11:48 am Nov. 21, 20111
When the NYPD cleared out Zuccotti Park, they dismantled a residence, a recruiting tool, and a central hub for meeting and communication. But they did not destroy the protest’s governing structure: Since Monday’s raid, Occupy Wall Street’s organizers have continued to assemble, taking stock and attempting to figure out what they now want the movement to become.
On Friday night, approximately 170 protesters met in the auditorium at the SEIU building in Midtown, to attend a meeting of the Occupy Wall Street spokes council.
Regular communication among the participants in the demonstration had suffered after the park was cleared out and the Occupiers scattered, so the meeting began with a flurry of announcements.
A representative of the legal team reported that everyone jailed in the raid had been released, while between 60 and 100 people remained in jail from the previous day's actions. A representative from the kitchen team said they were still trying to deliver one meal a day to out-of-town or homeless protesters who had found shelter in a handful of churches throughout the city. Another speaker said that a communications hub was being established in offices that the occupation had secured at 50 Broadway.
Each working group was then asked to present its top three priorities for the movement. While no two groups had the exact same priorities, there were a handful of needs that were repeated again and again: a new space for the occupation, a means of preventing the groups from fragmenting, and a clearer means for the working groups to receive funding. A member of Occupy Wall Street’s direct action committee also said, somewhat obliquely, that the movement should "seek justice for what happened this week."
As had been the trend for much of the movement, the groups seemed focused on short-term logistical goals—above all, shelter and communication. Few speakers mentioned priorities related to the movement's long-term political aims.
Several participants in the meeting spoke of the need to remain within the public eye or to muster public sentiment against the city’s overnight raid on Zuccotti Park last week, but far more were concerned with how to reconstitute the physical occupation in some form.
Only one working group—appropriately, perhaps, it was the one called “movement building”—seemed to question whether another occupation was actually necessary or desirable. Its representative warned against the potential danger of investing too much time and energy into reestablishing a physical occupation, at the expense of other actions.
What exactly Occupy Wall Street is, in that regard, hinges on the question of space. While the protesters still have access to Zuccotti Park, they can longer set up tables or tents there. So the protesters have searched for other places to meet.
Since the beginning of November, a few working groups have been meeting in a handful of temporarily donated offices on the 12th floor of 50 Broadway. However, the offices only hold 48 people at a time and are inaccessible to the public. If the movement organizers can't find more space to meet and plan, they may simply stop getting together.
On Saturday afternoon, the day after the spokes council meeting, several dozen protesters met in the public atrium at 60 Wall Street to discuss the issue of space. Working groups have been meeting in the atrium for weeks, to escape the noise and congestion of the park. With its mirrored ceilings, palm trees, and rough-hewn stone fountains, it suggests a cathedral designed by Hugh Hefner.
While everyone agreed that the movement needed a new location, not everyone agreed on what kind of space it should be, and what they needed it for. While some considered a new occupation critical to the movement's health, others argued that space could be rented as easily as occupied, so long as it fulfilled the right criteria.
"Space is the connective tissue," said Darrell Prince, 35, a member of the finance working group. "You can't get away from the fact that the clock moves and that a movement needs space."
Prince said that while Zuccotti Park had served its purpose well, its function could be replicated elsewhere.
"I wouldn't say it was necessarily a space for long-term," he said. "You need to divorce yourself from the space emotionally, but we may actually need a lot of what we had there."
One of Zuccotti Park's main functions was to house people. Right now, most people who don't live in the city are either crashing on couches or sleeping in a church. Housing these people remains a priority, at least in the short term.
"You don't necessarily need to house people," said Prince. "But on the other hand, this isn't a movement that's paying people."
Other people were more firm in the idea that Zuccotti Park wouldn't be retaken.
"There won't be another Zuccotti," said Cynthia Villarreal, 45, small, quick-talking woman. "Zuccotti was great for centralizing [and] making a foundation, but we're ready to move to the next step."
Villarreal, a member of the information team—her t-shirt still read "Info," in giant hand-written letters—had been staying at the park on and off for 40 days. She said the raid, while unwelcome, may have been a blessing in disguise, one presenting an opportunity for the movement to focus on things beyond maintaining its presence in the park. When the tents started going up, she said, it was clear that the park was becoming a place to sleep rather than a place for political engagement.
"The thing that went awry was that there was too much focus on the charitable aspect of the movement," she said. "The focus should be on changing the socio-political status. The focus should be on Wall Street."
She said that in fact the organizers had planned on losing the park at some point.
"Before they raided us, we felt it was time to mobilize the movement," she said. "They didn't shock and awe us because we'd known for a while that it was coming. We're probably stronger because keeping the park took so much of our energy. We're here and we're alive."
Nor has the movement completely left Zuccotti Park. While protesters can't sleep there, they can still meet there.
"Whether they like it or not, we're going to still use Zuccotti Park in some capacity," said Sean McKeown, a member of the fire safety movement. "It's a symbol that the whole world is looking at. Whether we meant it or not, the park is a metaphor for social change. So, if we let it do, the message will continue, but it won't be as strong.
Back at the park on Saturday evening, the police-erected metal barriers were still up, but the plaza, days earlier, had begun to take on some of its old, occupied life. Inside, 200 or so people milled around. One line of protesters held cardboard signs on the eastern perimeter. One group sat around the designated “spirit tree” in the south, where someone had lit a bundle of sage. Another group tended the library, its collection reduced to a hundred or so remainders, and yet another group tended to the cigarette-rolling table.
A man masked in a black kerchief stood in the middle of the flower bed—now reduced to a dirt pile— carrying a poster reading "REVOLUTION" in black, sans-serif font, while another circulated through the crowd with a sign saying "SHIT IS FUCKED UP AND BULLSHIT."
A protest march, organized by 9/11 “truthers”, was circumnavigating the block. And a handful of drummers, accompanied by cowbell, were striking up a beat. One protester was able to get in 20 minutes of sleep, using his backpack as a pillow, before being brushed awake by a security guard.
The weather had turned. A frigid wind rustled the honey-locust trees, their leaves newly yellow, their trunks strung with Christmas lights. While some working groups were still meeting in the park, there was no information table, no place for people who wanted to get involved in the movement to go and find a working group to join. And, crucially, there were no television cameras.
Yet the general assembly kicked off on time, just like before the raid, and was well-attended. At 7:30 p.m. on the dot, the meeting was called to order. The crowd gathered against a wall in the northern half of the park, where some of the earliest assemblies had taken place. And when the facilitator called out "mic check!," there were still hundreds of people there to yell it back.
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