it.

The massive response to the mayor’s office and the support of many City Council members probably tipped the scales in the Occupation’s favor.  The “clean up” was postponed.  That decision having been made the some time before midnight, I can’t understand why the police were not called off.  Even if they had to be paid anyway, the excessive police presence would have been repugnant.  With no reason for forcible evacuation, why all the fat police in armored vests?  I doubt there can be a “good” answer to that question.

The occupiers celebrated with marches, one of which unfortunately led to the serious injury of the Legal observer, who was himself arrested, not the police officer who ran him down. Another of these, however, was characteristic of the quixotic good humor of the occupiers.  A contingent with brooms and maps and a big bucket crossed Broadway and cleaned up the plaza across the street.

Occupy Wall Street is the most exciting thing to happen for a very long time.  I support this movement and will continue to do for them what I can when I can.  They give me hope.

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