On Thursday evening, a couple dozen Occupy Wall Street protesters in Zuccotti Park grabbed brooms and buckets and set about sweeping up the site. For the last two days, they had begun to work harder than usual to keep the park clean and attractive, putting their brooms to work, filling up buckets of water at nearby restaurants and even, according to one protester, planting flowers.
Protesters say they are cleaning the park so that the city doesn't have to do so. On Wednesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced that Zuccotti Park would be closed temporarily at the end of the week so that sanitation workers could clean it, which they had not done since the protests began. Many of the protesters said they saw this as a ploy to get them out of the park permanently, and their suspicions were further intensified when Ray Kelly, the commissioner of the NYPD, said Thursday that they would not be able to bring back their sleeping bags and other items after leaving. The city's clean-up is scheduled for 7:00 a.m. Friday, and many of the protesters have vowed to resist any attempt at evacuation.
In a letter sent to Kelly on Tuesday, Richard B. Clark, the chief executive of Brookfield Properties, the company that owns the park, wrote, "After weeks of occupation, conditions at the park have deteriorated to unsanitary and unsafe levels."
On behalf of the protestors, a group of New York civil liberties lawyers issued a letter to Clark today in which they wrote that a sanitation group at the site has been addressing the concerns raised in Clark's letter "all along" and has "committed itself to carrying out a thorough and complete cleaning" as an extra measure.
"Trash has consistently been bagged and hauled to established collection points and recycling rules have been strictly adhered to," they wrote, adding that the sanitation group "typically has had between one and fifteen people sweeping the Park with brooms at any time."
The lawyers concluded their letter with an offer to meet to resolve the controversy.
Brendan Burke, a protester who lives in Brooklyn, said that he runs "patrols" several times each day, pressing people to keep their spaces clean. Not everyone complies, he said, but overall, the group has been more orderly and respectful than not. Because this is New York, he found it fitting to add that he had yet to see a rat.
At 6:00 p.m. Thursday, while protesters began the cleaning effort, a group of about 20 New York council members and state senators expressed their support of the protesters at a press conference in the plaza across the street from the park. They included Margaret Chin, the city council member whose district includes Wall Street. "I call on the mayor to do everything you can to make sure the peaceful demonstrations continue," she said.
Jumaane Williams, a council member from Brooklyn, addressed the mayor directly. "Hopefully you'll be remembered for something other than dismantling democracy in this city." He finished his speech with a flourish, leading the crowd in a chorus of a chant that has reverberated through the area for weeks: "All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street."
About an hour after the press conference ended, there was a tense stand-off between police and protesters on Wall Street outside of the restaurant Cipriani. A scrum of protesters had marched down to the restaurant because they'd heard that the mayor would be making an appearance at a gala there. They gathered across the street from the restaurant, shouting slogans, while a line of police stood in front of them, blocking the restaurant's entrance. They left after the police threatened to arrest them.
Angela Doyle, the executive vice president of 1199SEIU, a local health care workers' union, said that she had been inside the restaurant when the mayor presented an award. When the room rose to give him a standing ovation, she said, two tables of union representatives "sat on their hands."
When she heard that there were protesters outside, she said, she decided to come take a look. The union's goals are "completely congruous" with those of the protesters, she said.
Standing outside the restaurant, smoking a cigarette, she said she was thinking about reaching out to her friends in the sanitation union to see if she could interest any of them in volunteering to help the protesters with the clean-up. Like the protesters, she was suspicious of the mayor's intentions. "If sanitation is his concern, " she said, "I could show him some neighborhoods in the Bronx."