Day After Zuccotti Raid, Few Occupy Wall Street Protesters Gathering In Park
On Wednesday afternoon, a day and a half after the city temporarily evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park, security and media were in large supply. What was largely missing were the occupiers themselves.
"Let's face it, it's depressing to come down here and see the park naked," said Michael Fix, a New York filmmaker and core protester with a long history of activism, as he surveyed the 80 or so protesters scattered around the mostly empty space. While protesters were allowed back in the park on Tuesday, they were barred from bringing tents or sleeping bags.
An older man with a blue striped umbrella approached Fix. "Excuse me," he asked, "do you know where everyone is? There's no meetings or anything?"
Fix shrugged. "A lot of people are feeling shell shocked," he told the man. "People are sleeping." Fix, like many protesters surveyed, said he had only slept six hours since the pre-dawn raid on the park.
For both protesters and observers, questions about the near future outweigh answers right now. Without a geographic center, will people still be able to effectively organize? Without a place to sleep, will the crowd disperse? Will the occupiers retake the park or another space? And if they do not, will the loss of Zuccotti -- the birthplace of the movement -- prove to be a mortal blow or a temporary obstacle that, in the end, may strengthen the protest instead of breaking it?
On Wednesday afternoon, one thing was evident: whatever the future holds, the movement on this rainy afternoon was not in Zuccotti Park. Protesters stood in small groups talking, a few held signs. A man wearing a soaking leather jacket stood on the north side, where the information hub of the park once stood, and shouted with a hoarse voice to a group of about 20 that occupiers should not be restricted from using sound amplification -- an issue protesters have tried to work around to varying degrees of success. The crowd drifted away.
"People are warn out," Fix said. The raid was particularly hard, he added, on people new to organizing. "If you haven't been involved in movement building before, this is a devastating blow."
Tuesday night, an estimated 1,000 protesters streamed past a heavy police presence and through one of the two gaps in the metal barricades that now encircle the park to hold one of the largest General Assemblies -- the occupy movement's evening meeting -- yet. The discussion was forward looking: the future of Occupy Wall Street, sleeping arrangements, plans for the two-month anniversary day of action planned for Thursday.
Many occupiers said that Wednesday's diminished public presence was the calm between two storms. But many also acknowledged that beyond Thursday's rally, the future remains unclear.
"Tomorrow is a huge day, so everyone is saving energy," said protester Max Bean, 29. He lives in New York City, and spent the day catching up on sleep and working from home. "But tomorrow is just an action day, not the future of the movement. I think we don't know where we're headed next."
At 60 Wall Street, an open atrium that has served as a central off-site meeting place for working groups (committees focused around issues related to the movement), there was also a radically diminished Occupy Wall Street presence. Before the raid, dozens of occupiers met daily around circular tables, amid potted plants to discuss everything from security issues in the park to alternative currencies. But on Wednesday around noon, only one table was devoted to the occupation.
Eight members of the mobile occupation working group -- one of several groups devoted to inter-occupation communication and outreach -- met to discuss a long-planned road trip from New York City to Florida, with 11 stops at occupations along the way.
The night of the raid, Charlie Gonzales, 31, had just finished and submitted his new proposal for the month-long trip. The mobile occupiers had not yet had time to read it. As protesters trickled into the space, they approached the group, hoping for more information about what was going on.
"When you sit here, you become an information booth," Gonzales said. "But we don't know where anyone is. If you find out, let us know."
Now that Zuccotti Park has been cleared, "there's a big push for inter-occupation communication," said Kelly Fragale, a member of the group.
Whether they'll be able to get funding approved by the General Assembly as previously planned remains unclear. But members of the group did not seem worried.
"Even if we just went tomorrow without any funding, without the GA's vote, we'd still be able to get a lot done," said Gonazales, an MIT trained mechanical engineer and owner of the trip bus, which runs on vegetable oil. "This isn't the end, it's really just the beginning."
Many expert observers agree that, despite Wednesday's weak showing, the movement is not grinding to a halt after Tuesday's raid.
"This thing has not played itself out by a long stretch," said Jeff Goodwin, a sociology professor at NYU who specializes in social movements and has been involved in a variety of Occupy Wall Street working groups and endeavors. Thursday's planned day of action, Goodwin said, will be one good test. Whether the protesters will find a new space to camp out in will be another.
"Movements that have accomplished something certainly have shown a capacity to bounce back from repression far worse than this and setbacks far far worse than what we've seen," Goodwin said. "There will come a point when some impatience starts to creep in, but that moment is not now. This has got a long life a head of it."