As Allison Kilkenny reported yesterday, today Michael Bloomberg appeared “poised to throw out every last protester” from what the Mayor of New York and the board of Brookfield Properties no doubt still call Zuccotti Park. To the members of Occupy Wall Street who’ve come to think of it as home over the last month, it has another name: Liberty Plaza Park, or just Liberty Park. And this morning its liberty was under threat. Kilkenny is just one of several dedicated journalists from the independent media who braved rain, lack of sleep and possible arrest in the early hours of the morning to be in Liberty Plaza Park ready to witness an all-but-certain attempt to evict Occupy Wall Street. (You can follow a list of some of them here on Twitter, which has once again revealed its value as a tool for direct reporting, no matter how many hashtags it blocks from trending.) Another is Josh Harkinson of Mother Jones, who described the occupiers’ plan to co-operate with the park’s proposed cleaning while still maintaining their occupation:Here’s how things will unfold during the eviction. 1) Protesters will allow Brookfield to clean 1st third of park. 2) Then, when cleaning is done, they will try to move their stuff back. 3) If they aren’t allowed back with their stuff, they will attempt to hold the remaining two thirds of the park.The big “if” in Harkinson’s account of the plan stemmed from the new rules summarily announced by Brookfield Properties to coincide with Bloomberg’s demand for a “temporary” evacuation for cleaning purposes. Since these rules include no sleeping bags, no tarps and no laying down, and since the NYPD said it would enforce these rules for anyone returning to the park after cleaning, this amounts to a de facto eviction of Occupy Wall Street. and unconfirmed rumors of arrests. Colorado’s 9 News Online has live video, with Occupy Denver protesters apparently singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” around 3:30 AM MT.
Add to this the history of “clean-ups” being used as a pretext to sneakily end sit-in occupations, such as in Madison this year, and it’s no wonder many people believe, in J. A. Myerson’s words, that “Something about this ‘clean-up’ stinks.” Official sources had it that the eviction would take place around 6 – 7am ET, but Occupy Wall Street members anticipated police action as early as 4am. As of 5am ET, there was still no significant police presence, leading to speculation that this was, in the words of both AlterNet’s Kristen Gwynne and Salon’s Justin Elliott, the “calm before the storm.” In Denver, the storm may have arrived, with reports of police in riot gear dismantling tents and seizing property. The planned attempt to evict Occupy Wall Street represents a remarkable new front in the concept of “public-private partnerships.” Brookfield Properties use public police and sanitation workers to upkeep what is a privately-owned park with a charter to be available for public use 24⁄7. This morning, they are likely to use more public servants, in the form of the NYPD, to remove the public from the park. And to add another wrinkle, when Bloomberg visited the park yesterday to present the board’s demand to the protesters, he was acting as the representative not just of this private company but also his long-time domestic partner, Diana Taylor, who sits on the board of Brookfield. Unions have once again rallied to the Occupy cause. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka released a strongly worded condemnation of the planned eviction:Mayor Bloomberg runs the risk of standing on the wrong side of history tomorrow. It is clear that what is being threatened in Zuccotti Park is nothing but silencing the voices and stomping out the rights of Americans.But more important than statements this morning are bodies: Occupy Wall Street put out a call for people to come to the park at 6AM to stand with occupiers and prevent eviction, and organized labor delivered. The United Steelworkers, AFL-CIO, Teamsters, National Nurses United and United Auto Workers were all reportedly on the scene, while shirts representing SEIU locals 1199 and 32BJ were also seen (according to Kristen Gwynne, Sarah Jaffe and Matt Stoller). Update, 6.30 AM ET: During a Special General Asembly, the Direct Action Working Group briefed a large crowd, telling them: “We didn’t expect this many here tonight. Thank you!” — this last quote according to the Village Voice’s Nick Pinto, who says it “Sounds like Direct Action’s plan for all the extra bodies here is to surround the park with locked arms.” Justin Elliott summarizes the plan: “human chain of some kind on perimeter, some staying in interior of the park, those who are not arrestable on sidewalks.” Allison Kilkenny estimates there were a couple of thousand people in Liberty Park circa 6.30 AM, with the loudest “people’s mic” she’s yet heard. Here’s her analysis of the situation at that time:I’m shocked NYPD waited this long. Thought they’d move in at 2 or 3. Really missed their window of opportunity… Now the NYPD has to deal with thousands of people, unions, council members on the way. Not sure what the [NYPD] plan is here.Update, 6.35 AM ET: The Bloomberg/NYPD/Brookfield plan, it seems, is retreat at this point. The cleaning has been officially postponed. Deputy Mayor Cass Holloway released the following statement:“Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park – Brookfield Properties – that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation. Our position has been consistent throughout: the City’s role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”Here’s video from The Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt of the crowd cheering, with shouts of “we won!”, after this announcement:An impromptu breakaway march to Wall Street itself is apparently being discussed, so the possibility of arrests remains. And questions remain regarding enforcement of Brookfield’s “new rules.” But for now, the mood in Liberty Plaza Park seems jubilant. We’ll leave the last word to Allison Kilkenny, who notes:This is the first protest I’ve ever covered where the activists won.
Joe Macaré is a writer, editor and development and communications professional, originally hailing from the UK and now residing in Chicago. His writing has appeared at In These Times, TruthOut, AlterNet, Dazed and Confused, The Times, Plan B and Stylus. He has appeared on WBEZ radio and Chicago Newsroom to discuss his extensive coverage of the Occupy Chicago movement.