By [Rebecca Chapman] Occupy Wall Street declared Wednesday, Oct. 5 National Student Walk-Out Day, and many unions joined the protesters at a rally in Foley Square. Although the day began jubilant and hopeful, by evening tension prevailed. I spent the entire day with the protesters and saw for myself how quickly the mood turned?and how precarious the relationship between protesters and police can be. The legality of the occupation is something that is a bit of a point of pride for the protest organizers. Even though the park is privately owned by Brookfield Office Properties, a provision of their ownership is that the park be made available to the public at all times. The city is unable to evict the occupiers because they do not own the park and Brookfield Office Properties has no precedent to bring a lawsuit against those residing in the park, according to an organizer who wished to remain anonymous. At 3 p.m. I went to Foley Square, the starting point for the day's march. Slowly, unions and student groups trickled in, marching and chanting their way into the square. According to the Occupy Wall Street website, among the unions that were part of the crowd that day were members of TWU Local 100, the United Federation of Teachers and United Auto Workers (for a full list of all of the organizations and unions, go to otdowntown.com). Although the march was fully permitted, organized by United NY, many participants were frustrated with the setup. Indeed, even though the police had barricaded off many streets, they did not allow protesters to walk anywhere but on the sidewalk. Since over 20,000 people were participating in the event, it became extremely crowded and slow. The huge crowd slowly made its way down one side of the sidewalk from Foley Square to Zuccotti Park. Perhaps it was the frustration and seeming impotence of the day's march that spurred the night's violence. At around 8 p.m., frustrated protesters formed a breakaway march from Zuccotti Park and attempted to take Wall Street. They were met by a police barricade and a line of police officers. The crowd pushed up against the barricade and attempted to engage with the police. One renegade protester began a shouted countdown from 10?when he reached zero, the protesters rushed the barricade. They were met with a field of pepper spray and police batons. Approximately 20 protesters were arrested in the confrontation. As marches spontaneously gathered and left the park (aided by the ingenious projection of text messages onto the sides of the surrounding buildings) the police hustled to keep up with the protesters. Every march was fully flanked by officers in the street. As one march started down Broadway, a woman in a taxi shouted out the window, "Go home and get a job!" No one bothered to respond. Rebecca Chapman is a writer and lifelong New Yorker. She completed her MA in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University in 2010.
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Updates - On Saturday, Oct. 8, thousands took over Washington Square Park to participate in a General Assembly to discuss the next step in the movement. - On Sunday, Oct. 9, philosopher Slavoj ?i?ek visited Zuccotti Park and spoke about the potential for revolution in the Occupy movement. - This Monday, Oct. 10, over 100 protesters at Occupy Boston were reportedly arrested. Kanye West and Russell Simmons toured Occupy Wall Street. - The Occupy Wall Street movement has sparked a nationwide trend. Using Meetup as a platform, the Occupy Together movement (occupytogether.org) boasts more than 1,300 Occupations in cities across the world.
A female protester shouts across the barricade to another protester while an NYPD officer looks on during the Wednesday, Oct 5. protests. PHOTO BY Zach D Roberts | zdroberts.com