Crackdowns reach epicenter of Wall Street protests

By Meghan Barr

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 16 2011 1:06 a.m. MST

Occupy Wall Street protester John Furman eats after returning to Zuccotti Park on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011 in New York. "They just re-lit the flames of this movement," said Furman. State Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman upheld the city's eviction of the protesters after an emergency appeal by the National Lawyers Guild. If crowds of demonstrators return to the park, they will not be allowed to bring tents, sleeping bags and other equipment that turned the area into a makeshift city of dissent.

Bebeto Matthews, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The encampment is gone, but the movement lives on still. What nobody knows is just how long it can survive without a literal place to call home.

For Occupy Wall Street, Zuccotti Park was a rallying cry — a symbol of defiance against a government and a society that the protesters wanted to overthrow. But in recent weeks, the park itself unwittingly morphed into a mirror image of the world it was trying to change: a microcosm of society rife with crime, drug problems and fights over things like real estate and access to medical care.

That's why, after protesters were hauled out of the park during a police raid early Tuesday, some organizers believe the loss of their camp is actually a blessing in disguise.

"This is much bigger than a square plaza in downtown Manhattan," said Hans Shan, an organizer who was working with churches to find places for protesters to sleep Tuesday night. "You can't evict an idea whose time has come."

The protesters have been camped out in the privately owned park since mid-September and had vowed to stay put indefinitely. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he ordered the sweep because health and safety conditions had become "intolerable" in the crowded plaza. The raid was conducted in the middle of the night "to reduce the risk of confrontation" and "to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighborhood," he said.

By early Tuesday evening, some protesters were being allowed back into the park two by two. But they could each take only a small bag after a judge ruled Tuesday afternoon that their free speech rights do not extend to pitching a tent and setting up camp for months at a time.

Pete Dutro, head of the group's finances, said the loss of the movement's original encampment will open up a dialogue with other cities and take the protest to the next level of action.

"We all knew this was coming," Dutro said. "Now it's time for us to not be tucked away in Zuccotti Park, and have different areas of occupation throughout the city."

Where will they go next remains unclear. Without a place to congregate, protesters will have a difficult time communicating with each other en masse. The leaders of the movement spent most of Tuesday gathering in small groups throughout the city — in church basements, in public plazas and on street corners — and relaying plans in scattered text messages and email.

For now, they're planning to move forward with plans for a day of civil disobedience and marches on Thursday, which has been in the works for weeks. And they'll be joined by angry city leaders who publicly denounced Bloomberg for the nighttime raid.

Robert Harrington, owner of a small importing business in New York, stood outside the barricade with a sign calling for tighter banking regulations.

"To be effective it almost has to move out of the park," Harrington said. "It's like the antiwar movement in the '60s, which started as street theater and grew into something else."

"The issues," he added, "are larger than just this camp."

The next challenge is figuring out how to decentralize the movement and give it staying power.

"People are really recognizing that we need to build a movement here," Shan said. "What we're dedicated to is not just about occupying space. That's a tactic."

The aggressive raid seemed to mark a shift in the city's dealings with the Wall Street protests. Only a week ago, Bloomberg privately told a group of executives and journalists that he thought reports of problems at the park had been exaggerated and didn't require any immediate intervention.

It was the third raid of a major camp in a span of three days, as police broke up camps Sunday in Portland, Ore., and Monday in Oakland, Calif.

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