By John Catalinotto
Published Oct 20, 2011 10:10 PM
The first confrontation between the Occupation Wall Street demonstrators and billionaire Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York cops ended in victory for OWS in the early morning hours of Friday, Oct. 14.
A wave of euphoria swept the 2,000 people filling Zuccotti Park when word came shortly before 7 a.m. that the park’s owners had withdrawn their request that the square be cleaned — the pretext for pushing out the protesters.
The truth was that public support for the OWS protest had flooded the mayor’s office starting the day before. Phone calls and emails came in from the general population; City Council members defended OWS; and organized labor protested any planned repression.
By Thursday evening, unemployed people, anti-war organizations, and community and Marxist groups had all been spreading the message to gather at Zuccotti Park to help prevent the removal. The AFL-CIO sent an unprecedented email to its mailing list with this message in the subject line: “Go to Wall Street, NOW.”
OWS stands strong
What this massive public support showed was that the attempt to isolate the protesters had failed. But would those in this new movement be willing to stand their ground in the park as the police moved in for arrests?
Between 5 and 6:30 a.m. on Friday morning, said Larry Holmes, the number of people in the park tripled. “The mood grew more determined even as the organizers had legal advisers warn the crowd that anyone who stayed would face a high probability of being arrested.
“One guy next to me was saying, ‘I can’t stay. I have to go to work.’ Then when they asked people to raise their hands if they would risk arrest, he raised his, saying, ‘F—k it! I’m staying.’ They had crossed a line.”
Holmes of the Bail Out the People Movement and others quoted here were speaking at a discussion of the OWS events held that night at the Solidarity Center in Manhattan.
Confronted with massive public support and the determination of the demonstrators, the mayor and his advisers decided — for the moment — to back off. OWS had won its first important victory.
Demonstrators holding the brooms and mops they had used to preemptively clean Zuccotti Park during the night then took off to march to Wall Street, which was the place they really wanted to clean up.
OWS ‘stole my heart’
Jen Waller, an activist and singer in her early 20s who had been staying and sleeping at Zuccotti Park most of the prior two weeks, described how this youthful movement that seemed to “spring out of nowhere” had won her over: “The more time I spent down there, the more it really stole my heart. And then I just couldn’t stay away.”
The youth of the United States “have been miseducated” politically and what problems this new movement sometimes expresses stem from its “not being really anti-imperialist” at this moment, said Waller. But, she added, “I honestly never thought that something like this would happen in my lifetime, much less right now when I’m here in the city. Every time I’m down in the park I feel that the vast majority of people there are committed to revolutionary change.”
The more experienced left, according to Waller, can help the development of this movement by bringing a clear political analysis — such as a sharp anti-war position or by explaining the role of the police in repressing communities of color — but leaving the “process” in the hands of the participants. “The organized left needs OWS and the young people in OWS need the left.”
Waller thought that proof of the movement going in the right direction came when OWS picked up slogans against the Afghanistan war and in solidarity with oppressed youth against police repression.
Growing more progressive
Tony Murphy, an experienced organizer in his 40s, seconded Waller’s assessment, saying that the morning’s events were “a real people’s victory,” but that such a victory “means the enemy regroups so they can come back later.”
What is Occupy Wall Street, Murphy asked. “OWS is rapidly changing, becoming more progressive all the time.” The official leadership doesn’t want to raise specific demands, “but the entire political space the demonstrations are occupying won’t let them stay in that place.” He described how during a march against police brutality the OWS leadership first insisted on a silent march, yet the marchers insisted on chanting and yelling at Police Plaza. The leaders first refused to endorse an anti-war march but then publicized and supported it.
Whatever conservatism is present “is being overtaken by the economic crisis that is driving this phenomenon and making it spread to so many cities.” On Oct. 13, for example, OWS “joined forces with a group in Brooklyn that disrupted a foreclosure” on housing.
The movement, said Murphy, “is consolidating a new culture of resistance.” We should make our participation more consistent, assert our political perspective with, for example, word of the People’s Assembly on Nov. 5 in the Bronx, and “see if we can influence the people coming around or sitting on the sidelines asking, ‘Is this for me?’ Our answer is ‘Yes.’”