Tag Archives: Zuccotti Park

Occupy’s Two-Year Anniversary: It’s All in the Data

occupy

Occupy Wall Street was the first major event that I wrote about on this blog. Until this day I feel fortunate for working in such close proximity to Zuccotti Park. It afforded me an opportunity to be part of an event that I believe will eventually define the coming historical era. While the original occupations fizzled out due to general disorganization and authoritarian repression, that does not mean the movement itself will not resurface at some point in some form in the future, bigger than before. Yet, one would be hard-pressed to agree with this prediction if they were in downtown Manhattan a few days ago on the second anniversary of Occupy.

Walking past Zuccotti Park at seven-thirty in the AM on that day was a depressing sight. The entire perimeter was blocked off with metal police barricades, not to mention police. They were allowing the first trickle of protesters in as I was on my way to work. Seeing 5 or 6 young protesters in the middle of the square setting up shop while dozens of officers ringed the park was a far cry from what the place looked like two years ago. Back then a sea of humanity overflowed the benches, the floors and the sidewalks while the police tenuously occupied a sliver of the curb on Broadway, helplessly looking on as people exercised all types of freedoms right in front of them. Now it was the police who overflowed the park, firmly entrenched on all four sides while protesters sheepishly trickled in between the blue uniforms.

Later in the day, as I stepped out to grab lunch, I bore witness to a tame march of protesters circling the block of Zuccotti Park. They were relatively quiet, controlled in their movements and all held up signs with exactly the same size fonts and lettering. Each sign hearkened back to many of the messages of the original protest: “Stop Stop and Frisk”, “Get Money Out of Politics”, etc. But the spontaneity, the disorganization and the general exuberance were gone. The police looked on seemingly pleased at the good behavior of the young people who quietly passed through the narrow corridor of sidewalk they had left available. As the old police cliché goes, there was truly nothing to see here.

In fact, the real spectacle was on my side of Trinity Place across the street from the park. As I loitered by the phone booths smoking a post-lunch menthol, a different sea of humanity was passing by me as well. This humanity was much nosier and much less organized than the protesters across the street. Instead of holding signs with political messages, this sea of humanity was holding cameras and maps of Manhattan. That is right: it was a sea of tourists stopping to gawk at, and snap pictures of, the puny exercise in democracy taking place across the street. Ironically, this sea of unruly tourists did not have any NYPD officers circumscribing where they could walk.

It was at that point that I realized I was watching history unfold. On the Zuccotti side of the street, you had the protesters who stood against everything Pharaoh Bloomberg’s New York City had become. On my side of the street, you had the tourists who reveled in everything Pharaoh Bloomberg’s New York City had become. My side represented the era of repression and commercialism that is on its way out. The Zuccotti side represented the era of free association and community that is yet to be born.

To the tourists who pass through downtown Manhattan, everything is a spectacle. While Trinity Church, Federal Hall and even the giant-testicled bull at the foot of Broadway are nice photo opportunities, the tourists take things much further. Most of these out-of-towners are either coming from, or trying to get to, the 9/11 Memorial. They skip lightly with their children in tow, oftentimes herded down the street by tour guides with light blue 9/11 Memorial shirts on. “Let’s keep moving. We’re almost there” these tour guides can be heard saying to their pliant charges. They usually form a bottleneck along Cedar Street outside of the Ho Yip Chinese buffet as they shuffle along. Some of them even return the death glares that one lone history teacher throws them as they pass by, although they cannot return the menthol smoke he directs into their faces.

It is always a party atmosphere along Cedar Street. The only problem is that they are going to see two giant holes in the ground where nearly 3,000 people lost their lives 12 years ago. They will snap some pictures and then come back outside where they can stop at the 9/11 Memorial gift store to pick up World Trade Center memorabilia. The entire spectacle, from the obnoxious digital cameras to the pushy tour guides to the oblivious foreigners to the cackling children, is a giant Bloombergian farce.

One cannot totally blame the tourists for what downtown Manhattan has become. Thanks to Pharaoh Bloomberg, Larry Silverstein and the bloodsucking state politicians in Albany, what should be hallowed ground and a national reminder of our shared history is instead a hokey exercise in commercialism. Compare the 9/11 Memorial to the monuments in Washington, D.C. like the Lincoln or FDR or World War II memorials. Sure, those places can have floods of tourists too. However, at the end of the day, they are public spaces. They are shared spaces. They are civic spaces. There are no gift shops around them. There is not a constant parade of tour groups being led single-file by obnoxious guides who admonish them to keep up, monopolizing the small strips of public space that exist. Visitors to these places are not asked or guilted into making “donations” to the monument. One cannot buy a mug with an image of the D-Day invasion down the block from the World War II Memorial.

Even if there were all of those things around our national monuments in D.C., it would still be more tolerable than what has become of what used to be the World Trade Center area. Lincoln was killed 148 years ago. FDR died and World War II ended 68 years ago. There is a good chance that people involved in those events are not living and working in the D.C. area anymore. On the other hand, downtown Manhattan still has many residents and workers who were there in 2001. Some of them might have even narrowly escaped with their lives. Some of them might still suffer illnesses from breathing in the acrid smoke. Some of them, including police and firefighters, might have even saved people’s lives or lost friends that day. And yet, the survivors of this national tragedy have to look on each day as downtown Manhattan turns into a circus. While Bloomberg is not totally at fault for this, it is certainly in step with the Bloomberg plan for the city.

This is what I saw on the 2nd anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. To the tourists, the Occupy protesters were a curiosity and a spectacle much like the 9/11 Memorial. They did not expect to see democracy in action when they showed up that day with their maps and their cameras. Metaphorically speaking, the three-ring circus was featuring the dancing bear but the out-of-towners got the bearded lady as a bonus as well. They oohed and aahed throughout both acts, snapping pictures the entire time.

Bloomberg can say that downtown Manhattan has bounced back. The independent eateries and souvenir shops that were around before 9/11 are certainly crammed with tourists now, many of whom have American dollars burning holes in their pockets after converting from Euros. The Freedom Tower is more or less complete, all 1776 feet of it. Yet, just like Bloomberg’s “successes” with public schools and fighting crime, it is a success on the surface only. One only has to dig an inch deep to find the rot that Bloomberg’s gild conceals.

At the end of the day, whether it is tourist dollars, test scores or crime stats, the only thing that has been accomplished under the reign of Pharaoh Bloomberg in NYC is an artful manipulation of numbers. Those numbers bear very little resemblance to reality. Tourist bucks are flowing in, yet downtown Manhattan still bears a national scar that has not been properly treated. Test scores are up (or at least they used to be), yet our students still have trouble making their way in the world after they graduate. Crime is down (or at least it used to be), yet many average New Yorkers are being robbed by a ridiculous cost of living. For the poorest New Yorkers, the NYPD has terrorized them in their own communities thanks to stop-and-frisk.

That is why when I was standing there between the Occupy protesters and the tourists, I was able to feel the tide of history wash over me. One side represented the dying Bloomberg era of optimistic data that continues to fool so many people. The other side represented the coming era of a mass awakening of what that data was always concealing.

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Zuccotti Park Revisited: Reign of a Parade

The Giants had their victory parade down the Canyon of Heroes today. Their route took them through the heart of the financial district, including what used to be the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, Zuccotti Park. Since November’s eviction, Zuccotti Park has been a wasteland of empty sitting areas, police officers and a few protestors (not all of them associated with OWS). Today, it was a place for revelers to take a load off (and even sneak a libation or three) after standing along Broadway for several hours. What a difference six months makes in the life of Zuccotti Park.

It was just this past September that a few dozen activists set up camp in the concrete square. That act alone awakened the conscience of a nation. Over the ensuing weeks and months, people like me were able to go to Zuccotti Park to talk about poverty, inequality, the environment, corporate greed and our morally bankrupt political system. Thanks to the brave people who held the park over the course of three months, issues that concerned citizens had been talking about in the wilderness for years all of the sudden took center stage. It was a shot of adrenaline into what normally was a sterile and farcical political discourse.

But then the eviction came. The White Shirts and beat cops gave way to riot police. They took the park by storm in the middle of the night, ripping up tents and burning books in an inquisitional orgy of repression. The movement certainly did not die that day, but no longer would the protestors be able to use Liberty Square as their base of operation. The police promised them that the square would be open to the public the next day and then ringed the block with barricades and blue shirts for the next month. All signs of life and community vanished from the area. There was very little liberty to be had in Liberty Square.

Today’s parade was a mockery of what the occupiers started to build six months ago. The occupiers held the park in an exercise of mass awareness and citizenship. Today, red-cheeked and well fed onlookers stood facing Broadway, their backs to the park, in order to catch a glimpse of their favorite millionaire athletes. It was an exercise in mass distraction. Bars in the area quickly filled up at midday with partiers intent on keeping the mass distraction going. They spilled out into the street, making noise, slapping hands and blocking crosswalks. Yet, there was no pepper spray, no mass arrests, no White Shirts and nobody was dragged to the paddy wagon. Nobody questioned them as to whether they should be at work or whether they might find better things to do with their time. No sanitation worker talked down to them or called them lazy do-nothings. Instead, they dutifully followed behind the revelers, cleaning up ticker tape and other assorted refuse. When normal life resumes in the financial district tomorrow morning, it will be like nothing had ever happened.

That is why, on this day especially, it is important for us to remember the work that started at Liberty Square 6 months ago.

Zuccotti Park: One Week after the Eviction

What is wrong with this picture?

It has now been a week since Occupy Wall Street was evicted from Zuccotti Park. The park is quiet and desolate thanks mostly to the police officers ringing the perimeter, determining who is able to enter. They are the new occupiers of the park, bringing a different set of rules than the previous occupiers. “Occupation” in the style of OWS meant openness, an ironic twist on a word with usually repressive undertones. The police now at the park have restored “occupation” to its original, militaristic function. What has become of Zuccotti Park over the past week is a stark reminder of what both the protestors and corporatized society are all about.

Before the protestors were evicted, one could walk through Zuccotti Park and see for themselves what the Occupy Wall Street movement stood for. The tent village shared by the mostly young occupiers was a tribute to communal living. The constant pounding of the drums was America’s youth crying out to be heard over the din of consumerism. The free flow of food, available to anyone that wanted it, reminded us of how plentiful our resources are. They were showing us how to give freely without stigmatizing or criminalizing people in need. The “People’s Library”, flush with books about modern society, was a lesson in acquiring information in the information age. The marches reminded us, and will continue to remind us, of our duties as citizens. People who say Occupy Wall Street has no goals or no vision miss the point. It was their example, their occupation of Zuccotti Park, that was the goal and the vision. The occupiers not only showed us what this country could be, but that the collective will to make it so is real. After all, they did all of this in the shadow of the Wall Street giants who pushed us to despair.

That explains the midnight raid on Zuccotti Park a week ago. The Wall Street giants, along with their fellow travelers in government like Mayor Bloomberg, considered the occupation a cancer that had spread across the country. The raid struck at what they saw as the root of the cancer at Zuccotti Park. Police were sent in suddenly and without warning, like a blast of chemotherapy into a patient’s veins. The tents were destroyed, the drums were silenced, the food was taken and the books were burned. More than an eviction, it was a direct assault on everything for which the movement stood. By dismantling the occupation’s infrastructure, they hoped to dismantle the nationwide movement. In this regard, it had an eerie similarity to the “shock and awe” tactics used in Iraq: a sudden, sweeping and coordinated attack on everything that makes a society go.

And what Zuccotti Park looked like in the hours after the eviction was what the Neocons envisioned for Iraq after shock and awe: barren, desolate, a blank slate on which capitalists could build. There was the promise to the occupiers, as well as to the general public, that they could return to the park once it was “cleaned”, much like there was the promise of freedom in Iraq once the war is over. Yet, after a week, the police still surround the park and the sanitation workers are still “cleaning”, much like American troops and contractors remained in Iraq well after Saddam was captured and hanged. It was all an excuse to destroy in order to remind everyone of the extent of corporatist power, as well as to extend that power.

Zuccotti Park now is the corporatist ideal of the world writ small. It is a privatized public space. Police tightly regulate foot traffic into the park. They ensure that the crowd remains very small. The few activists that show up are conspicuous because they stand out. Instead of being part of a crowd of thousands, the people with the signs and the flags are spectacles. Instead of a group of people exercising citizenship, it is a confederation of individuals each drawing attention to themselves. No longer the shining example of collective democracy, it is now a marketplace for individuals seeking their 15 minutes. The corporatists like Bloomberg understood what the park symbolized in a way that the average critic will never understand. That is why while the average critic was dismissing the movement, Bloomberg was giving the green light for a merciless eviction. By occupying Zuccotti Park, the corporatists are now showing the world their own vision for society. It is a barren and hopeless world. Police scrutiny prevents political activism. People are atomized into a competition to be spectacles, like a bunch of reality show stars.

But the new occupation of Zuccotti Park does not mean that Occupy Wall Street is done. Anybody who was at the Day of Action on the heels of the eviction saw a bigger and more determined Occupy Wall Street than ever before. The corporatists, out of touch as always, were wrong in assuming Zuccotti Park was the cause of the Occupy Wall Street cancer. It is our deteriorating conditions as a people and the blind march of corporatism over every part of our lives that is the cause. Occupy Wall Street is the cure, corporatism is the cancer. If the corporatists want to do away with Occupy Wall Street, then they must first do away with themselves. Occupy Wall Street will continue to grow because the corporatist cancer continues to grow. More and more people will see their world decay around them and realize that Occupy Wall Street is their only hope.