I never imagined when I wrote about Zuccotti Park three months ago on my blog about the New York City parks that it would become ground zero for a protest the likes of Occupy Wall Street. What’s really going on down there? What does it feel like to enter the “permanent” protest environment in the park?
First, here’s what Zuccotti Park looks like on a normal sunny summer day: crowded, peaceful.
And here it was yesterday:
I was very positively impressed by the Occupy Wall Street crowd blanketing the park yesterday. There was no special action, no march, no celebrity visit, no arrests happening on this early Monday afternoon. While government offices had shut for the holiday, Wall Street itself was in full swing (in fact, the Dow rose over 300 points), so the streets and lunchtime hangouts on this unseasonably warm day were dotted with men in ties, some no doubt members of the “one percent.”
Broadway, which forms the eastern boundary of Zuccotti Park, was itself lined with a street fair whose vendors were easily able to completely ignore the protesters’ presence. A young Italian-American singer belted out “Beautiful” on a street stage just south, in celebration of Columbus Day; the organ player in neighboring Trinity Church blasted impressive chords as a lightly attended service wrapped up (there were more tourists observing from the rear of the sanctuary than parishioners in the pews…but then, that’s New York for you.)
At the east end of Zuccotti Park under the big red sculpture known as Joie de Vivre a couple of protesters had assumed the mantle of leaders-of-the-moment and were leading the crowd in improvisational chanting. On the west end, a group banged out disorganized but energetic protest rhythms on drums and percussion as a little girl attempted to ping along on a triangle. In the middle of the park hundreds and hundreds of people engaged busily in various forms of protest business as trickles of tourists threaded through. There’s a first aid station, a press “office,” and countless desks and stands and “floor” spaces full of flyers and brochures. A messy but friendly-looking kitchen area offers food to long-term protesters camped out under blankets and tarps nearby. A sign politely requests that people refrain from taking photos of the camped-out residents (some sleeping) without permission.
I’ve heard the scene referred to as resembling “the parking lot at a Phish concert.” Such a description accurately evokes the feeling that a temporary town has been spontaneously set up, but it doesn’t suggest the different meaning, here, of “temporary.” Nor does it take into account the hundreds of hand-written signs hung and waving everywhere. (My favorite: “I’ll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One.”)
Here’s something non-locals might not know: the reason people can camp overnight in Zuccotti is that it’s not a city park, but a privately managed one created by a real estate developer in return for a zoning variance. (Developers in Manhattan are often asked to create public spaces in return for being allowed to exceed, for example, a building height limit.) When I look up “Zuccotti Park” on Google Maps I see, along with the park’s name and location, a link to Brookfield Office Properties, whose chairman is John E. Zuccotti—probably a perfectly nice fellow, but surely not one of the 99%.
A couple of blocks south, the Wall Street bull—carefully watched (like the protesters) by police—reared its rear towards New York Harbor, as always. Unlike the protesters, he doesn’t get hungry or risk injury. Or get arrested.