Almost 200 people were arrested on September 17 during demonstrations in celebration of Occupy Wall Street’s anniversary, including several on a chaotic afternoon march through the winding streets of lower Manhattan. In the morning, direct actions near Wall Street resulted in several arrests, but by noon the mood downtown among protesters was mellow, despite the heavy police presence: equestrian cops stood guard over Wall Street itself, and barricades lined the curbs of Broadway, the perimeter of Zuccotti Park and the curbs surrounding it.
The park was sparsely populated at lunchtime, a few hundred clustered around the west and east ends. “We are here today to say the 99 percent are back,” one speaker said through a Mic Check. “The people who crashed our economy are down the street,” another speaker said. “They recovered. Our communities did not. That’s why we’re still here.”
Throughout the day, the park was full of performers: two men in grinning Obama and Romney masks stood, arms around each other’s shoulders, answering questions about the “differences” between their policies. One man carried a large puppet of Bane from the Batman movie labeled Bain Capital; it fought a large Statue of Liberty puppet and lost. A children’s book-like series of paintings explained a proposed “Robin Hood tax” on financial transactions. (Earlier, organizers handed out Robin Hood caps, which became ubiquitous.) The “Tax Dodgers” baseball team strutted through the park. A woman with a donut tied by string to a wooden stick strolled the perimeter, sticking it out at cops, who mostly grinned. But they wouldn’t let her into the park. “There are a lot of people here,” the security guard said. “It could poke somebody in the eye by accident.”
Zuccotti was closed off except for guarded entrances in the middle of Cedar and Liberty streets. At one, a protester tried to enter with large styrofoam blocks that looked like concrete police barriers, painted with OWS, but security and police wouldn’t let him. A white-shirt (a senior officer in the NYPD) lifted one—“get this shit out of here”—and chucked it toward the sidewalk. Earlier, when I’d arrived, a police officer was eyeing with suspicion a face-masked man entering the park. “You check that retard’s bag?” the cop asked security, who vouched for him.
The day grew less peaceful. Shortly after 1pm, three to six demonstrators were arrested in front of the Bank America branch on Broadway kitty-corner from the park for blocking access. One of the arrested told the crowd through a Mic Check as police pushed him into a paddywagon that protesters had been given an order to disperse but then were not allowed to do so. Cops closed the sidewalk afterward, exasperating workers from nearby buildings who’d stepped out for lunch. “How long do we have to wait?” asked one man, carrying a plastic bag. “Just arrest them all.” “Fuck you, you hippie piece of shit,” said another guy, also carrying a lunch bag, to a group of occupiers. As protesters idled with passersby on the corner closest to the incident, police attempted to clear them. “Off the sidewalk,” a cop said, trying to push people onto other corners. “C’mon. Pick a side.”
Shortly before 4pm, thousands of the people who’d gathered in the park by then filtered out to march, first around the perimeter, then toward Wall Street. The march spilled into the street as it headed east on Cedar; police ordered marchers onto the sidewalks, which were blocked off by barricades. A helicopter appeared over head. “Ah, a helicopter,” one protester joked. “Now I feel at home.” Thames Street was filled with cops idling on motorcycles. “Show me what a police state looks like,” protesters chanted.
The march turned before Wall Street east onto Pine, spilling onto the sidewalks on either side of the street. At William, the march stopped; riot cops arrived as confusion swirled (and, Gothamist would later report, arrests were made), but the march turned north and went east on Cedar, where marchers quickly began screaming “Shame!” and “Let them go!” as more were arrested. Protesters turned around and the palpable anger at the police calmed as the march, several blocks long, continued north to steady drum-beats. It turned west onto Liberty, where it passed Chase Manhattan Plaza; protesters chanted “Fuck Chase bank!” When it turned south on Nassau, many marchers rushed the street and ran. Police gave chase, tackling one and zip-tying him up. A block down, the guys in Romney and Obama masks were arrested. Occupy medics pushed through the livid crowd.
Another guy, donning a conical and colorful birthday hat, was pulled off the sidewalk, apparently at random, and arrested. A lieutenant began to issue an order to the crowd through a megaphone, but he was drowned out by shouts and jeers. Tension mounted until one hollering protester convinced the crowd to turn around and march. The demonstrators made their way back to Broadway and tried again to approach Wall Street, which was of course blocked off. After a standoff, most returned to Zuccotti and sat wearily in rows; others drummed, danced and cheered. The revelry was occasionally accompanied by bursts of confetti.