Last night, capping off a long day of protests around Manhattan and the world, Occupy Wall Street held a meeting in Washington Square Park to discuss whether to set up a permanent occupation there. Unlike the park that houses the original OWS occupation near Wall Street, Washington Square is a publicly-owned space that's subject to a 12 a.m. closing time imposed by New York City's Department of Parks and Recreation. As midnight approached, the New York City Police Department dispatched more than 100 police officers in riot gear to push out the occupiers. Some of them chose to resist, and I was there inside the police cordon to capture this exclusive video (the confrontation with police happens near the end):
That, in two words chanted and rechanted through the crowd, is how the news sank in early this morning that Occupy Wall Street would emerge from a harrowing night still fully in control of Zuccotti Park. At around 6:30 a.m., a half hour before an eviction operation was expected to begin, New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway called it off. The owner of the park, Brookfield Office Properties, had withdrawn its request for police assistance. "Our position has been consistent throughout: the city's role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers," Holloway said in a statement. "Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use, and that the situation is respectful of residences and businesses downtown."
The news electrified a crowd of about 3,000 occupiers that had steadily grown in numbers as the wet night brightened into dawn. Many of them had worked nonstop since Thursday evening sweeping the park and scouring its granite walkways with brushes—a calculated attempt to deprive Brookfield Office Properties of its main justification for evicting them. While the company had claimed that it only wanted to move the occupiers to conduct a thorough cleaning, it has also issued a set of rules that would effectively prevent them from returning by banning camping, tarps, and sleeping bags.
UPDATE: New York authorities are confirming that the cleanup and eviction have been postponed. See Josh's feed below for a vivid account of the tense night, and a series of mini-profiles of protesters.
The owners of Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street has made its camp for nearly a month, released a set of rules Thursday that seems intended to evict the protesters permanently. The rules ban camping in the park or lying down on sleeping bags or under tarps. (See document below.) Brookfield Office Properties also announced plans to begin cleaning the park in three stages starting at 7 a.m. Friday—effectively a notice to protesters that they need to be gone by then or face the consequences. I've been reporting from Zuccotti Park since last weekend; for continuous updates during the eviction showdown see my tweets here (with the latest up top), or follow me on Twitter at @JoshHarkinson.
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.