UPDATE: The owners of Zuccotti Park, home to Occupy Wall Street, released a set of rules this afternoon that, if enforced, will put an end to the occupation. It appears that suspicious of protesters who believed the cleaning was an excuse for eviction have been borne out. The park cleaning will take place in three stages starting at 7 am tomorrow, though it's possible a police crackdown will happen sooner. I will be at the park starting this evening and will be posting constant updates on Twitter from @JoshHarkinson.
Just two days after announcing that Occupy Wall Street protesters can stay in Zuccotti Park indefinitely, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last night that they'll have to leave tomorrow, at least temporarily, while sanitation workers clean it up. Protesters say they plan to resist the move, with some viewing it as a ploy to permanently evict them.
Bloomberg briefly visited the park last night and later released a statement noting that the park's owner, Brookfield Office Properties, was concerned about its cleanliness. He went on to outline the cleanup plan: "The cleaning will be done in stages," the statement said, "and the protesters will be allowed to return to the areas that have been cleaned, provided they abide by the rules that Brookfield has established for the park."
What is now known as Zuccotti Park was constructed in 1968 by the builders of the adjacent United States Steel Tower in exchange for being allowed to build a taller skyscraper than zoning rules would otherwise allow. The park is classified as "privately owned public space"--it's open to the public 24 hours a day but maintained by Brookfield, the building's property management company.
Protesters with Occupy Wall Street's Planning Working Group told me earlier this week that they still weren't clear on exactly what kinds of rules governed the park. Brookfield has not released anything in writing, and has mostly just raised sanitation concerns. In an effort to prevent the cleanliness issue from turning into an excuse for eviction, the Planning and the Sanitation working groups at OWS have been trying to obtain bins in which to store bedding during the day, making the park easier to clean. But the process has been slow. At a meeting on Sunday night, for example, the proposal was met with resistance by other protesters who wanted to try to obtain the bins on Craigslist, rather than purchase them, and wanted to make sure that they were "fair trade."
Now that the cleanliness concerns have come to a head, OWS is organizing a massive cleanup effort today. Still, it probably won't be enough to convince Bloomberg and Brookfield to leave sanitation to the occupiers, which means clashes with the police who'll clear parts of the park tomorrow could be likely.
UPDATE: By the weekend of October 15th, the Zuccotti campers had adopted this new plan for the park and reorganized themselves accordingly.
As the Occupy Wall Street movement has caught fire over the past week, reporters and pundits keep asking whether the occupiers can unite around a common goal. Will they tackle income inequality, corporate control of politics, Wall Street reforms? Maybe. But the first order of business is much more basic: figuring out how to organize and maintain their impromptu campground.
Prosaic as it may seem, getting a handle on the chaos in Zuccotti Park is an important test case for whether the disparate voices of Occupy Wall Street can work together. For more than two weeks, protest leaders collaborated with city planners, urban geographers, and technology whizzes to create a new, detailed urban plan for the park, with an eye toward safety, public relations, and traffic flow.
The collaborators included Jake DeGroot, a techie with experience creating computerized stage and concessions layouts for concert and event planners; Mike Esperson, a former Haiti relief worker who has worked in refugee camps; Daniel London, a doctoral student in history at City University of New York who obtained the original architectural plan for the park; and Katie Gill, a geographer with training in city planning who specializes in how people navigate urban spaces.
Their plan is an attempt to make Zuccotti Park cleaner, more welcoming, and ultimately more likely to endure as the nexus of a national protest movement. As historian London puts it: "Just like Boston was the 'City on the Hill' in its own time, right now the eyes of the world are on Zuccotti Park, and we need to create a space that will inspire them as well as serve our own needs." Here's an interactive map of the proposal, which park residents may vote on next week. Click an area of the map to see what's planned there. Map image source: Courtesy Occupy Wall Street Planning Group Members.
Every good movement needs a bus. Rosa Parks had one. Ken Kesey had one. Even freegan climate activists who get around on French fry grease have one. So why not Occupy Wall Street? After all, a bus passes Zuccotti Park every minute or so. It's most often red, double-decker, and crammed with tourists, admittedly, but at least the seats are comfortable. Or so I was thinking on Sunday as I stood in line on Broadway behind a kid with a foam Statue of Liberty crown, waiting to get aboard.
I sat down in the back between a burly Australian and a skinny German. Neither had much to say about Occupy Wall Street. Two large women in front of me whom I'd figured for Americans were actually Canadian and didn't have any opinions either. So I moved to a front row and sat down next to someone who, it turned out, didn't speak English. But at least I was close to the tour guide, Thomas Kinzey, a man with wraparound sunglasses, a stubble, and a penchant for numbers. "Tower No. 4 will house the mausoleum, the chapel, the visitors center of the 9/11 memorial," he was saying. "The mausoleum will house the 14,000 body parts that remain unclaimed due to contaminated DNA."
John Joe Baxter is a 72-year-old troubadour from Rockaway Beach in Queens. He's been coming to Occupy Wall Street every day since it started. "I think this is the beginning of something that has never happened in our lifetimes in America," he told me yesterday. "I think this is going to turn into the biggest movement ever in this country. Because all these people here feel exactly the way we feel."
Here he is singing an as-yet-unnamed song that he wrote for the movement, as cops try to keep his audience from blocking the sidewalk:
For Occupy Wall Street to keep gaining steam, it must begin to attract people who aren't part of the typical protest crowd. Based on my experience at Zuccotti Park this weekend, this has begun to happen—in spades. Throughout the day I ran into people who'd never been to a protest until now. None of them belonged to activist groups or trade unions. They'd simply heard about the occupation and decided to come. Some were blue-collar folks out of work, others college students who feared they'd never land a job. Here are four of their stories:
Kevin Monahan, a laid-off sanitation worker, says the Occupy Wall Street activists aren't scared of terrorists. "We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives." Josh Harkinson
Kevin Monahan, laid-off sanitation worker
Monahan is hard to miss at McDonald's, where a long line of occupiers waits for the restroom. He wears long hair wrapped in a skull-pattern headband, a jean jacket with a Confederate Flag patch, and a button on his lapel that says, "The rich bailed out, the poor sold out."
About a year ago, Monahan lost his job as a garbage truck driver in upstate New York. At 24, he's embarrassed that he's had to move back in with his parents. He tried attending college for a while but dropped out when he lost his financial aid. He now competes with teenagers for minimum-wage cashier jobs. He knew that Wall Street was partly to blame for his problems, but when he saw a YouTube clip of New York cops macing peaceful demonstrators at Zuccotti, "it just threw fuel on the fire." He begged friends for gas money and drove down to Manhattan.
Monahan doesn't exactly know how to describe his politics. "I don't trust the government whatsoever," he says. He's a fan of Ron Paul and a believer in his campaign to "End the Fed." But he also strongly believes that the wealthy need to pay more taxes. He hates Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly and scoffs at the concept of trickle-down economics, which he sees as a tax on the poor for the benefit of fat cats. "Take as much as you can, that's the whole point of capitalism," he says. "Get as rich as possible, profit is the only means. So what do we do when they have it all?"
As he talks, his voice often wavers with emotion, and his eyes go glassy. At home he often feels alone; here people constantly embrace him. "I've run into socialists, communists, liberals, gutter punks, rastas, thugs, and believe it or not, everybody is getting along," he says. "We have the same common enemy. None of us is scared of terrorists. We are scared of living alone on the streets for the rest of our lives."