Seventh Avenue was occupied for about an hour this weekend. Holiday traffic stopped as several hundred Occupy Wall Street protesters ran through the streets on a spontaneous Saturday night march that saw them dodging cars and cops along a 2.6 mile route from the West Village to Times Square. It was just part of a busy day for the movement that included dozens of arrests, and culminated in the short, strange occupation of the porch of an office building in the Financial District and showed off all the strengths–and weaknesses of the Occupy movement.
Protests began at noon in Juan Pablo Duarte Square, a public park at the intersection of Canal Street and Sixth Avenue across the street from an expansive, vacant lot owned by an Episcopalian Church, Trinity Wall Street. Yesterday’s protests were ostensibly held to persuade Trinity Church to allow occupiers to establish an encampment in the lot and to celebrate the third month of the movement. It was to be the beginning of “Occupation 2.0,” a new phase for the movement following its eviction from its original home in Zuccotti Park on November 15.
At the protest, we saw protesters who have kept the occupation alive by staying in squats and shelters and politicians eager to see the movement affect city policy. However, by the end of the day, the efforts to establish a second encampment were successful and the movement’s many believers and political supporters were still searching for a strategy to move forward.
At about 3:30 p.m., a group of 49 protesters scaled the chainlink fence surrounding the lot. They included Bishop George Packard and Reverend Earl Kooperkamp, pastor of St. Mary’s Church in West Harlem. Police quickly swooped in and arrested the interlopers. While the scene inside the park was orderly, on the other side of the fence police officers swarmed the crowds gathered alongside and pushed them away from the lot. As the police pushed protesters down the block, Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez shook the fence and chanted, “Shame! Shame! Shame!”
Councilman Rodriguez, who was arrested during the Zuccotti Park raid, arrived at Duarte Square at about half past noon Saturday.
Councilman Rodriguez told The Politicker he hoped the movement would stand against any attempt by City Hall to balance the budget by cutting social programs rather than raising taxes on the wealthy.
“This is the most important peaceful movement that we have seen in the last couple of decades,” Councilman Rodriguez said. “I hope also that when, in February, Mayor Bloomberg comes to present his executive budget that will be based on a $2 billion deficit, that this movement will stand that same day letting Mayor Bloomberg know that we will not accept–that we will not balance a budget that has a deficit of $2 billion for the next fiscal year if that balance is based on cutting on the working class and the middle class.”
Councilman Rodriguez was joined in Duarte Square by Councilman Jumaane Williams who was also arrested at Occupy Wall Street two days after the raid when he participated in an act of civil disobedience with 98 other protesters.
“I’m here to support like I have been supporting from the beginning. I think this is a powerful movement,” Councilman Williams told The Politicker. “I think the message has been clear from the beginning there’s economic disparities that are unacceptable in this city and this country and I think its up to people like myself my colleague Ydanis, our illustrious mayor and governor to take that message and turn it into policies.”
For about an hour after the arrests in the lot, demonstrators remained in Duarte Square. We spotted many familiar faces from Zuccotti Park. Since the eviction, several of the protesters said they were squatting in foreclosed homes reclaimed by the movement and at churches in Newark and Park Slope that offer shelter to occupiers. A mohawked man told us he preferred the squats.
“I stay away from the churches,” he said. “People there are getting scabies.”
Shortly before 5 p.m., the protesters began marching out of Duarte Square. Councilman Rodriguez jogged up to the front of the crowd and helped carry a banner that waved over the marchers. An Occupy Wall Street organizer named Aaron Black led the way up Varick Street while communicating via cellphone with group members who manned the official Twitter and text message alert system that told protesters where to go. Mr. Black said the march was headed to Trinity Church Rector James Cooper’s house in the West Village.
A column of police scooters buzzed past the march in an attempt to keep the protesters confined to the sidewalk. Protesters ran, at times at full speed, in an effort to prevent police from setting up a blockade. When the march arrived at Rector Cooper’s block, Charlton Street, police had already sealed the street off with orange netting and a column of officers in riot gear.
Protesters began running through the streets. Slamming on the hoods of cars and screaming into the night they encircled the block twice before going North up 7th Avenue. One cartwheeled through an intersection. Gridlock reigned as the marchers migrated off the sidewalks en masse. It became clear the group didn’t know where they were headed.
“We’re going to the bank!” one shouted.
At the front of the column, Mr. Black talked with the other Occupy organizers. They wanted him to turn the march around to Zuccotti Park. Marchers jogging alongside Mr. Black advocated heading Times Square. Mr. Black wanted to stick with the originally planned destination–the lobby of an office building at 60 Wall Street that was to be the staging point for a “Plan B” action at an undisclosed second location codenamed, “Perseus.” The Times Square faction got their way.
Police managed to set up a blockade at Seventh Avenue and 29th Street. Several marchers were grabbed by officers including a bicyclist who was thrown to the ground and cuffed by a trio of angry cops. Orange kettling nets were used to trap many of the protesters in a small pen including Councilman Rodriguez, his press secretary, David Segal, and The Politicker.
Police surrounded the nets and prevented protesters from leaving the area. Mr. Segal flashed his City Council ID and asked an officer to let Councilman Rodriguez leave.
“OK, City Council, get back and shut up. How about that?” the officer said shoving Mr. Segal away from the edge of the nets.
Councilman Rodriguez eventually managed to persuade other officers to let him out. The Politicker remained kettled in with several protesters and other reporters. Evenutally, without explanation, the police took down the barriers and allowed us to proceed up the block.
After their brush with the nets, the marchers resolved to remain on the sidewalks until they reached Times Square. When they arrived, several police officers on horseback were waiting for them.
As the protesters surged into the streets of Times Square, the officers rounded them up and pulled several onto police wagons. The cops quickly managed to push protesters back onto the sidewalks where they reconvened to hold an impromptu rally on the small pedestrian plaza in the heart of the square.
According to texts and tweets, the “Plan B” operation at “Perseus” was still in effect, so we hopped on a train downtown to check out the scene at 60 Wall Street. It was bitter cold. Councilman Rodriguez pulled his hood over his head to keep warm. Mr. Black said they would stay until about 100 people arrived before departing for the, still undisclosed, second location.
After about an hour, the group had swelled to sufficient size and Mr. Black began leading them toward “Perseus.” No one in the crowd knew where they were going, only that this would be the site of a new occupation. Many carried tents.
Shortly after 10 p..m., Mr. Black stopped at a freezing concrete porch in front of One New York Plaza. He explained that the building’s regulations made it uniquely suited for an occupation.
“This is privately owned public space, it’s open 24 hours a day,” Mr. Black said to the crowd. ”We can stay here.”
Many of the marchers were dismayed. Signs on the door showed the space was owned by Brookfield Properties, the same property management group that held the deed to Zuccotti Park and asked for the police to evict the encampment. Like, Zuccotti Park, One New York Plaza permits “passive recreation.” Camping and lying down are prohibited. Some of the aspiring occupiers left, eager to avoid the bitter cold and fighting the same battle they lost in Zuccotti Park. Others got into the spirit.
“Let’s passively recreate!” one man shouted.
As the crowd of protesters at One New York Plaza dwindled, their attempted occupation of the plaza became a perfect metaphor for the issues facing the Occupy Wall Street movement as it enters its third month. Clearly, hundreds of people are willing to give many hours of their time risking arrest and bad weather to protest, however when they show up, the mission isn’t entirely clear.
Councilman Rodriguez stood by and watched. He was soon joined by Councilman Williams. The politicians observed as a staffer from the building came down and asked the crowd to leave.
“Building management does not want you here, you can’t be here,” the man said.
Councilman Rodriguez urged the protesters to wait until they received an order to leave in writing, but he didn’t stick around to see the end result.
“I would stay, but I have to get to my daughters, Councilman Rodriguez said. He had been with the protesters for nearly 12 hours.
Eventually, The Politicker, Councilman Williams and the remaining protesters left too. As the night ended, the future of the movement still remained–both literally and figuratively–unclear.