Five to fifteen thousand protesters occupied Times Square Saturday evening, packing the sidewalks and pedestrian plazas of Broadway and Seventh Avenue like it was New Year’s Eve. The protests were part of the Occupy Wall Street movement; similar protests were also held around the city, country, and world. Seventy four people were arrested, including 42 people trying to enter the protest at 46th Street.
Mashed together body-to-body with tourists and theatergoers throughout the evening, the protesters chanted—”Wall Street, Times Square! Occupy Everywhere!”—spontaneously applauded, danced, and beat drums, buckets, and tambourines. Just after 5 p.m., police were still setting up barricades, closing off intersections. Between 42nd and 45th streets, crossing from Seventh Avenue to Broadway was impossible. The streets remained open; taxis and double-decker buses passed. Many crosstown streets were closed to traffic. The police mostly stayed out of the crowds, allowing protesters to rally and block pedestrian traffic. A slow, steady, pushy progression moved north; police wouldn’t let people leave at 42nd Street. Barricades divided Broadway’s sidewalk from its pedestrian plaza, but both sides of the barricade were jammed. Chris Hedges was there; so was the guy from that popular unaired Fox News interview.
Every block, there was a new drum circle, sometimes two. The mood was jubilant, rowdy but safe. In front of Sephora, a small sit-in watched several young ladies wildly dance as two women performed African-style chants. “This is what democracy looks like!” the crowd shouted. People near 43rd Street tried three times to get a wave going, but couldn’t get it to carry farther than half a block.
The crowd thinned out at 44th Street; like any street fair, the occupation had its looser pockets. But the crowd thickened at 45th Street until foot traffic came to a total standstill at 46th Street. The crowd extended several blocks farther north, but I couldn’t make it any farther. At 46th Street, police would allow very few people to enter Times Square from the east; they made well dressed theatergoers show them their tickets in order to pass. Most others were denied.
On 46th Street, a group of several dozen protesters was walking on the sidewalks from Sixth Avenue to enter the protest around 8 p.m.; an equally large group of police in riot gear, zip-tie cuffs dangling from their pants, pushed them back. “Turn around!” a white shirt ordered through a megaphone. But many refused. Police formed a human barrier along the curb and eventually cut off the crowd as they got in front of the Laura Pels Theatre; officers held their batons across their chests. “This is a public sidewalk!” the crowd chanted. “This is a peaceful protest!”
Forty two people were arrested. Those not detained moved back to the corner of Sixth Avenue, where both sides of 46th street were filled with people, spilling out into traffic. (I ran into the lead singer of the So So Glos!) “Let them go!” the crowd roared as police put arrested protesters into the backs of NYPD trucks, of which there were several. (They’d arrived to impassioned jeers.)
A white shirt ordered the crowd to leave the occupied corners of 46th and Sixth. “You can be subject to arrest.” A woman was forbidden to retrieve her car, which was parked on 46th Street. Police pushed the crowd off the corners, up Sixth Avenue, rerouting all pedestrians trying to walk south.
Several minutes later, on Fifth Avenue, three of the police trucks passed, sirens blaring.