Politics

Vacate Wall Street – the Occupiers face forced removals

By Richard Poplak 15 November 2011

It’s “Zoo-ccotti Park”, as some have taken to calling Occupy Wall Street’s “ground zero”. Once a refuge for finance industry workers lucky enough to get a chance to eat a $12 sandwich outside of their cubicle, it has become the centre of a worldwide protest movement. No longer. New York’s own Operation Clean Up The Filth has begun. By RICHARD POPLAK.

At around 01:00 EST—08:00 South African time—on Tuesday morning, several hundred police officers in riot gear descended on Zuccotti Park, acting like a heavily armed, very ornery feather duster. They arrived to clean up the park, restoring it to order – a task they hoped to have accomplished by the time the first sun filtered down Wall Street’s concrete canyon.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg tweeted the following at 1:19 am: “Occupants of Zuccotti should temporarily leave and remove tents and tarps. Protesters can return after the park is cleared.” Bloomberg has been increasingly under fire regarding the “occupation” as business owners and neighbourhood groups have grown weary of the drumming, the mess, the disruption and the scent of patchouli.

Only about 200 or so protesters stay overnight at the camp, and it isn’t a huge stretch to think of them as the radical hardcore. (It’s one thing singing a Joan Baez song on your lunch break. It’s another thing singing Rage Against the Machine after bedtime.) Shortly after the cops set up a ring of klieg lights around the park, about 100 or so of the hardest occupiers linked arms around the kitchen area of the encampment. Others lashed themselves to trees with heavy locks.

“Whose park?” they asked in unison. “Our park.”

Not true. Zuccotti Park is not, as it turns out, public property. (So little is these days.) It belongs to Brookfield Properties, who built it along with the surrounding buildings, in 1968. In the old days, it was called Liberty Plaza Park, branded to go along with the skyscraping One Liberty Plaza. It was renamed Zuccotti Park in 2006, in honour of long-time civil servant and Brookfield principal John Zuccotti.

The park was first occupied—or squatted upon, depending on how you see these things—about two months ago. Operation Murambatsvina—oops, sorry, I have my notes mixed up here. Operation Clean Up doesn’t seem to have an official name, but it began in response to word that the protesters were planning to shut down Wall Street on Thursday, as a means of celebrating the anniversary of the occupation.

New York’s patriarchy had just about enough of the protests about four minutes after they began. Indeed, it was an incident on the Brooklyn Bridge—a scenario that reeked of entrapment—that turned the protests into an international phenomenon. Legions of cops coerced about 700 protesters away from downtown and onto the bridge, and arrested them for their pains. The ensuing images made great TV, and even greater Internet. Soon Oakland, Toronto, Portland, Seattle and more were occupied. Oakland in particular turned very nasty, very quickly.

Bloomberg, who runs a city that is both democracy and capitalism’s crown jewel, has never known quite what stance to take on the Occupy movement. He didn’t make his billions feeding organic fair trade vegan food to kittens; he is a hardnosed fiscal conservative in a social liberal’s clothing. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, in a piece called “Mayor Bloomberg’s Marie Antoinette Moment”, noted the following: “He is a billionaire Wall Street creature with an extreme deregulatory bent who has quietly advanced some nastily regressive police policies (most notably the notorious ‘stop-and-frisk’ practice), but has won over upper-middle-class liberals with his stances on choice and gay marriage and other social issues.

“Bloomberg’s main attraction as a politician has been his ability to stick closely to a holy trinity of basic PR principles: bang heavily on black crime, embrace social issues dear to white progressives, and in the remaining working hours give your pals on Wall Street (who can raise any money you need, if you somehow run out of your own) whatever they want.

“He understands that as long as you keep muggers and pimps out of the prime shopping areas in the Upper West Side, and make sure to sound the right notes on abortion, stem-cell research, global warming, and the like, you can believably play the role of the wisecracking, good-guy-billionaire Belle of the Ball for the same crowd that twenty years ago would have been feting Ed Koch.”

That said, Occupy Wall Street doesn’t exactly qualify as black crime. It’s a white protest movement, much like the kind Bloomberg no doubt saw on campus when he was learning to be a gazzilion-aire. His first reaction was, of course, regressive and heavy-handed. But for two months, Bloomberg has had to tolerate a popular movement that has at times been sizeable, but has mostly been small, noisy and annoying. The only real option has been to tolerate the protests.

But enough, it seems, is enough. So the 100 or so folks being pushed into squad cars as I write this will serve as kindling for a movement that was running its course, or at least morphing into something more mature and organised. Now, there will be further outrage, a slew of copycat occupations and another round of upping the stakes.

It’s all a little silly, especially in the context of the vastness of the problems we’re facing. As the world’s financial health reels like a Russian on a four-day vodka binge, Bloomberg plays around with a hundred hippies.  There had to be a downside to Wall Street’s game of chicken with the universe’s fiduciary welfare and there has been. Suits must walk to work through, or have their limos interrupted by, people who wear fleece and hiking boots when they are not going hiking. The impunity of these people! The utter cheek!

Well, the jig is up for a day. The tents are gone, as is the quinoa and the meticulously collected rainwater. Wall Street is vacant. I’d say it is now back to business as usual, but that would be too scary for words. DM



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Photo: A protester affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement yells at the police outside Zuccotti Park during an unannounced raid by the New York City Police Department in New York, in the early hours of November 15, 2011. Police wearing helmets and carrying shields evicted protesters with the Occupy Wall Street movement early on Tuesday from the park in New York City’s financial district where they have camped since September. REUTERS/Andrew Burton

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