For two nights, it appears a dozen or so people have occupied Union Square in New York City. This morning there are people still in the park who slept there overnight. What is happening here carries the potential to renew the movement that has now been around for six months. It also affirms what has become a truth: every time the movement is met with police brutality or a huge show of police force, that movement is galvanized and new life is breathed into it.
The occupiers began to set up a base in Union Square after the New York Police Department (NYPD) violently threw protesters out of Zuccotti Park. The Village Voice reported over seventy arrests on March 17. Cecilly McMillan, 23, who was profiled by Rolling Stone, had a seizure after being roughly handled by police. She taken into custody and eventually sent to Bellevue Hospital for psychiatric treatment, which seems eerily similar to what the Soviet Union did to punish dissidents.
The Guardian‘s Ryan Devereaux reported “individuals who had been involved with Occupy protests described the actions as the most violent they had seen.” Devereaux reported on Mariah McKinney, 21, who told him police had “choked” and “dragged” her from the crowd by her hair. And on 10th Street, “a protester was slammed into a glass door by a burly police officer, resulting in a large crack in the glass.” The protester shouted, as he was led away by police, that he had been punched in the face by police.
Occupiers unanimously agreed NYPD was trying to send a message to them that there would be no toleration of any attempt to reoccupy the birthplace of the movement. Allison Kilkenny for In These Times reported 1st Precinct Commanding Officer Edward Winski escalated tensions when he began to “act unnecessarily aggressive toward protesters: shoving them out of his way even as they were trying to move back onto the sidewalk.” Winski, according to the Gothamist, had “reached over police barricades to detain an OWS protester during a march last September, and in December arrested protester Justin Wedes as he passively filmed the police.” It was entirely plausible that he was a key player in the decision to use such force on occupiers. (JA Myerson of Truthout highlighted a police sergeant in his report who was even more thuggish toward occupiers if not outright deranged.)
Kilkenny also experienced more NYPD violations of freedom of the press. She was told to step back after she could not see what was happening. She said she was press. The officer said that he knew. She explained the “press can’t really do their jobs if we can’t see what’s going on” [Kilkenny's emphasis] but that did not matter. She moved.
Press freedom violations were routine. Video shows a member of the press shouting, “We can’t see the story from over here. If we’re a member of the press, how are we supposed to do our job if you kick us out of the park?” (Ben Doernberg extensively documented instances where NYPD interfered with the press on the anniversary.)
Two days after , the movement has again been galvanized just like Occupy Oakland was when police fired off weapons at protesters and then later arrested 300 people outside of a YMCA on January 27 and “Solidarity Sunday” actions popped up; just like when Occupy Wall Street was driven out of Zuccotti on November 15 and other Occupy groups responded with demonstration; just like when UC Davis students were pepper-sprayed by Lt. John Pike; just like when Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was hit by a tear gas canister and suffered a brain injury at an Occupy Oakland protest that inspired vigils which were held the Thursday after; just like when 700 were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge during an Occupy Wall Street protest; and just like when Officer Anthony Bologna pepper-sprayed female Occupy Wall Street protesters, who let out blood-curdling screams when the effects of the spray began to hit them.
Occupy Wall Street characterizes the occupation of Union Square under the banner of “NYPD: Squash us in one park, we will reappear in another!”:
As long as their is injustice, as long as the country is divided between rich and poor, and as long as the 1% continues to exert control over our lives, we will not go away. We will continue to use public space to rebuild true democracy, create networks to support one another, provide services to those suffering from the economic crisis, and launch nonviolent disruption of inequality everywhere. We will defend those facing unfair foreclosures and loss of critical social services, and we will continue to call out the Wall Street bankers and corporate executives who are profitting from these atrocious poilicies.
Taking Union Square is not a signal that the Occupy movement has moved on from occupying Wall Street. It is a signal that Occupy Wall Street understands the importance of maintaining a physical presence. It will still continue to return to Zuccotti to challenge the city’s use of force to suppress assembly and freedom of speech.
As Myerson writes, the “NATO and G8 summits (now separate), May Day, the potential rollout of indictments by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s investigation of the financial sector, a shaky outlook for Greece and the Euro and ominous signs for Bank of America” all mean the energy within the Occupy movement has great potential to be renewed.
On the other hand, the movement faces a 2012 presidential election that could very well suffocate it if it does not stay organized and maintain clarity throughout. The election is an opportunity to advance issues involving money in politics and corporate personhood, which are key issues to the Occupy movement. It is an opportunity to put forth a vision for addressing structural problems in American elections.But, this opportunity must be approached with the understanding that elections in the United States suffocate movements (for example, look at what happened to the antiwar movement in 2004 and even 2006).
To press on and remain relevant to society, the movement will need to work to maintain a separation between electoral politics and social action. Its participants and supporters will need to continue to derive power from going where they are not supposed to go, saying what they are not supposed to say and staying when they are asked to leave, as it did so well in final months of 2011.
It will also need to pause and reflect and ask members in Occupy groups what they think about how far the movement has come and how far the movement has to go. There are hundreds of groups that sprouted when Occupy Wall Street started six months ago. Some are in utter disarray. A good number are almost non-existent now.
These groups can come back together and find the civility and discipline to continue to make impacts in their communities. But, they have to have the courage to sit down and reconcile with others and learn from past problems. They also have to realize that they are part of something significant that gave many Americans hope and by failing to engage in more self-control they are putting the possibility of change at risk.
Occupy still carries much potential but it has to transition from being a mindset for the afflicted and rebellious. It has to further solidify itself as a life force for concrete social and political change brought about through not just the transformation of people’s social and political consciousness but also the transformation of people’s understanding responsibility to society.
We all have to take responsibility and engage in some meaningful action in order to make the visions a reality.
Here’s Democracy Now!’s coverage of the violent arrests of Occupy protesters on the six-month anniversary:
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York renews his call for a Justice Department investigation into the excessive force used against Occupy Wall Street and the press:
I am disturbed yet again by allegations of police misconduct and excessive force used against Occupy Wall Street protesters during this weekend’s demonstrations at Zuccotti Park. Our law enforcement officers are charged with protecting our health and safety, but that duty must always be carried out with respect for the fundamental First Amendment rights to free expression and peaceful assembly. Once again, I call on Attorney General Holder to launch a thorough investigation into law enforcement activities surrounding Occupy Wall Street – and its national offshoots – to determine whether the police have indeed violated the civil liberties of demonstrators or members of the media.
A prosecutor wanted Cecily McMillan’s bail to be $20,000. At about 3:30 pm EST, The Guardian‘s Ryan Devereaux reported that a judge denied the proposed $20,000 bail and McMillan was released.