Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Deja Vu on Liberty Square

A visit to Zuccotti Park, the epicentre of the Occupy Wall Street movement, triggered a sharp sense of deja vu. We'd flown in from Israel where the last vestiges of the protest tent encampments were being removed, only to find that they had been reincarnated a spit away from Wall Street. And what was fuelling the protestors here among the sleeping bags and placards  was the same middle class anger with big business, with bad government, with the disproportionate distribution of wealth, in short: with the system.

There was also the same infuriating/intriguing refusal to be tied down to fixed set of demands.

References to the fundamentals of American democracy were a major motif. One man stood reading the Constitution out loud.

I copied the following passage from the New York Times Review (but forgot to jot down the name of the author): Sounds familiar? It would be hard to beat this as a description of the Daphni Leef school  of the Israeli social protest movement, down to Daphni's Facebook invitation to join her and pitch a tent on Habima Square.

"This new protest style is more Rousseau than Marx. What the Zuccotti Park encampment calls horizontal democracy is spunky, polymorphic, energetic, theatrical, scattered and droll.An early poster showed a ballerina poised gingerly on the back of Wall Street's bull sculpture, bearing the words:" Occupy Wall Street" September 17. Bring Tent.". It likes government more than corporations but its own style is hardly governmental. It tends to care about process more than results."

But while the simlarities were clear, some of the the differences also emerged. For one, unlike Rothschild Boulevard, Zuccoti Park (aka 'Liberty Park') is named after one of the excutives of the private company that actually owns the park (!?) but is bound to keep it open to the public. The company was threatening to use force to evict the squatters. Moreover, and again unlike the remarkably peaceful protests in Israel, there was a very heavy security presence surrounding the protestors on Liberty Park with hundreds already arrested amidst allegations of police brutality.

Here's an excerpt from from Occupy Wall Steet's website containing flash reports on some of the events occurring on October 15 :

•12:09 a.m. Police have sealed the North and South side of Washington Square Park.
•11:54 p.m. Police in riot gear are advancing on peaceful occupiers in Washington Square Park.
•11:34 p.m. Police are massing at Washington Square Park. Police are moving on #occupychicago
•9:48 p.m. 3,000 at Washington Square now, about to have a General Assembly, 70 arrests total for today.
•9:02 p.m. 42 arrests on 47th.
•8:50 p.m. 700 reported in Washington Square Park. Music and food there.
•8:30 p.m. Scanner says riot cops in full gear, nets out, headed to the crowd, 47th and 6th.
•8:11 p.m. White shirt just ordered #NYPD line AWAY from barricades. Crowd ROARS
•8:08 p.m. Tension escalating, police ordering protesters to step away from barricades.
•8:02 p.m. Mario: 4 paddy wagons and arrests at 46 and 6th ave.
•8:00 p.m. Police are arresting occupiers at 46th and 6th.
•7:30 p.m. Unconfirmed estimates ranging as high as 50,000 people in Times Square.
•6:45 p.m. Police have trapped people in times square with barricades.

And while the media was focussing on the mushrooming protests, it was not embracing the protestors as wholeheartedly as the Israeli media had. Someone on Fox was quoted as characterizing the Zuccoti Park protesors as "filthy, dirty hippies".

None of which prevented the encampment from attracting a host of one person protestors glad of a rare stage from which to publicly proclaim their own agendas.

From the spirit of Woodie Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land..."

to people who just came to help out...

You can see more photos from New York here

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