Just before 11 p.m. on Saturday night, I could hear a cricket chirp from a lamp post in Washington Square Park. At least one protestor from Occupy Wall Street had vowed to turn the under-construction green space into a second occupation, according to the Post, but the mood in the park was subdued and unoccupied: students strolled, met up and held court in small groups on benches while a guy played guitar, another clarinet; skateboarders rolled by and bicyclists caught their breath. A lonely cop circled the barricaded fountain. The only signs of Occupy Wall Street, which had brought 3,000 people earlier in the afternoon to rally, were, well, signs—about half a dozen, left propped up against a stretch of bench by the arch—and faded chalk on the ground that probably read, “We Are the 99%.”
One guy selling newspapers to help the homeless told a customer that there were 20,000 people here earlier.
“Wow. I just hope they don’t stop.”
“Oh, they won’t.”
Down at Zuccotti, the movement’s headquarters, occupiers prepared for bed. At night, moving through the park is trickier than by day; there are only narrow paths between the long, winding rows of campers, laid out as though in cemetery plots. Some have shirts or bandanas tied around their eyes as makeshift sleep-masks.
As I maneuvered down one of these lanes, a young bearded man wearing overalls but no shirt beamed a drug-widened smile toward me. He wasn’t acknowledging a friend standing behind me. He outstretched his arms, blocking the path, so I hugged him. It was friendly and several seconds long. When he let go, he moved along, not having said a word.
The drumming and chanting was over; protesters are trying to be better neighbors after some recent complaints. The soft conversations of a few hundred people still makes a sound, but not much louder than the city’s usual murmur. Half of the park was asleep, but the other half was up discussing, debating or preaching politics. (“Zizek’s speaking tomorrow.” “Who’s Zizek?”) It’s like a political summer camp for the homeless—or, as one sign called it, Democracy Boot Camp.
Several people walked the park, each carrying two trash bags—one for recycling—picking up litter with green-gloved hands. On Broadway, a man and a woman swept the sidewalk. The library seemed more active than usual, with occupiers perusing for bedtime reading the hundreds of books packed into plastic tubs and roughly organized by subject. (Religion includes Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood.) A five year old ran around wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, shouting, “boo!”
Then someone screamed, “White shirt!,” shattering the somnolence. “Pig!” shouted another. “Pig coming through!” A higher ranking police officer steered through the aisles with several occupiers following, some wielding video recorders. He told one group to extinguish a candle and returned to the sidewalk perimeter. The excitement ebbed.
Along Cedar Street, one cop told another that a lot of what the demonstrators had been saying made sense, and that the protests could refocus the political discussion on jobs. “I don’t want to see anybody get hurt,” he said. But “part of me hopes this thing grows.”