Manhattan–After watching the Packers beat the Vikings on Monday Night Football, I had insomnia, so it was kind of an accident that I checked my email at 2 a.m. and discovered the police were clearing Zuccotti Park. Everyone had been expecting an eviction since it all started on September 17, but not expecting it at that particular moment. On my cell phone, there were several frantic texts from Occupy Wall Street begging for community support. So I hopped on a slow subway and arrived at Chambers Street about 3 a.m.
About a half mile north of the park, I was alone on the sidewalk for a couple of blocks. The only indication that something might be wrong was the racket of several helicopters with spotlights. Walking down Church Street, I ran into little clumps of stragglers who described a scene in which hundreds of police in full riot gear arrived at the park and presented a demand that the occupiers pack up their stuff and leave. If they did that, the police said, the occupiers would be allowed to return in a few hours without tents or tarps, after the park was cleaned. Bloomberg had tried that transparent ruse before, so a violent police eviction ensued with dozens of arrests, pepper spray and baton whacking, as the occupiers linked arms and tried to hold their space. Bloomberg and his cops also promised that everyone would get their belongings back after the eviction. But this also was a transparent ruse, as the the police tossed everything, including the 5000-book library, randomly into dump trucks that were in all likelihood destined for a landfill or garbage scow.
“Hey, there goes my tent!” said a kid at the corner of Fulton and Church, pointing at an overloaded dump truck roaring by about 3:30 a.m.
“Heil Bloomberg! This is Nazi Germany, not America!” said one guy giving the Nazi salute to dozens of cops.
“Hey, there are people being shot in the head right now in Egypt,” said another guy.
“That’s supposed to make me feel better about this?” said the first guy.
“I’m just saying that calling the cops Nazis isn’t non-violent communication,” said the second guy, obviously a graduate of the Non-Violent Communication Workshop in the park.
“Do the cops look like SS troops or not?” said the first guy.
At the corner of Cortlant Street and Broadway, one block north of the park, an impromptu general assembly of about 100 people was debating tactics in front a long line of police.
“Mic check!” said a woman.
“Mic check!” said the crowd.
“We move north!” said the woman.
“Mic check!” said a young man.
“Mic check!” said the crowd.
“We don’t move! No retreat! No retreat! Occupy Wall Street!” said the young man.
“Mic check!” said the woman.
“Mic check!” said the crowd.
“There are people massing in Union Square! We need to move en masse! We need more people!” said the woman.
“We need to stay here and bring the Union Square people south! No retreat! We need to hold this corner!” said the young man.
About half the crowd moved a half block north on Broadway with the woman, then looked confused and came back. The police were unloading more and more steel barricades to pen the demonstrators as armored school buses drove toward the park to pick up all the arrests.
“Have no illusions!” yelled a tall older man who was holding a wrinkled red flag with some gold stars on it. “The ruling class is afraid of us! We have unleashed a worldwide revolution! They must try to crush us! That’s who they are! Tell me what a police state looks like!”
“This is what a police state looks like!” said the crowd.
After the chant died down, I asked the guy what country his wrinkled red flag represented.
“Fuck you,” he said. “Tell me what a police informer looks like!”
I told him I wasn’t a police informer or with the corporate press.
“I don’t care who you’re with. Do your homework, asshole,” he said. I noted he was holding a copy of the China Daily, so the flag was probably from the People’s Republic.
“Lenin said the police are the iron fist of the bourgeois state!” the guy yelled at the crowd. “Any time the workers go on strike, the police are there to support the boss. They are not your friends! Freedom in America is a pile of crap!”
The purpose of a park, said Fredrick Law Olmsted, is to give the public “a sense of enlarged freedom.” He thought that people who live in cities need their freedom enlarged because being separated from nature by cement and large buildings makes them feel oppressed.
Olmsted was America’s first and most visionary landscape architect. He designed Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, among many other projects. He also wrote one of the primary historical documents about slavery, The Cotton Kingdom: A Traveller’s Observations on Cotton and Slavery in the American Slave States, 1853-1861. So he knew something about parks, and he understood that, along with separation from nature, being oppressed also makes people feel oppressed.
Fredrick Law Olmsted was a 19th century liberal.
Barack Obama is a 21st century liberal.
On Tuesday night, October 25, Obama was on the Tonight Show making cutesy jokes about wanting his wife to hand out candy instead of dried fruit for Halloween. “The White House is going to get egged if this keeps up,” he told Jay Leno. He said that while the police of Oakland were assaulting demonstrators with flashbang grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets for the crime of exercising their Constitutional right to assemble and voice their objections to America’s lethally corrupt ruling class.
Obama’s former chief of staff, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, has evicted Occupy Chicago several times from Grant Park. With hundreds occupations going on around the United States and the world, violent evictions from parks are happening every day, from Honolulu to Portland to Denver to Austin to Richmond to Atlanta. And in the wee hours of November 15, even the symbolic center of the whole movement was evicted from Zuccotti Park. If Obama cared about enlarged freedom, his minions wouldn’t be snuffing it. Obama could stop the evictions with a couple of unambiguous sentences of support for Occupy Wall Street at a press conference.
“The public has an absolute Constitutional right to assemble in public parks for political demonstrations,” he could say. “Any mayor or governor who disagrees will be sued by the Justice Department, and I will send the military to protect demonstrators.”
In 1957, Dwight Eisenhower did just that. He sent the 101st Airborne to LIttle Rock to protect black children who were trying to enlarge their freedom by integrating a school and getting the same education as white children. Occupy Wall Street is a similar historic moment. It picks up where the civil rights movement left off with the assassination of Martin Luther King. In the last year of his life, King was preaching about the connection of class to war, racism and poverty. Nobody of King’s prominence has made that connection since he died.
Obama certainly hasn’t. It would offend his campaign contributors. Obama barely mentioned Wisconsin and never went there when his supporters were losing their union rights and needed him. Along with the rest of corporate wing of his party, he prefers a strong Republican presence in Congress because it makes it easier for corporate Democrats to appear sane while they sell out progressives. Progressives make Obama look bad when he gives Wall Street what it wants, which is no regulations and no indictments for stealing trillions of dollars.
Occupy Wall Street makes Obama look even worse, because it reminds everyone that just because Obama can do Bill Cosby schtick, it doesn’t make him a more decent human being than his war criminal predecessor.
In two months, Occupy Wall Street has made economic inequality the issue of this era, as racial inequality was the issue of the 50s and 60s. Occupying parks has spread all over the world, just as occupying lunch counters once spread over the South.
Yes, I am arguing that economic inequality is at least as destructive as racial inequality. Both segregate human beings in unnatural ways, and both have life stunting, even lethal consequences. History and social science have proven over and over that more egalitarian cultures are happier. Only sociopathic frauds like Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman and their descendants would argue otherwise. To occupy a park and demand economic fairness in the face of rioting police and bribed politicians is the moral equivalent of going South with the Freedom Riders.
It should also be said that for the past two months, Occupy Wall Street has been the most entertaining place in New York City. You could go there at any time of day or night and have a great conversation about things that matter with people you never met before. Compare that with any other city park, and look at the joggers wearing their earphones, the dogwalkers glancing at their watches while Fido relieves himself. Occupy Wall Street has been an open forum. It is a theater of enlarged freedom, and that is exactly why our rulers want to shut it down.
Last week I happened to catch Mayor Bloomberg on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “What’s it all about?” Mika Brzezinski asked with the sort of originality and acumen that one associates with ruling class nepotism.
“It’s about the First Amendment,” said Mayor Mike.
“Wow,” I thought. “Could it be that he’s going to let Occupy Wall actually occupy Wall Street?”
It was a weak moment on my part. I thought Mayor Mike might have learned something since 2004, when hundreds of thousands of people marched against President Bush during the Republican convention and he denied them a permit to have a rally in Central Park. His excuse? All those demonstrators would hurt the grass. Unlike, say, the hundreds thousands of music fans who turned out for Billy Joel or Simon & Garfunkel or the Philharmonic on the Great Lawn.
So when Mayor Mike, who is worth $19.5 billion, says that the First Amendment protects speech, but not “the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space,” remember that he also thinks grass is more important than the First Amendment.
He thinks his right not to look at a hippie in a sleeping bag near the New York Stock Exchange outweighs the Constitution.
The demonstrators in 2004 should have just marched up Eighth Avenue and occupied Central Park. Occupy Wall Street is Mayor Mike’s karma. It’s not 2004 anymore.
As I write these words, a judge has apparently ruled against the demonstrators on tents and sleeping bags, but they have been allowed back into the park where they are celebrating. I won’t miss the tents that much. It’s the open forum that matters. That’s where I’m going, for as long as it takes. I want my enlarged freedom.