Three days ago, Zuccotti Park was a functioning home for hundreds of demonstrators at the center of what has become a world-wide movement protesting economic injustice. Thursday afternoon, it was ringed by police in riot gear and barricades, dozens of police vans, and legions of media documenting those who remain.
After two days of chaos following an early morning raid earlier this week, when nearly 200 people were arrested, Thursday's string of protests, beginning at 7:00 a.m., served as a powerful rallying cry for thousands outraged by the eviction. They streamed to Foley Square and across the Brooklyn Bridge, where they projected a 99 percent logo onto the nearby Verizon building. Approximately 250 were arrested on Thursday, according to the NYPD, but few of those arrests occurred on the bridge itself.
Among the most dedicated protesters, there were many mixed emotions. Despite all of the problems -- such as drugs and assault -- inherent in life on the streets of New York, the park had provided the movement with an anchor, coordinating capacity, and public face to the world. But there was also a substantial amount of relief: simply sustaining life in the park -- handling security, providing food, preparing for plunging temperatures -- took a massive amount of energy.
Looking out over the thousands gathered in Foley Square on Thursday night, Daniel Zetah, 35, said he felt galvanized by what he saw, and also relieved.
"I keep trying to tell people that the occupation was just a strategy," Zetah said, looking out past a group of reverends on stage addressing the crowd, to a sea of union signs from the United Auto Workers, the United Federation of Teachers and the Service Employees International Union. "I saw first-hand how many thousands of hours it took to keep it going, keep it safe. Now that it's gone, we finally get a break."
Zetah, who had been living in Zuccotti Park and is now couch surfing, said he believes that the amount of energy that went into sustaining life in the park will now be spent elsewhere. Although there are a number of upcoming events planned, precisely where that energy will go remains largely unknown.
Krystin, a 19-year-old protester from the Bronx who declined to give her last name, said she had been sleeping in Zuccotti Park for weeks -- until the eviction on Tuesday, when she was arrested. Upon being released around 4 p.m. on Tuesday, she said, "I walked right from 1 Police Plaza to Zuccotti Park with my release papers in my hands."
Standing on the Brooklyn Bridge, in the middle of a precession of thousands, she said she thought Mayor Bloomberg made a strategic mistake in evicting the occupiers when he did. "I think we owe Bloomberg a big thanks. It's been big since the raid, and our numbers continue to grow."
One strategy for the movement's post-Zuccotti growth took place Thursday afternoon, underground. Sixteen groups planned to "Occupy the Subway," beginning at different points throughout the five boroughs, to converge at Foley Square.
Around 50 or so occupiers rode from 125th Street in Manhattan down to Chambers Street, and then marched together, picking up protesters as they traveled. One man, a 60-year-old named Reggie, had not planned to head to the square, but decided to set aside his previous plans when he heard the protesters' stories shouted via the people's microphone from the subway cars.
"My intention was not to come down here, but this is important," Reggie said. "It's winter, it's cold, they need to know that people appreciate what they're doing."
Others were angered by the protesters' vocal presence on the subway. "I gotta go pick up my kids and you're holding up the fucking train," a man shouted above the voice of occupiers. "Who's going to fucking pay for the babysitter when I'm late? You're holding everybody up."
"He doesn't understand," a woman responded. "This is about economic injustice, and apathetic people like him are the reason this country is in the toilet."
The group left the subway and began marching toward Foley Square, shouting, "We are the 99 percent! This is what democracy looks like!"
The mostly young group of core occupiers were joined by thousands of well wishers, union members and community activists of all ages in the largest demonstration in Foley Square since the last large-scale meeting there on Oct. 5. The spirit of Oct. 1 -- when more than 700 were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, launching the movement into the media spotlight -- was echoed Thursday night, this time by more traditional left activists. Mary Kay Henry, the president of SEIU, and Jumaane Williams, a city councilman from Brooklyn, were arrested with a reported 100 others in what was an apparently planned act of civil disobedience. As one protester put it Thursday afternoon, "99 arrests for the 99 percent."
Another protester on the bridge, 24-year-old Michael Pellagatti, was carrying a memento from his arrest on Oct. 1: plastic flexicuffs used in his arrest. He said he was moved to march by a belief that the big banks are profiting off of America's wars abroad.
"I'm not getting arrested today!" he exclaimed as he held the cuffs aloft on Thursday night. The last time he was marching across the bridge, he said, he had been tricked. After watching others jump off the pedestrian walkway and onto the road deck, he followed suit. "I said oh, I guess it's okay."
Pellagatti, who works as a concierge for a financial services firm, said he has been crashing at friends' houses since he lost his primary residence, Zuccotti Park, on Tuesday.
"I actually slept in the park during the day because I work the night shift," he said. So he was working when he heard about the raid. "I said, no way, my house is being evicted."
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