Opinion: Clean up Occupy Wall Street Another Victory for the 99 %

Saturday, October 15, 2011 - 09:28 AM

Thousands of New Yorkers made it an early morning on Friday. By 6am, Liberty Square (aka Zuccotti Park) was so packed, it was hard to enter. The crowd didn't have the look of anarchic back-packing 20-somethings: it was diverse in ethnicity in age, with union members in uniforms, professionals in suits, retirees in cardigans.

In addition to the pre-dawn start-time and diverse look, what made this crowd remarkable was their purpose. They weren't just attending a march as 15,000 had in Foley Square on October 15th. They weren't drawn by rumors of Radiohead or by the promise of an Occupation Party in Times Square. There was the real possibility that these New Yorkers were going to confront aggressive actions by their own police force.

They came because they were called by MoveOn, the Working Families Party and dozens of other lists that sprang into immediate action yesterday afternoon after word spread that "cleaning the park" may have meant "clearing Occupy Wall Street." They were urged on by friends' Facebook appeals, inspired by messages on the "We are the 99%" community site and encouraged by courageous - and unsensational - elected officials like Assembly Member Dick Gottfried who came out at 6am and Representative Jerry Nadler who wrote his own legal defense of the Constitutionality of free speech and assembly.

These New Yorkers were not trained in civil disobedience. They took comfort in the omnipresent bright hats of National Lawyers Guild observers, but had seen photos of protesters being netted in orange plastic, pepper sprayed, clubbed. They went knowing that, if the police moved in to back Brookfield's cleaning crews, they would resist -- and in the dim early morning, either the NYPD or the crowd could succumb to mob mentality that could lead to frightening situations, physical harm and arrest.

And they went with the belief that if enough of them were there, their presence would prevent the worst from happening. These New Yorkers went to become a population too large to net, club or arrest. They became a constituency to large to bully or dismiss. They went with the willingness to join a confrontation and the hope that their presence - as witness and participant - would avert a confrontation.

And they were right.

It was 6:45 when the announcement was made that Brookfield had postponed plans to clear the protesters. Word spread through the park without amplification. It was shouted from the head of the Assembly then repeated by rings of listeners who became their own sound system. Waves of cheers and applause and chants and song interrupted the announcement's repetition but signaled just as directly to the back of the park what had happened.

At that moment, the people of New York had won. In some ways, it is a narrow victory. The next attempt to break up Occupy Wall Street could come in hours, days or weeks. The financial and political powers, which yielded in the dark hours of the tense night, can still ignore the frustrations expressed by the Occupy Everywhere participants across the country. The "win" was for a right that shouldn't have to be won -- the guarantee to assemble peacefully, to protest openly, to speak freely.

Yet, far from feeling narrow, it was exhilarating. The people who stepped out of their comfort zones on a rainy Friday morning saw that they could have impact. Their presence helped their fellow New Yorkers, their courage and idealism furthered a cause they had followed online. Their participation helped stay the hands of corporate and government elites. Their actions mattered.

Far from sending them home with the smug complacency of a job well done, it's going to inspire them. They will continue to show up - to watch, to march, to stand their ground. They will keep writing letters, calling elected officials, telling their stories. They may move their money from big banks, or encourage friends to attend a protest in other cities or participate int he next direct action. And if they do - if a larger swath of Americans feel like their actions can make a difference -- than Occupy Wall Street - despite bad weather, regardless of media criticism and against all odds - will keep growing and winning.

Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."


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Comments [3]

jgarbuz from Queens

I think they are protesting the disappearance of the Middle Class, but in fact, such protests are futile. A middle class is nothing but a fluke of history, usually appearing in nations after they have been victorious in war, and hence have accumulated wealth, plunder, slaves, or trade advantages. The US had a middle class bubble come right after WWI, but it soon collapsed. And a much longer middle class bubble up after WWII, but it too has now collapsed.

The usual state of nature is, a small elite governing both a very thin "middle class" and a very vast working class barely surviving at the edge of subsistance. We have just returned to the historical norm.

Oct. 17 2011 10:25 AM
Harrison Bergeron from NYC

"... the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances".

Oct. 16 2011 05:05 PM

Oct. 15 2011 04:56 PM

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