Last night, the barricades surrounding the site of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park came down for the first time since the protesters were evicted November 15. Protesters have been coming to the park to celebrate ever since and, this afternoon, they were joined by Councilmen Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams.
Councilman Rodriguez came to the park to announce his plan to donate the $5,000 stipend (or “lulu” in City Hall lingo) that he receives from the Council for chairing the Committee on Higher Education to the Occupy Wall Street general assembly.
“I’m here the day after the NYPD removed the barricades from the park, proud of the men and women who are part of the movement,” Councilman Rodriguez said. “When it comes to the stipend that has been donated to the Council members, every year I have made part of my tradition to donate that money to different groups–at least to ask the Speaker to donate that money to different groups working in our city.”
Last year, Councilman Rodriguez gave his lulu to the Dominican Womens’ Development Center’s anti-violence initiative. In 2010, he donated his stipend to a Hatian relief organization. Councilman Rodriguez told The Politicker he’s sure his money will be put to good use because he expects the movement to play an important role in upcoming city budget deliberations:
“I call all New Yorkers to send a donation and contribution to the Occupy movement. This movement is the voice of the working class. It’s the voice of the middle class. It’s a voice that will play an important role in this budget cycle that we will enter in January,” Councilman Rodriguez said. “Tomorrow, Mayor Bloomberg will present his State of the City. Very soon, he will present his executive budget plan and I have no doubt that the Occupy movement can play an important role against any cut that Mayor Bloomberg would like to make on education, on social services, on affordable housing and different areas that affect the 99%, So, I believe that any contribution that we can make to the Occupy movement will be a good use.”
Though the barricades are down, there were only about thirty protesters present this afternoon, a far cry from the crowds that flocked here during the encampment’s heyday last fall. Councilman Rodriguez said he believes the removal of the barricades and the Day of Action planned for Sunday will help the movement regain strength.
“I think that by removing the barricades, it will help for more people to come to the park. So, I have no doubt that the number will continue growing and I have no doubt that the Day of Action that will take place on Sunday … it will also allow this movement to continue regaining the support that is so important,” Councilman Rodriguez said.
Sunday’s protest will include a march from Zuccotti Park to Riverside Church and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on the Upper West Side.
“We expect 1,000 people,” Councilman Rodriguez said.
Councilman Williams told The Politicker he was glad to see the barricades come down.
“By removing the barricades, Mayor Bloomberg has decided to come in compliance with the rulings of the court as well as the standard of the First Amendment,” Councilman Williams said. “Access should have never been restricted to Zuccotti Park, not to Occupy Wall Street or anyone else seeking to use the space peacefully.”
Protesters were allowed to enter the park while it was barricaded, but they were required to pass through checkpoints manned by staffers of Brookfield Properties, which owns the space.
Both Councilman Rodriguez and Councilman Williams have been staunch supporters of the movement. Councilman Rodriguez was arrested during the Zuccotti Park eviction and Councilman Williams was arrested two days later while participating in an act of civil disobedience designed to support the movement.
“I just decided to come here to show my support. I’m so glad Zuccotti has been reopened. I think that’s obviously real essential,” Mr. Landesman said. “What Occupy Wall Street is all about is really sending a message to Wall Street, sending a message to the banks.”
Mr. Landesman said he was heartened to see local politicians standing with the movement. He has his own plans to support Occupy Wall Street through his work on the Community Board.
“It’s important to get some of the local political people involved as well because they need credibility for this movement. Thank God Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez has lent that credibility,” Mr. Landesman said. “I’m definitely going to introduce a resolution soon in support of Occupy Wall Street and I’m also working on a living wage bill, which I’m sure a lot of people in the Occupy Wall Street movement are supportive of .”
The Politicker also spotted Councilman Robert Jackson running down the street across from the park, but he was evidently headed elsewhere. He waved at us as he ran past.