For two months, protesters have occupied a square block in lower Manhattan known as Zuccotti Park.
The park, named for the citizen who contributed to its creation more or less as a condition for developing other profitable property in the same neighborhood, is itself a misnomer. Most of it is made up of faux marble "benches" affixed to granite slabs. There are a few rows of thin trees that run diagonally across the venue and a couple of small roundabout flower gardens. But other than that, the "park" is hardly a green space.
It is also very small. It is sandwiched between one modern high rise office building on the north and a twenty-one story landmark built in 1905 on the south. To its immediate east is another modern office building and to its immediate west lies a Burger King and a hamburger cum pizzeria joint.
So, all things considered, calling it a park is the rough equivalent of calling Herman Cain a presidential candidate -- accurate perhaps as a technical matter but not particularly serious if one is interested in apt descriptions.
At somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 or 3 am yesterday, the New York City Police Department cleared the "park" of those who had decided to sleep there. The ostensible reasons for this police action were that (1) the "occupiers" were somehow creating health and safety risks for themselves and others in the surrounding community and (2) the "occupiers" were effectively precluding others from "using" the park as the publicly accessible space it was intended to be.
I work about a half a block from the park and walk by it to and from my office and during lunch approximately half a dozen times a day. During the two months I have been observing the "occupation," I never noticed any "health and safety" problems. Virtually to a man and woman, the protesters were disciplined in respecting police instructions not to impede pedestrians and other passers-by, myself included. I never witnessed a fight or any violence. And the "occupiers" apparently understood the need to leave the park for other more appropriate facilities when mother nature called or personal hygiene demanded.
Nor were the protesters, by New York City standards at least, particularly loud. For some portion of every afternoon, a group on the western edge banged on ersatz drums, accompanied by an occasional saxophonist who tried to inject some harmony (musically, that is) into the drum beat. And late at night -- I am a lawyer who has occasional late nights -- the place was placid. If, as the mayor says, businesses in the area were complaining, they could not have been the ubiquitous fast food and push cart vendors, who never had it so good. And, for the record, my firm never complained.
As for interfering with "others" who wanted to use the park, this too is a stretch. From about 11 pm to 6 am on a daily basis, the park was never used by anyone other than the occasional drunk stumbling through or couple making out. At other times, but really only in the good weather, it served as a venue for al fresco lunch goers and the occasional skateboarder, the latter of whom were risking far more as a matter of safety and health than any of the occupiers and presumably can begin doing so again.
In any case, it would have been far easier to suggest alternative neighborhood venues for those pre-occupation occasional users who sometimes showed up before Zuccotti became famous. In fact, if public use is the park's purpose, Zuccotti and Mayor Bloomberg should send the "occupiers" a thank you note for having finally brought some reality to what had previously been mere pretense. Because, put simply, for the first time in its lifetime, Zuccotti Park finally lived up to its billing and got a real workout.
Of course, Bloomberg and the Police Commissioner and the editorialists at the right wing New York Post are really just pulling our leg. They didn't clear the park out of concern for health, safety, skateboarders, neckers or the seasonal lunch crowd. They cleared it because, in the belly of the high finance beast that is Wall Street and from which this park sits mere blocks away, the occupiers were making a point.
In fact, they were making a number of them.
The gap between the rich and the rest has grown way too large. The dream of working hard and getting ahead is dying. Corporations are not people. They are creatures of the state. They have no inherent or natural rights. In fact they are not "natural" in any sense of that word. The government, which for years levelled the playing field and enforced some regulatory constraints on a culture of high finance that would literally create a depression before it sacrificed an opportunity for quick profit, has been captured and rendered powerless.
This is the "message" of "occupy Wall Street" or OWS. It has spread throughout the world. And it is not going away.
Because the kids and the hippies and the unemployed and the angry who camped out for two months on a city block in New York -- beating drums, annoying mayors, and telling the truth -- didn't just occupy a park.
They occupied our mind.