A Day in the #OWS Movement: November 15th, 2011

by Guest Contributors Zoltán Glück and Manissa McCleave Maharawal

OWS Arrests

Scene 1: Manissa

The text came at 1:05am just as I was just getting out of the shower:

OccupyNYC:URGENT:Hundreds of police mobilizing around Zucotti. Eviction in progress.

I both could and could not believe it. But it didn’t matter right then, what mattered right then was that I get on my bike and get there as soon as I could. I threw on the first clothes I found and started texting everyone I knew. It wasn’t even a thought if I would or wouldn’t go: of course I was going. I somehow remembered to fill my water bottle.

Half an hour later with my friend David, I locked my bike a few blocks from Zucotti Park. We started up the street towards Broadway when, out of nowhere I was body checked by three cops in riot gear and thrown against the side of a van, pinned there by a baton. I looked over and David was surrounded and being shoved. I start to scream, threw my arms up and simple thoughts started going through my head: there is no one here to see this, what did I do, how do I get out of this safe? Suddenly it is all over and we are being pushed down the block, being told we can’t go this way. I’m shaking. I grab David’s hand. He holds it tightly and I start crying silently.

Scene 2: Zoltan

By the time I arrived at the scene it was 1:30am, a mere half hour after the emergency text message had gone out. Already the park was fenced in and we could only get within a one-block radius of the square. People were arriving from all over the city, our numbers were growing quickly, and the police decided to push us back before more supporters arrived. There was spontaneous solidarity: along side many faces I recognized from the long weeks of occupation and many that I did not, we linked arms, we tried to stand our ground, we chanted that this was a peaceful protest and we were met with wanton violence. The police had hardly started to move and already to my right three people were pepper-sprayed, a man to my left was being repeatedly gouged in the stomach with a police baton. A few minutes later we were penned in and the police were grabbing people at random from the crowd and arresting them. They made a small opening and now were throwing people violently through it. One man had fallen to the ground, and the cops did not step in to help him up, but rather kept throwing more people out towards him, tripping and stepping on him as he was down. When we tried to help him up we were met with batons, shoved and cursed at.

Scene 3: Many of us, Broadway

It is late and we are walking back towards Liberty Plaza down the sidewalk on Broadway. When 50 feet ahead of us a few cops jumped out of a police car and grabbed our friend N. She was an organizer at Occupy Wall Street and it seemed clear that she had been singled out for arrest. We ran up to the police car she had been roughly shuffled into and tried to yell to her through a slightly opened window: “Anyone we can call for you? Anyone we can call?” Suddenly 10 officers are surrounding the car pushing us back, yelling over her as she tries to answer. A man with a camera was shoved violently to the side and his press pass grabbed. “We’re just trying to ask her if she wants us to call her family,” we said. They continued to push us away from the car, telling us to keep moving or be arrested as we continued to call out to our friend. Through all the yelling a line from one of the officers is clear: “You can’t talk to her, she’s a prisoner. Move along or you’ll be arrested.” We shuffled away, N. in the car behind us surrounded by officers. One of us nearly starts to cry: “It’s her birthday, I just wanted to see if there was anyone she wanted us to call.” We all try and remember when it stopped being allowed to make sure our friends are okay as they are arrested for walking down the street. When we started being referred to as prisoners.

Scene 4: Zoltan

It was now nearly 4am, the crowd had thinned, but were still marching around Manhattan expressing our outrage at this calculated attack against political freedom and disgust at all of the wanton brutality we had seen that night. The police would follow us for a while, then would cut off one street and we’d turn onto another. Again and again they would jump into a crowd single out an individual and violently shove that person to the ground or against a wall, when others would try to intervene more arrests would be made. This time someone next to me had been grabbed and before I could react I was struck in the back of the head, and losing my balance heard someone say, “take that motherfucker.” My friends pulled me out of the crowd and I turned to see one that it was one of the white shirted officers simply swinging at random at peoples faces, backs and shielded bodies. “They’re trying to provoke violence to legitimate the repression” one of my friends commented. I walked away smarting, my neck sore from the blow but thinking we’re on the cusp of something huge. Police only act this way when they’re scared.

Phase Two: Building the movement in the wake of police repression

The actions of the police and city government last night were reprehensible: peaceful protesters were beaten, subway stations were shut down in lower Manhattan during the raid, the the Liberty Square library was destroyed (yes they are destroying books again) and finally the whole park encampment was dismantled, people dragged out, their stuff trailing behind them. The area around the park was closed off for blocks. No media was allowed in. The smell of pepper spray, the sound of people yelling and cops decked out in full riot gear were everywhere. These are the kinds of actions pursued by authoritarian regimes, the kinds of actions that prove to us that we do indeed now live in a police state. But thinking on all this today one thing becomes clear: this movement is important and the state is scared of us. And ultimately, this spectacle of repression should not distract us from the important tasks we have at hand, nor should it overshadow the great strides we’ve made in the past months. There is no evicting a movement.

This movement has clearly entered its second phase. We may have lost Zuccotti Park and we may have not, and it seems that city government is keen on keeping us out of other public spaces that we have been using for meetings. But the movement is far from dead. We are just beginning. Working groups from OWS have meetings and events planned for months ahead. They will continue to meet and they will continue to grow. There is a nascent student movement in New York. General Assemblies now take place on most major college campuses in New York City and around the country. Each of these has its own working groups that are meeting constantly and planning the next steps. This week has been called a Student Week of Action, and the calendar of over 50 events on campus across the city testifies to an unprecedented scale of collaboration, solidarity and collective planning. The movement is spreading to new spaces. Proliferating in our places of employment and education.

Police repression can expel an occupation from a particular space, individuals can be locked up, thrown into the back of police cars and openly called political “prisoners,” but ultimately none of this will solve the social, political and economic problems of our times. If anything it will simply aggravate them. This ultimately is the underlying reason why this social movement cannot simply be repressed out of existence. Our economy is still in crisis, our political system is still broken, people are still over-burdened with unmanageable debts, unemployment is still rising, and people are still losing basic rights of access to health care, education and work. The occupy movement is actively working to channel these destructive synergies into a force for positive change. It gives people a voice, it fosters dialogue, it asks people to take the future into their own hands. This is why it has been so inspiring for many. This is why it is spreading.

The synchronized raids and evictions of occupations across the country were clearly coordinated at a national level. We can expect further repressions and acute struggles over public space to ensue. These struggles will be important. They will set the tone of the movement in the coming months and they will be the fiercely debated. But equally important is what happens within institutions, workplaces, and schools as this movement extends horizontally beyond its initial confines in the small mostly concrete and drab lot of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan. In these and other spaces the movement is building, it is evolving, and it is gaining momentum.
But perhaps the greatest testament to the strength of this movement is that it is changing the very terrain of political discourse in America. When Mayor Bloomberg today, in a statement justifying the eviction, said snarkily that “now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments” he actually missed the point entirely. It is not just that the power of our arguments are winning or losing a discursive competition with other equally legitimate arguments in some mythic public sphere. The power of our movement, of our actions and of our practices is that they are changing the very coordinates of how people think about politics, they are changing the political imagination.
In this regard the Occupy movement has really only just begun. That we have actions planned for months to come, meetings, working groups and an organizational infrastructure that is entirely independent from the space of the park, already testifies to the robustness of this movement. Our movement is not contained by a park, our ideas are not contained by a park and we will not be contained by a park. We are multiple, territory is plural and we are strong.

Last scene:

We drag ourselves home at 7am. Nap. Shower. Eat. Text messages and emails fly around all afternoon about the court order, whether we will be let into the park again or not, responses from around the country. We send emails all afternoon, we’re still organizing: should we reschedule the People of Color caucus meeting? Should we push the student planning meeting back? But most urgently: where should we meet tonight? We know we are all going back out.

6:45pm: Going back to Zuccotti for a General Assembly.

(Image Credit: New York Times)

  • http://twitter.com/danthrasher Daniel Thrasher

    This frightens me.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to be in your situations when the police are actually increasing the tension instead of solving the problem.   I do want to say to watch the bias in the story.  What happened is strong enough on its own, but there are a few times where the editorial process stood out to me.  Example – After you say your friend N was an organizer at OWS, and that you all came there to support the protest against the police eviction, you say N and others were “arrested for walking down the street.”  That felt a little dishonest since we know you weren’t just passerby.  This doesn’t detract from what the police did though.

    • Jane

      Technically, the author _was_ just a passerby– the author wasn’t blocking anything or locked down or even protesting at that point.  Until someone does something illegal, they should not be arrested.  Walking on the sidewalk, despite false criminalization here, is not illegal.

      But you don’t have to live this situation vicariously.  Your local Occupy may face eviction soon.  Go experience it for yourself so your understanding of traumatic police brutality won’t be clouded by ‘bias.’

      • Daniel Thrasher

        I was going to respond with more reasoning to support my original post, but I don’t want to distract from the real issue- that several of the reported actions of police officers around the nation have been unacceptable.

        There seem to several statements that keep coming up in my head, but most of them come down to blaming the victim. Maybe my criticism sounded similar to slut shaming/they put themselves in the situation so they deserve it? If that’s how it came across I apologize. This is a difficult situation with a variety of legal issues regarding whether the police had a right to try to evict the protesters at all, not just a right to assemble issue.

        I wanted to answer the content of your reply before I make a tone argument. I try to be honest and respectful with everything I say. If I am wrong, either factually or some other type of mistake, I am always open to correction. But I don’t need the condescending attitude. I’m stopping here because this isn’t a debate either of us need to have.

      • Daniel Thrasher

        I was going to respond with more reasoning to support my original post, but I don’t want to distract from the real issue- that several of the reported actions of police officers around the nation have been unacceptable.

        There seem to several statements that keep coming up in my head, but most of them come down to blaming the victim. Maybe my criticism sounded similar to slut shaming/they put themselves in the situation so they deserve it? If that’s how it came across I apologize. This is a difficult situation with a variety of legal issues regarding whether the police had a right to try to evict the protesters at all, not just a right to assemble issue.

        I wanted to answer the content of your reply before I make a tone argument. I try to be honest and respectful with everything I say. If I am wrong, either factually or some other type of mistake, I am always open to correction. But I don’t need the condescending attitude. I’m stopping here because this isn’t a debate either of us need to have.