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(en) US, It's Alive! Occupy Actions Across the Country - New York & San Francisco
Thu, 20 Sep 2012 18:05:13 +0300
New York ---- "There is no longer an Occupy Wall Street." ---- That's what all the
mainstream outlets are saying this week, and they're right in one way. What started as a
couple hundred people in a park with no plan has turned into a decentralized, distributed
network of activists, affinity groups, organizations and organizers, working on everything
from free education to fracking. And so as New York's financial district was choked with
glitter, balloons, dance parties and a whole lot of police, Occupy's anniversary feels
less like a celebration of what was and more a demonstration of what's becoming. ---- The
plan on paper sounded much like November 17th: Shut down the NYSE bell. But it quickly
became very different. Maps handed out over the weekend (along with pre-coordinated text
message lists) separated the Financial District into quadrants, each with its own theme:
the Eco Zone, the Debt Zone, the Education Zone, and the 99% Zone (which includes the
original occupation site at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza).
At 7am, groups assembled in each zone to spread throughout the financial district, staging
creative actions as well as old-fashioned sit-down protests, designed to confuse,
distract, and infiltrate the heart of Wall Street.
From the red cube across from Zuccotti Park, one march headed out and down Broadway, to
run straight into the police barricades at Wall Street. But unlike last fall, when the
confrontations wound up as heated stare-downs between occupiers and police, this time
groups of people splintered off and set off to do their own thing. The maps had marked
strategically important locations--bank and corporate headquarters, the US Bankruptcy
Court, Emblem Health, TD Ameritrade, and many more.
The NYPD, meanwhile, had set up its own occupation, more thoroughly shutting down and
annoying the residents of the financial district than Occupy ever did. Barricades closed
off all access to Wall Street and many other locations as well as encircling Zuccotti and
lining both sides of Broadway. We spoke to one woman who was headed to her first day of
work on Wall Street and was not allowed through the barricades because she did not yet
have an ID--she struggled with tears as she told her story.
The police moved away from kettling and mass arrests a while ago and have settled on a
much more terrifying tactic--seemingly random snatch and grabs, yanking people off the
sidewalk out of a crowd. Artist Molly Crabapple was one such arrest, seized at around 8:00
AM from a march on a sidewalk near her Financial District apartment. So too was student
organizer Isham Christie, grabbed off the sidewalk in front of me, seemingly for crossing
the street at Broadway and Wall Street around 9:30 AM. While Christie is a longtime Occupy
organizer, Crabapple is an internationally-known illustrator and artist (and, full
disclosure, a sometime collaborator with this author) whose Occupy-related posters and
prints have been wheat-pasted around the globe. According to National Lawyers Guild New
York president Gideon Oliver, the 100-odd arrests by 11:00 AM also included a working
legal observer, Damen Morgan, arrested while taking down names of arrestees. The arrests
have tended to be quick, sometimes brutal, designed to intimidate and unnerve.
We watched the "balloon bloc," "writer's bloc," and "free university" blocs head out, and
then an organizer I've known for over a year grabbed my arm and told me, "You don't want
to miss this."
I fell in with her and a small group that wouldn't tell me the plan but warned me that
arrests were possible, and we moved down Water Street to the Chase building around the
corner, where I fell back and watched the crew stroll unhindered through the revolving
doors--and pull out bouncing balls, confetti, and a letter to Jamie Dimon, which they read
out loud--until the cops finally came in. Most of them, including longtime members of
Occupy's Direct Action Working Group, made it out again just fine, though a few arrests
were reported, among them possibly NYU professor Andrew Ross of Occupy Student Debt.
Reports reached us that a group of clerics and other Occupy Faith members were planning a
symbolic sit-in in front of the Wall Street Bull, so we headed that way next but found
ourselves instead in a scrum on the sidewalk on Broadway where more seemingly random
Other reporters scattered throughout the Financial District caught other actions; Nick
Pinto of the Village Voice tweeted that the education and debt blocs were joining up
briefly to "symbolically enact their interrelation" by shutting down an intersection and
stopping a police truck. Molly Knefel of Radio Dispatch reported, "Just saw a cop walking
w a giant pink cross, I assume confiscated from Occupy Faith." Citizen Radio's Allison
Kilkenny saw, "Two men in suits standing on corner quietly talking. Assumed they're wall
street until I heard them discussing #ows tactics."
Today isn't about mass movement-building, though. That's the work these groups are doing
day in and day out, off the streets, in their communities, with friends they met in and
out of the park. Instead, these days now serve as a moment for the diverse parts of left
movements to come together, to remind the enemy--financial firms and other big
corporations--that they haven't forgotten.
Though rumors abounded that the unions and community groups had abandoned Occupy, in New
York at least, that wasn't the case. While the overwhelming presence of May Day or even
October 14 wasn't to be seen, a few hundred union and community group members braved the
barricades at Zuccotti Park to come out in support. A crew from ACT UP, VOCAL-NY and
Housing Works, many dressed in Robin Hood costumes, called for a tax on Wall Street to pay
for health care, including AIDS care, and community group members from United NY, Strong
Economy For All, and New York Communities for Change rallied with workers from companies
that have been preyed upon by Bain Capital (and the now-famous and continually-terrifying
Bain 15-foot puppet).
But even while the rally went on in Zuccotti Park, impromptu marches and actions went on
in Lower Manhattan. One group spontaneously shut down the West Side Highway briefly on the
way to Goldman Sachs and the World Financial Center. A group, including several
CodePinkers wielding hot pink bras, held a brief mic check outside of the Bank of America
location adjacent to the park--until a quick, violent arrest left the NYPD holding a
fifteen- or twenty-foot perimeter around the bank's entrance for no visible reason.
The financial district felt alive with protest in a way that even the early days of Occupy
didn't; it was impossible to keep a count of the people around because they simply never
stayed still. When Zuccotti Park filled up midafternoon with people milling around like
the early days--People's Think Tank and all--a march promptly took off to try to reach the
stock exchange before the afternoon bell. The march clogged the sidewalks and resulted in
several arrests, including that of journalist and AlterNet contributor John Knefel, who
according to witnesses was walking on the sidewalk when he was pulled to the ground by
While the big march didn't make it to the stock exchange, a few intrepid college students
did. A group of students from Middlebury College in Vermont, a liberal arts school that
sends many graduates to work in finance, visited New York for the Occupy anniversary and
were disturbed by what they saw as racial disparities in the people who were being
harassed by police as they attempted to cross the barricades. They witnessed people of
color being stopped, asked for ID, held up, while well-dressed white people crossed easily.
Barrett Smith, dressed in a shirt, vest and tie, was the first to try crossing the line.
"I held up my Middlebury ID, said 'I'm from Middlebury,' and they let me right in," he
"We wanted to make a point about getting through the checkpoints," Anna Shireman-Grabowski
explained. So the group of them went in with their student IDs--9 of them, men and women,
all white. Then they held a mic check at the foot of the stock exchange, calling attention
to how easily they were able to cross, and the white privilege that allowed them to do it.
"The police did come at us and ask us to move along, but didn't arrest us," Katherine
"We were able to exercise our rights, which are protected by the Constitution, but there
are people in New York City who can't walk down the street without being arrested," Smith
At 6 PM, the Occupy groups descended back on Zuccotti for a spokescouncil and speak-out
session, but I headed to One Police Plaza to check on arrestees. In a small park across
from the police building, Occupiers and friends and family waited to greet released
friends with love, support, food, water, and beer and pizza at a neighborhood pizzeria
doing a brisk business at its sidewalk tables. A marching band played and people danced as
some of the 155 or more arrestees from the day trickled out--including faith leaders,
journalists, and one lawyer from the National Lawyers Guild.
That part, and several other parts of the anniversary, felt like the old days at Occupy.
The mood in the park was jubilant and slightly defiant, the crowd either celebrating the
return and the sight of old friends, or enjoying the feel of the occupation for the first
time. Yet today, Zuccotti didn't feel like the center so much as a place to regroup and
reach back out into the world, to take a breather before trying something new. "Occupy"
might not be the right name for the movement anymore, as today's actions were less about
holding space than breaching it, breathing new life into it, and then leaving it empty but
with traces of what might be scattered like the glitter and confetti on the floor.
The movement isn't what it was, and who can blame it? As many have pointed out, a year
into the Civil Rights movement, the bus boycotts were still fighting. Other tactics had
barely been thought of.
The mainstream media, and indeed much of the progressive media, is eager to pronounce this
movement over, to return to business as usual, to the latest Romney gaffe or poll. But for
too many Americans, business as usual ended in 2008 with the financial crash, or was never
tolerable to begin with. Occupy opened a space to discuss those problems and to dream of
something better, and there's no going back from that.
Over on the West Coast, Occupy San Francisco has planned a day filled with rallies and
protests to celebrate Occupy's one year anniversary. Its first action took place at noon
today as supporters gathered to hear the stories of elderly veterans whose homes are being
foreclosed on. In the video here, Rita Hall speaks for her godfather Alfred Richardson who
recently lost his home.
Don and Tina Baird were also in attendance. They have owned their home since 1966, but as
Tina stated, "were granted loans they shouldn't have been granted." They have tried to get
a bank loan modification, but to no avail. Don served in the U.S. Coast Guard, will turn
90 this month and is set to have heart surgery on Sept. 27. He faces eviction on Sept. 24.
Don said of the banks, "It's greed. It's the nature of capitalism. It's one of our big
flaws, this competitive society. The rich control everything. I feel like the banks have
abused our freedoms." Protesters then marched across the street to rally in front of Chase
bank, the bank responsible for the Baird's foreclosure. They vowed to fight the banks from
evicting these elderly veterans. So far, Occupy groups in San Francisco have saved 52
people's homes from foreclosure eviction and have stopped 300 homes from being auctioned.
Occupy San Francisco continued their actions today by protesting against foreclosures,
evictions and the criminalization of homelessness.
Occupiers sat down in front of Harvey Milk Plaza to protest San Francisco's Sit/Lie ban,
which bans sitting or lying on the city's sidewalks for all, but ultimately is most
detrimental to the homeless. Community Not Commodity, an LGBT Occupy coalition that
organized the rally, said the ban severely affects LGBT youth, who make up 40 percent of
Prior to the sit-in, protesters gathered in front of several banks in the Castro
neighborhood to demand an end to foreclosures and evictions. The group shouted:
"We demand that all evictions within our community cease immediately. Instead of investing
in toxic wars and criminalization, we demand that all of our communities are provided with
access to health care, affordable housing, food. And we demand that the laws of justice
respect the needs of the people over the needs of banks and corporations. Evict Wells Fargo!"
Activists also targeted Bank of America.
From Harvey Milk Plaza, Occupiers marched to Sterling Bank & Trust, entered their lobby
and demanded that they stop fractional interest loans. Protesters handed the manager of
the bank a request and urged them to halt all evictions.
In San Francisco, activists, some who held various rallies throughout the day, convened at
5 P.M. in the city's Financial District. About 3,000 people gathered at 555 California
St., a building, which used to be a Bank of America and is a symbol of the
commercialization of the city. The action began with activists awarding the city's
Foreclosure Fighters, a group that has worked tirelessly this past year to help fight
against foreclosures. These Fighters have helped save 52 people's homes from foreclosure
eviction and have stopped 300 homes from being auctioned.
The Foreclosure Fighters then led a march throughout the city's streets, shutting down
many of them along the way, including Market St. The thousands of protesters marched in a
celebratory, but still serious fashion - dancing to the live music, but also making sure
to shout and chant.
Occupiers ended their march in front of the Wells Fargo building on Montgomery St., where
they had planned to symbolically burn their debt. Police warned that they would interfere
if the protesters used flames, so the debt was ripped up instead.
Protesters ripped up student loan debt as well as mortgage debt. One man even ripped up
his $500,000 debt - mostly all, he said, coming from medical bills.
Although protesters were told not to use flames, one went rogue, however, and started
burning up money. The crowd cheered passionately, and the police, who at this point lined
the streets in their riot gear, did not get involved.
Occupy SF Direct Action Working Group member and MC for the night, Amy O'Hair, said she
was happy that more people showed up than she expected.
“It looks like we got 3,000 people out, which is fantastic for a Monday evening, and lots
of people came forward to tear up their debt,” O'Hair said. “I think people were in a
celebratory mood. It felt really good to be in the streets.”
After the debt burning action, protesters hung out, ate some free food and painted the
streets while they were waiting for a guerilla movie night to begin. Occupiers ended the
night by displaying Occupy-related documentaries on a portable screen.
Kriss Kranus, an activist who attended the rally, said that although the Occupy movement
still has a lot more work to do, in one year it has worked to expose structures that were
“So today Occupy is a year old. And even though it's a year later, we're still facing the
same hooligans we were a year ago. And San Francisco is a playground for the 1 percent, it
always has been,” he said. “But in San Francisco, people are concerned about what's going
on. And I think Occupy actually has created some real community discussions about
decolonizing from this capitalistic state.”
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