Liberty Park — For most of the night, the air hovered at the midpoint between high humidity and fog. For the rest of the night, rain poured down in silver sheets, reducing Occupy Wall Street to the Park of Many-Colored Lumps, each lump consisting of: one green/yellow/red/blue plastic tarp glistening under lightning bolts and the relentless glare of police car headlights, and 1-4 huddled recent graduates with $120,000 in debt, no employment prospects, the reading skills to write a dissertation on 12th century French troubadour poetry, and an overwhelming distrust of capitalism.
When it wasn’t actually raining, the Lumps emerged from their tarps and fell into two warring camps: Those Who Cleaned, and Those Who Complained Bitterly.
It had been decided by the previous General Assembly that Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza should be cleaned, as a way of pre-empting the cleaners hired by Mayor Bloomberg as an obvious ruse for ridding himself of Occupy Wall Street, which has struck fear into the heart of the American ruling class unlike anything since…what? The Minneapolis General Strike of 1934? Hard to figure the analogy, but Those Who Cleaned really wanted to keep it going, whatever it was, by cleaning every flat stone slab in a park that was almost all flat stone slabs. There were about two platoons of Those Who Cleaned vigorously with stiff-bristled brooms.
There were about the same number of Those Who Complained Bitterly. What they complained about was Those Who Cleaned.
“Why are you cleaning the same stone slab that someone else just scrubbed three minutes ago?”
“Because we’re the Sanitation Working Group and the General Assembly voted we should clean.”
“But it doesn’t make any sense. It’s been raining for an hour.”
“Mayor Bloomberg will say the park is dirty if we don’t clean it.”
“But it’s already clean, and he’s going to say it’s dirty whatever we do.”
“Why don’t you grab a broom and help us?”
When confronted with a broom of their own, Those Who Complained Bitterly complained bitterly amongst themselves. Mostly they complained about tactics. The city was going to clean the park in thirds, so one third of the park would have to be evacuated at a time. The city promised that demonstrators would be allowed back into the cleaned area, but no sleeping bags or tarps would be allowed with them, which would doom the occupation. So the demonstrators would refuse and bring back their stuff, at which point the serious civil disobedience would begin.
“Why are we surrendering a third of the park? This is insane.”
“We must defend the entire park! It is a liberated autonomous zone!”
“No, we’re not opposed to cleaning. We must show them that the park is already clean, and then refuse their unreasonable rules that would end the occupation. We bring back our sleeping bags and tarps. The Direct Action Working Group has already coached everyone for that contingency.”
“Where does Direct Action meet? I can never find them.”
So, as the most skilled facilitators of the General Assembly slept under their tarps, those with insomnia and minimal command of the “process” made hand signs at each other and plotted to get the GA to change tactics before the battle started at 7 a.m., the appointed hour Mayor Bloomburg promised his minion cleaners would show up and provoke mass arrests. The process was also tested by a couple of drunks and a psychotic homeless person who kept shouting, “Michael Jackson died for you!”
“You could eat off the cement, it’s so clean,” I said to some guy.
“Yeah, but what are we going to do about the dude who wants to play bongos 24 hours a day in the drum circle and he’s spreading scabies? We’re getting more and more people like that, and the General Assembly has no solution.”
The mood was ugly, as dark as I’ve seen it at Occupy Wall Street.
The mood started started to lift as the black sky shifted to gray about 5 a.m.
The cleaning got more intense. People bundled their stuff together in plastic containers and loaded the containers in vans, which then drove to a storage facility provided by the United Federation of Teachers. In the absence of hundreds of wet sleeping bags and tarps, space opened up. But this other thing happened as well. The space that opened for cleaning by command of Mayor Bloomberg—that space also opened for a multitude of new people who began pouring into Zuccotti Park about 5:30 a.m. Unions, community groups, radical websites, social media had all put out the word that everyone should go support Occupy Wall Street against Mayor Bloomberg’s transparent attempt at eviction. And everyone came. Many hundreds of them. And because of Mayor Bloomberg’s kind foresight, Occupy Wall Street had space for them in a nice open park.
My god, it was a big crowd by 6 a. m., and it kept growing. It must have been three or four thousand people, very mixed by age and race, at 6 a.m. on a work day. It took three echoes by the people’s microphone to hurl the oratory to the edge of the crowd. For the first half hour it was dead serious, with speakers asking for a show of hands for those willing to be arrested. Go the edge of the park and lock arms. Those who had been coached by Direct Action for specific roles, go to the middle of the park. Everyone had to be ready for an assault by the police at 7 a.m.
I don’t mind telling you that I was scared. Do I go to jail because I support Occupy Wall Street, or do I go home and write about it because I’m a journalist?
Then at 6:30, they read a note from Brookfield, corporate owner of Zuccotti Park. They were “postponing” the cleaning.
The word hung in the wet air for a second as people translated the message: Mayor Bloomberg had decided to rescind his eviction notice. No war in the streets, because so many people were in the park that the police couldn’t arrest them all.
Pandemonium. Dancing in the streets. Cheers like your team just won the Superbowl. A brass band began playing. Mass confusion about what to do next. March up Broadway to City Hall? March down Broadway to Wall Street? Nobody could hear, because there was too much joy.
After a few minutes, a contingent did break off and ran toward Wall Street. Sirens. Honking. A phalanx of riot police turned them around and arrested 20 or so. But mostly it was joy, and you could tell it would last all day. Except in the Mayor’s office, where he was taking angry phone calls from his billionaire buddies about their employees being late for work in the incredible traffic jam. And tonight, somewhere in an apartment fit for a billionaire, Mayor Bloomberg is losing his shit, because he is losing control of his city.
As for Occupy Wall Street, they’re doing something SDS never thought of: Family Sleepover Night at 8:00 p.m. at the public atrium of 60 Wall Street. No generation gap allowed when you’re overthrowing capitalism.