Their coming was foretold by Questlove. Close to midnight, The Roots’ drummer tweeted: “Omg, drivin down south st near #ows. Somethin bout to go down yo, swear I counted 1000 riot gear cops bout to pull sneak attack #carefulyall.”
Sure enough, at around 1 am, Twitter was abuzz with reports that NYPD had moved in on the Occupy Wall Street protests at Zuccotti Park and alerted the protesters that they were to evacuate or be arrested. Shortly, a livestream feed went up and we were all able to witness the attempt at dismantling the movement.
Police blocked off the Brooklyn bridge, shut down the subway lines, and wouldn’t allow anyone to get in our out. Not even journalists were allowed to the press area. CBS News helicopters were ordered to clear they sky. They offered several warnings to protesters through the bullhorn, saying their presence caused a fire hazard and they were not allowed personal belongings. In response, protesters pleaded that the officers disobey their orders and asked that all in attendance remain calm and non-violent.
WATCH ‘TODAY’ COVERAGE OF THE ZUCCOTTI PARK RAIDS:
Chants like “All day, all week, occupy Wall Street” were repeated as they braced themselves for what was coming. Police destroyed tents, including the medical tent offering free health care to protesters, the tent established as a safe space for women, and the library. Protesters claim upwards of 5000 books were thrown away. The mood remained tense, but the protesters defiant and hopeful.
I watched, along with thousands across the globe as the mayor, the police, and the city of New York did the worst thing they could for their cause. Their attempts at suppression will likely backfire. You need only look to the Occupy Oakland protests for proof of that. Clashes with the police have been a great recruitment tool for the “99 percent,” as MSNBC host Chris Hayes has made note of multiple times on his show Up. The more aggressive the police have been in response to the protests, the more support the protesters have garnered. And the movement grows.
Which is something not many thought would happen. In the first few weeks of the occupy protests, there were negligible numbers and an incoherent message and not much press coverage. It wasn’t until there was video of police pepper spraying unarmed women that thousands began making their way down to the renamed Liberty Park and captured the attention of the mainstream media outlets and the rest of the globe.
In all likelihood, without police aggression, these protests would have petered out weeks ago. The gift and the curse of the occupy movement has been its vague messaging and lack of structure, which has at once attracted many frustrated with the various forms of American inequality and also been a point of constant criticism. Without a concrete cause to rally around, these would have turned into impressive gatherings in which the American people could voice their collective discontent, but would not have found a unified message necessary to sustain themselves over the long run.
“We are the 99 percent” is a great rallying cry, but once you start taking into account just who encompasses the 99 percent and the disparate interests and needs, how long would it be before it splintered?
The overreaction of mayors and police changed that dynamic. They have emboldened the occupiers and given them the resolve to withstand the coming winter months. If not Zuccotti Park, they will occupy elsewhere.
I have watched the occupy movement like nearly everyone else for the past two months and cautiously supported, as I still have many questions. But what is clear, no matter your level of support, is the police have exercised a level of force on non-violent protesters that is unacceptable. It is not only un-American and anti-democratic, but inhumane to treat people in this manner.
The livestreaming feed went blank around 2:30 am. I found another shortly after and continued to watch the flood of tweets from those on the ground and pray the protesters would be safe. Then I saw reports that City council member Ydanis Rodriguez had beaten by the NYPD and was bleeding from his head.
They were trying to kill the movement. They’ve only set themselves up for an incredibly long fight.