At least twenty protestors were arrested and more pepper sprayed and beaten by police at two impromptu marches yesterday evening in lower Manhattan. The two marches, part of Occupy Wall Street, followed the movement’s largest demonstration to date—a planned, permit-sanctioned march from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park, the movement’s headquarters, that drew an estimated 10,000 people on a windy but unseasonably warm day. Occupiers marched into Foley from the south while college students, who had walked out of class, came in from the north.
At Foley Square, some organizers wandered the square with sign-in sheets. Nurses in red shirts sang, “Occupying Wall Street, we will not be moved!” Transit workers and teachers mingled with members of DC37, SEIU, and AFSCME. Amy Goodman was there, along with Vito Lopez, Brad Lander, Scott Stringer, and many other local politicians; the movement is expanding beyond the young people who have been at Zuccotti since Sept. 17.
After moving through mazes of barriers (and dismantling some), marchers made their way south, down city sidewalks. The number of helicopters overhead swelled from one to four. Police stopped protestors at Chambers and Broadway to permit vehicular traffic to pass; the crowd erupted, screaming, “Let us go!” The traffic light turned green and they shouted, “the sign says go!” Some tried to use the blocked-off section of street, but white shirts chased them onto the opposite sidewalk. On Broadway, four lanes of traffic were closed to all pedestrians and vehicles but police, leaving one lane open to marchers; narrowed, the crowd lost some of its energy. In front of St. Paul’s, two men extended open bags of Ricola.
As the marchers reached Zuccotti, a raucous chant of “All Day! All Week! Occupy Wall Street!” started. Inside the park, swelling with new arrivals, it was like a carnival. The air was thick with incense and dance rhythms; people danced, marched, jammed, climbed trees and burst into spontaneous applause. Drum-circle dance parties occupied the park’s west corners; farther off, two guys held up a six-foot screen, onto which were projected messages of support from around the world, collected on-line. I saw a family keeping a juvenile squirrel as a pet, tethered to a twine leash.
Then Michael Moore showed up. “This is a historic day,” he told the crowd through its People’s Microphone system. I’d been at the park more than an hour and people were still marching in.
Thousands of people from this amped up crowd decided spontaneously to march on Wall Street itself, two blocks south, just before 7:30 p.m. (Half of the So So Glos were there!) They occupied the sidewalks on both sides of Broadway, separated by rows of police off the curbs, keeping the street clear. Commuters gawked from express buses; protestors got a thumbs down from one guy on the X27 bound for Bay Ridge. I was on the west side of the street. Shit went down on the east side of Broadway, but I was unable to see clearly or cross. Video posted later on Occupy Wall Street’s website shows police over there beating protestors with batons and deploying pepper spray. The website says at least 20 people were arrested; rumors on the street were as high as 500. At least some journalists were among those brutalized. (N.B. When police beat journalists, they humiliate democracy.)
A truck with barricades drove down Broadway to great jeers, as did later an NYPD bus resembling those used to transport detainees. Protestors urged the police to change sides. “Police, join us!” they chanted. “They want your pensions, too!” Orange netting was deployed to the west side of the street, which police use to kettle protestors for mass arrest. At that point, there was a mass departure. “We won!” a woman on the street, where the orange netting stopped, shouted. “We have the police surrounded! If you look at it that way.”
Back at Zuccotti, a general assembly meeting was underway, where occupiers debated whether to march in solidarity with the people arrested or to hold the park. (Rumors were spreading that police were planning a raid.) A dozen people marched around the perimeter of the park as, inside, some spoke of the danger of likely arrest that marchers would face; those without legal immigration status were encouraged not to go. One person warned it wouldn’t be above the police to plant undercovers in the crowd to incite violent action. Another said anxiously that a metal briefcase had been found in the park and no one was claiming ownership.
Just then, ten minutes to 10 p.m., a second march took off from the park and headed north. A few hundred people marched down the sidewalk, energized by a sustained round of “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” Commotion broke out in front of Pita Express on Ann Street on the opposite side from the march. As people moved to cross, officers pulled their batons and ordered marchers back on the sidewalk. One man was arrested amid the commotion and led down an alleyway blocked off by police as protestors shouted, “Peace!”
Police ordered protestors to stay on the sidewalk, at one point shoving several young men toward it. (Large parts of many sidewalks were blocked by heaps of trash bags.) A gang of cops on motorcycles showed up to chaperone the march on its winding trip through lower Manhattan. Any time the police would set anticipate a turn and set up accordingly, marchers would turn the other way, fearing they were being led into a trap while bringing the group farther from the Zuccotti. Eventually, police directed traffic by blocking the sidewalks in all directions but one.
Several cops stood on every block along the route, now with many sets of plastic-tie handcuffs looped through a pocket on the legs of their pants. After a bad Dunkin Donuts joke from the crowd, one marcher started to chant, “We’re Against Wall Street! Not against the police!” which was taken up spiritedly. (Earlier, protestors heartily chanted “From New York to Greece, Fuck the Police!”)
The march turned into a lengthy sight-seeing parade of the Financial District, bringing protestors past Chase headquarters, Wall Street itself, Hanover Square, the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, and then back up Broadway. It became a kind of nightmare in which you walk forever, trying to get home, but never get there. By the end, everyone seemed lost and exhausted.
Finally, the crowd returned to the park to loud applause. One man asked, “what happened to you guys?”