posted 2011-10-05 13:00:28

Wall Street Occupation Enters Week Three

Photo: John Bolger
Photo: John Bolger
Protesters prepared to stay long term despite arrest and bad weather

Kimberly Devi Milner

Staff Writer

Individuals from the Occupy Wall Street movement have spent the past two weeks occupying the 33,000 square feet of Zucotti Park in Manhattan's Financial District.  The Wall Street occupiers are protesting what they consider a corrupt world overtaken by Wall Street tycoons and barons.  Protesters are gearing for a long-term occupation.

Organizers of the protests said they were representing what they call “the 99 percent.”  The 99 percent include the regular working class and the poor, who the Occupy Wall Street movement allege are being suppressed by the upper one percent – big business. The protesters say that corporations are controlling the world through their influence on monetary policy and government.

The movement did not come without police response.

“We marched from Liberty Plaza down Broadway then across Wall Street to the intersection by the stock exchange,” said Marissa Holmes, a Master of Fine Arts student at Hunter College.  “At that point the police started to break up the crowd systematically.  They would go in and target a few people here and there and try to break up our momentum.”

Holmes was arrested for her participation in the occupation.  The 25-year-old was grabbed by her backpack and pulled to the ground  after police officers told her she was not allowed to film.  She was put in a police car and whisked away to the first precinct.  She was released within 24 hours.

“It made me more dedicated more emboldened,” she said, “because you see the reality of the system your fighting against.”  Holmes is part of the diverse group of protesters that have claimed headquarters at Zucotti Park, which they aptly renamed Liberty Plaza.  They say they are prepared to stay for as long as it takes for Wall Street bankers to stop exploiting the working class.

The occupiers at Liberty Plaza have organized several facilities for their long-term stay.  They have put up a kitchen, which operates on donations. They also have volunteer medical and legal teams on sight.

An important center of the occupied park is their electronic hub where organizers, armed with laptops and cameras, update the movement's website and release live streams.  The media center documents everything that happens, from police brutality to notable support from heavyweights like Noam Chomsky, Cornell West, Susan Saradon, and Amy Goodman.

Daily planning is decided through the General Assembly, a group which meets at Liberty Plaza to discuss the day-to-day happenings of the occupation movement.  According to members, the General Assembly is an open forum where all are welcome to join and participate.

“[At the General Assembly] we talk about absolutely everything,” said Galen Prouty, who had traveled to New York from Seattle for the occupation. “From how we should arrange sleeping to what we should do as far as signs in the park, as far as electing groups to do things.”

The activists' careful attention to their living conditions kept the movement going despite the wet weather that plagued Liberty Plaza early on in the movement. Much to the city's displeasure, the protesters erected tarps and tents which were approved by the General Assembly.

Protesters danced and beat drums in the rain, carrying on with their demonstrations.  “Some people have been a little over eccentric, but at the same time it's for a very good cause and keeps energy alive,” said 26-year-old Matt Hopard, a continuing education student at Hunter who said he travels to Liberty Plaza in his free time.

Despite few arrests in the first week of the campaign, the protesters seemed to be in a stalemate with the police, said Holmes.  That was up until day seven of the occupation, before the protester's financial district march on September 24.

That Saturday, tension simmered between police and protesters in the square.  Police established a strategic perimeter along two sides of the park, leaving small openings for people to travel to and from the square.  Police told protesters and pedestrians alike to “keep moving” as they walked outside Liberty Plaza, escalating their tone to threatening levels to those who did not move sufficiently fast.  Adjacent streets were filled with several types of police vehicles.

News outlets reported that at least 80 people were arrested by police who used orange netting to break up crowds and to target individuals. Graphic images and videos have been uploaded to occupywallstreet.org of officers macing and assaulting protesters.  At times, police could be seen using their bodies to block cameras from capturing clear images of what was happening.

“But you know, if you’re organizing and you’re openly calling for revolution,” said Holmes, “at some point your going to get arrested – it’s inevitable.”

Holmes said documenting the arrests brings visibility to the police brutality. The immediate coverage, some protesters agreed, served as a public insurance policy against more systematic acts of police brutality. When asked how the police should respond, Holmes said, “Well, we’d love for them to join.”  Inviting police to join the occupation was a common theme among protesters who said they thought the police were also members of the abused working class.

“I expected to be evicted in this very moment,” said adjunct professor Martyna Starsota upon returning from the seventh-day march.  “At the same time people started to tweet all these images of police brutality.”  Starosta, who has brought the movement back to her classroom to inspire students, has already made an eight-minute documentary of the occupation titled Nobody can Predict the Moment of Revolution. She is fascinated with the roots of the movement as well as with the physical liberation of the park space.

“I’m kind of frustrated with the question of what is the outcome of this thing or why are you here … obviously we’re here because we’re not satisfied with something, or we want to achieve something,” she said, “but the protest and occupation itself creates another intensity or experience that is worthwhile in itself – to be in a public space and be able to share with other people and experience solidarity or just do whatever you want.”

Adjunct Grayson Earle volunteered with the movement’s media team and stayed in Liberty Plaza during the march to prevent a police eviction. “It's important to keep that square because that's a liberated space.”

Occupiers who land at the plaza at every spare opportunity can find their activism occupying quite a bit of their schedule.  “I have to budget my time” said Earle.  “But a lot of the occupation is just about being there, so if I’m really behind in school work I’ll just do it there.”

Holmes, who had taken a week off from school, is back in and plans to graduate in two years, but said she still makes her way to Liberty Square after class.

“We’re here for a long-term occupation,” Holmes said.  But currently Holmes is trying to lay low until her upcoming court date. “I can’t really get arrested between now and November 14. But if it happens, it happens."