Occupy Wall Street Escalates The Battle For Union Square

OccupyUnionSq2.jpg
The nightly showdown in Union Square.
The Battle for Union Square continues.

The branch of Occupy Wall Street protesters who have colonized Union Square for the past three weeks continue their nightly standoff with the New York Police Department, which each night deploys more than fifty officers to clear the park and stand guard along a wall of metal barricades to make sure no one gets in.

In recent weeks protesters have turned this nightly 12 a.m. ritual into an opportunity for street theater that points up the waste and absurdity of the NYPD's heavy-handed response. Friday nights, for example, they stage The People's Rap Battle, in which anyone can challenge an officer to hip-hop combat. As you might expect, the police invariably forfeit.

Over the last week, some protesters have adapted to the nightly eviction by trying to sleep in front of the retail outlets of some of the major banks the movement has long targeted, but police have thwarted those efforts, arresting some and forcing the rest to move.

Last night, the protesters undertook a new form of street theater, staging a teach-in to inform the assembled police officers about the state of the law.

David Graeber, an author who has been closely involved with the movement, read aloud from an enlarged copy of a 2000 federal court ruling that held sleeping on the sidewalk as a form of political protest was legal, as long as protesters don't take up more than half the sidewalk or otherwise act disorderly.

They then showed the ranks of officers a large map of the area, pointing out the bank locations outside of which they intended to sleep, and declared their intention to do so in a way that complied with the law. Austin Guest, one of the organizers of the event, called officer's attention to the numerous video cameras, legal observers, and members of the press that would be watching what went down.

The protesters walked across the street to the Bank of America, and started rolling out their sleeping bags. Police officers initially assured the campers "It's all good." Guest reported that around 3:30, two police officers roused protesters sleeping in front of a CitiBank location and forced them to stand. When protesters again read the officers the law, took their badge numbers, and threatened to report them to the Civilian Complaint Review Board, the officers left without making any arrests.

Not everyone in the movement is convinced that this standing conflict with the police is the best course of action. Some even criticize the Occupiers' focus on Union Square altogether.

"There's this whole circus every night surrounding the police and trying to be in the park overnight, but what's the point?" asked Dimitry Sheynin, who's been involved with the movement since it's days in Zuccotti Park. "Sure, you can make an argument that it's important to have a space for the movement here during the day, but if anyone tries to tell you that serious organizing happens at 4 a.m., they're fucking stupid."

Sheynin and others are particularly concerned that the presence of Occupy Wall Street has disrupted the community of homeless people who had been allowed to sleep in the park until the protest encampment led police to shut the park down entirely every night.

"I consider the entire scene at Union Square to be the opposite of what Occupy Wall Street represents," Sheynin said. "The day you arrived here, you displaced a community that had been here for 20 years. You came in in a way that affected other people, you didn't get their consent, and you didn't even try to talk to them."

Some who share that sentiment expressed concern at the decision to read the 2000 court ruling, which distinguishes sleeping on the street as a form of political speech (protected) from sleeping on the street for other reasons (not necessarily protected).

"When you read that ruling to the police, you're basically telling them 'If you want to bother people for sleeping on the sidewalk, don't do it to us protesters, do it to those smelly homeless people,'" said one disapproving OWS-er.

Graeber says he doesn't see it that way.

"Our position is that when homeless people are sleeping in the street, they're involved in a political protest too," he says.

And the movement needs to be able to stay in the park, Graeber says, not only because it serves as a space for discussion, community outreach, and symbolic dissent, but because protesters need somewhere to lay their heads.

"A lot of the people are are real occupiers," Graeber said. "They left their homes, they left their jobs. For a while we were able to give them shelter in churches, but now they're actually in need of a place to sleep. So this is fulfilling an immediate practical need; it's not just a symbol."

Previous Coverage:

[npinto@villagevoice.com] [@macfathom]

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Geo
Geo

Let's be honest about what really is happening here. The "Occupy" movement's messages about banking and financial fraud, bailouts for the 1%, a consolidation of power to the few, the corrupting influence of money & favors in politics, income inequalities, social inequities and injustice, political and corporate misdeeds, police brutality, and an out of control criminal justice system etc. are scaring the devil out of the affluent 1% and their political puppets. They call you a bunch of losers, hippies, bums, trash, radicals, idiots, scum etc.. They were hoping you'd tire and go away. They were hoping no one would listen to you. They were hoping you'd discredit yourselves by turning violent. When none of these things occurred, and when they saw your messages loudly resonating to the 99%, they became scared. People across the world were listening. They are desperate for ways to silence you and shut you down.The 1% called on their political collaborators to have you arrested and charged with crimes. They sent the police after you to scare you and abuse you. They abused you but they did not scare you. And while you are having thoughtful discussions about political and social change, and while you tweet ideas to the world and while you hold up signs that they do not like, and while you make speeches and petition the government for a resolve of issues, they continue to plan for your demise.You have held solid, you have shown restraint, you are the newleaders of the 99%. While they portray your movement as beingsmall, they are acting small and showing signs of desperation.You are smart and talented and you have used social media andlivestream to communicate to the world. While the world watchesand listens your movement grows. You are changing the world.

Deloresschillerhaze
Deloresschillerhaze

The problem in politics isn't who's buying, it's what's for sale.

If the genuine focus of OWS was bailouts and crony-capitalism, they'd have a very legitimate gripe, but they'd properly be protesting in Washington instead of New York. Why blame the recipients instead of the corrupt politicians who make it possible?

No, the bailouts are just a PR gimmick meant to garner sympathy for the OWS brand-- OWS's real target is the rich, as their obsession with percentages clearly suggests (1% vs 99%). Class war.

99 percent and tired
99 percent and tired

"The problem in politics isn't who's buying, it's what's for sale."

Thank you.

Finally, someone got it right, and all it took was one sentence.  I wonder if anyone was watching...

If a country has a drug problem, who should you throw in jail, the drug dealers or the drug users?

Also, to everyone else, OWS does not scare the mythical 1%.  Everyone knows that the minority of organized and/or intelligent people in OWS will always be drowned out by the misguided and gullible majority.  The average IQ in the U.S. is not terribly high, factually speaking, and you have to also take into account that the education system is being pushed to fail in a big way.  We're left with a lump of people who are increasingly less able to compete with the rest of the world yet still believe that they are some beacon of progress and are convinced that their high-school-philosophy-class ideas are something new and revolutionary and that everyone's opinion matters.  OWS's ideas are not new, and EVERYONE's opinion does not matter.  If people give half a shit about this country and really want to make a difference, they should be fighting to improve the education in this nation.  Producing a more educated and informed citizen is the key to the strength of the state of the people. 

Of course, someone will read that and declare that the schools are just pushing some agenda and that it's all a conspiracy to keep the masses down.  So, here's a clue to those who think that: don't wait for teachers to spoon feed every bit of information to you and spend less time "hanging out" and more time studying.  For those with children, don't expect the schools to do all of the parenting of your children for you.  Notice the theme there?  It's personal responsibility popping up again.

Make it a priority to educate yourselves first.  While you're doing that, speak less and listen more.  If you'd rather not, then be quiet and get in line for your spot at the local minimum wage job.

Deloresschillerhaze
Deloresschillerhaze

What a load, Geo.

OWS doesn't know WHAT it wants, it communicates nothing but the juvenile desire for endless cheap attention."Using social media to communicate to the world"? Perhaps OWS-ers use social media to communicate (to each other) where and when their next public tantrum will be held, but I fail to discern any lucid ideas being communicated-- digitally or otherwise.

They're not speaking truth to power, they're making an ugly, noisy GRAB for power.

Eff these OWS jackasses and their presumptuous 99% slogan-- they represent NO ONE but their muddle-headed, envious selves. "We are the 99%"? I suppose it sounds prettier than the more accurate "we are the infinitesimal fraction of 1%".

Nerevar
Nerevar

Ok dude keep listening to what the MSM tells you. It's worked out really well for this country so far..

Deloresschillerhaze
Deloresschillerhaze

Well, I'm not completely blind to the Marxist undercurrent to OWS, Nerevar-- I recognize that the minority of OWS-ers who aren't there strictly to party-hearty are hardcore Marxists parroting the usual claptrap about "inequality, oppressed workers, redistribution of wealth, economic justice, capitalism-is-the-root-of-all-evil, freedom-means-you-don't-hafta-do-nothing-or-pay-for-nothing", etcetery.

Assirammmmmm
Assirammmmmm

They need to focus on politicians. I was all for OWS from September-december but now I'm frustrated on their fixation on wall St and the nypd. They are small fries. The fact that santorum is prancing around and OWS is still focusing on the NYPD is disgusting me. Go to Bloomberg at least.

John Penley
John Penley

I have had problems with the Union Square action since OWS went there. The front of the park has been a battleground between street kids, homeless people, free speech activists and working class people and the cops for years and years. We, and I have been a part of it, had won a victory in that the cops and the parks department had left that area open all night and it was the only park people could hang out in all night. Now OWS has moved in and that is gone for good. Is this a victory for the 99% or the real estate developers and rich people who live around and own property at Union Square ? It is definitely not a victory for the poor and working class. When I put this story up on Facebook some little punk called me a cop. Look anyone who knows me knows I have been fighting cops and real estate developers for years. In many ways this punk kid is like a missionary who goes into an indigenous area and thinks they are on a mission and eventually brings in more people like himself and the indigenous people are forced out of the area. Personally I wish the people had taken it to Bloomberg's hood like I did twice when I was in NYC and had pissed off him and his 1% neighbors. That would have sent a clear message but the Union Square Occupation has not.

Evis
Evis

The indigenous people of Union Square?

Jasminerlder
Jasminerlder

Amen! OWS has lost all meaning by moving to Union Square and concentrating on NYPD instead of Wall Street.

Evis
Evis

What does Wall St. have to do with it?

I have never in my life worried about another person's income.None of my business.

If I am envious, I do whatever I can to achieve the most I can.

This crying has to stop.

Grow up and do something with your lives.

Evis
Evis

Jesus. What a bunch of losers.A rap battle? And Mr. Pinto, the police are not forfeiting when they choose to not respond to something so lame.

Please break out more of the pepper spray on these people.I could watch videos of that all day long.

Ian futterer
Ian futterer

we get it! you enjoy watching people get hurt. you are a messed up human being, so stop rubbing it in other people's faces

Evis
Evis

Just live your life and do your best and you won't get pepper sprayed.Its that simple.

Its not someone else's fault these people never amounted to anything.

OaklandBikeMedic
OaklandBikeMedic

Breaking news: sadist likes watching people get pepper-sprayed. In other news, fire is hot; first, here's Tom with the weather.

freedom fighter
freedom fighter

YOUR STUPIDITY OVERWHELMS YOUR COMMENTARY RESPONSE . . . IDIOT!!

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