More than twenty protestors were arrested and more pepper sprayed and beaten by police at two impromptu marches last Wednesday 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 base, that drew an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 people on a windy but unseasonably warm day. Occupiers marched into Foley from the south, reinforcing ralliers, while college students, who had walked out of class, came in from the north.
At Foley, nurses, 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 has expanded beyond the young people who have been at Zuccotti since September 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. In front of St. Paul’s, two men extended open bags of cough drops. As the marchers reached Zuccotti, a raucous chant of “All Day! All Week! Occupy Wall Street!” started. Inside the park, swelling with new arrivals, a carnival broke out. The air was dense with incense and dance rhythms; people gyrated, jammed, climbed trees and burst into spontaneous applause. Drum-circle dance parties occupied the park’s western corners; farther off, two guys held up a six-foot screen, onto which were projected messages of support from around the world. I saw a family keeping a juvenile squirrel as a pet, tethered to a twine leash. After more than an hour, people were still marching in.
Thousands from this amped-up crowd decided spontaneously to march on Wall Street itself, two blocks south, just before 7:30pm. They occupied the sidewalks on both sides of Broadway, separated by rows of police off the curbs, keeping the street clear. I was on the west side of Broadway; shit went down on the east, but I was unable to see clearly across. Video posted later on Occupy Wall Street’s website shows police (including white-shirted higher-ups) beating protestors with batons and using pepper spray. The Times reported 23 people were arrested. At least two journalists were among those brutalized.
A truck with more barricades drove down Broadway to great jeers, as did later an NYPD bus 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, to kettle protestors for mass arrest. At that point, there was a mass departure. “We won!” a woman on the street shouted. “We have the police surrounded! If you look at it that way.”
Back at Zuccotti, just before 10pm, a second march took off in solidarity with the first. A few hundred people, energized by a sustained round of “Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!,” headed north, then east. Commotion broke out in front of Pita Express on Ann Street, opposite the march. As marchers moved to cross, officers pulled their batons and ordered them 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 marchers to stay on the sidewalk throughout, 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— protestors, though, fearing traps, turned away from police at every intersection. Eventually, police directed traffic by blocking sidewalks in advance in all directions but one.
Many cops stood along the route, now with many sets of plastic-tie handcuffs. 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!” Finally, the crowd returned to the park to loud applause.