Occupy Wallstreet: Washington Square Protest (10/15/11)

On Saturday, October 15th, Manhattan saw two very large protests: one rather spirited one in Times Square, and another nearly-as-spirited one in Washington Square park (near NYU).

@jeffrae wrote:

The feeling in Wash Sq Park is electric. You can just tell something big is about to happen #occupywallstreet

And it totally was.

Rather than my usual longform style of writing, I’m going to simply recap the series of tweets that I and others posted, along with some videos.

At General Assembly in Zuccotti Park that night, an announcement was made that there would be a second general assembly at 10pm in Washington Square that night, and that people should bring sleeping gear. As we had seen earlier, Washington Square closes at midnight, by decree of Parks & Recreation, so the conflict was imminent.

To say the crowd was electric is an understatement. There was easily 1500-2000 people present when we arrived, around 8:30 or 9pm. The arch provided a gorgeous backdrop to the scene.

Pic: http://twitpic.com/70y5qb

A professor from (I believe) NYU was speaking about how the worldwide occupy movements are like the Arab spring protests in the middle east.

Pic: http://twitpic.com/70ycfb

Here is a video of that NYU prof speaking. There were so many people present that the People’s Microphone (which is normally just a back-and-forth between the speaker and the crowd), that this People’s Mic had two repeats after each line of the speaker — towards the end of her speech, it was there echoes.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sUb243B9u4']

There was kind of a funny moment with the speaker when her speech started to run a little long. I think some of the crowd (yours truly included) felt she was starting to grandstand and so some of us were making the “wrap it up” hand signal. She clearly wasn’t getting the message though, as it continued on for another 10 or 15 minutes. At some point, one of the moderators leaned over to her and whispered something into her ear; I saw him make the “wrap it up” gesture and she suddenly nodded in understanding and resumed with “Before I wrap it up….”

Pic: http://twitpic.com/70yxmt

After the professor was done speaking, we did some rounds about the park. I found a medic table and it made me wonder if they really were going to attempt to expand the occupation here tonight. There were certainly enough people!

Panoramic of crowd

When General Assembly finally began at 10pm, the crowd was enormous. This is a panoramic of a portion of the crowd, taken with my cell phone.

Pic: http://twitpic.com/70z3yz

 

Under the arch, there were some gated areas, with police milling about. As seen in the picture above, they had bunches of nylon zipties at their hips, which are used when doing mass arrests.

The officers that came in didn’t seem to have any purpose, but they walked in as two columns of six officers each; very orderly. Once in, they didn’t really do anything in particular; I gathered they were just scouting for intelligence and being on standby.

NYPD detention bus, adjacent to the command center

At this point, the restaurant that Robyn and Greg had chosen finally called us to let us know our table was ready, and we regrettably stepped out of the park, intending to come back after dinner (it was only a block or two away). As we left, we saw a trailer that was the permanent NYPD command center for Wash Square park, as well as a detention bus for carting away arrestees.

The number for the National Lawyer's Guild

During dinner, the three of us resolved that we were going to stand with the protesters in solidarity, and risk being arrested. We stopped by the car, which was thankfully nearby, and dropped off all of our possessions. We brought with us only 2 forms of ID, and used a sharpie to write the number for the National Lawyer’s Guild on our arms (seen above). We were really more concerned about the possibility of brutality or blunt crowd-control tactics than the prospects of being arrested.

The unfortunate thing about this is that I did not have my cell phone or any way to take photos, so when we returned to the park to what was probably the most exciting part of the night, I have no media to show for it.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=61AsYeJqfXg']

From what I heard afterwards, about 8-12 people remained in the center circle and were arrested. (The video is of them).

The rest of us were on the street by the arch, and the police were resisting people who were trying to get back in. We decided it was not worth trying to push back in since it was mostly deserted, so we joined the rest of the crowd on the street, in protest.

The chanting, at first, was “The whole world is watching,” a pre-emptive cautionary statement to the whiteshirt officers that were present, as well as the blue shirted officers in riot gear, mounted on horses. This chant changed to “Courtesy, Professionalism, Respect,” the motto of the NYPD, emblazoned on their squad vehicles.

There were a number of other chants after this, and a small crew of hippies started drumming while the chants were happening. This was clearly bothering the horses, and the nearest one was getting restless. The officer mounting that horse did not seem concerned, but some of us in the crowd were. A part of the crowd felt it would be better to keep the chanting to a minimum, and another part wanted to be loud and rambunctious.

The officers continued to demand that we push back, first onto the sidewalk to vacate the road, and then to make room on the sidewalk for pedestrians. When the light turned green, many of the protesters started to walk back and forth across the crosswalk, chanting “We are pedestrians.”

After about 20 minutes, some of us realized that we had lost this particular standoff, and that we should go back to Zuccotti, to regroup. Others felt it was necessary to stand our ground. Robyn, Greg and I were undecided, we were just curious to see what would transpire; but ultimately, we were just tired and around 12:45 we shuffled off and returned to Zuccotti. As we walked away, we heard the NYPD megaphone indicate that anyone that remained would be arrested; the crowd had dwindled to low enough numbers that the police present outnumbered them.

 

In hindsight, I truly believe we could have taken the park that night. If everyone stood their ground and did not fear arrest, there is no way they could have arrested all of us. Tear gas was a good possibility, but if we held our ground, I think they would have ultimately relented. Whether or not we could occupy it continuously after that seems less likely.

A lot of the protesters here were probably students, since NYU was so close. There is a latent fear of being arrested that I too shared before this weekend; it’s a black box that seems scary because we don’t know what’s going to happen, especially if you’ve never been arrested before (I haven’t). I talked to people that night who have been arrested nearly a dozen times since the occupation started — they said that you get taken downtown, processed, and turned loose almost immediately.

Unless you happen to be doing something particularly stupid, or unless the officer plants something on you (some protesters said that happens; I suppose it’s possible), the most you’ll get charged with is a misdemeanor. Any infractions that are less than a felony cannot result in being detained longer than 24 hrs; if you are part of a mass arrest, chances are they won’t be able to detain anyone. There would be a fine, and possibly a court appearance (no lo contedere may be an option though), but chances are it would be basically like getting a speeding ticket.

In a way, I was kind of hoping I would have gotten arrested, just because I was curious about the experience.

I hope that other protesters will learn to overcome their fear of arrest, so that it can no longer be a deterrent in these cases, and then we can all stand in solidarity of civil disobedience.