The Occupy Wall Street movement is once again seeking a physical presence in New York City, following its dispersal by police from a lower Manhattan park in November. Our correspondent reports the attempt renews tensions between protesters and law enforcement.
“This is god**** our park! This is our park! The real people’s park! It’s a real public park," screamed a protester.
This impassioned Occupy Wall Street protester recently denounced New York police as bullies for enforcing a regulation that limits the size of signs in public parks. At issue was this long banner. Protesters say the regulation applies to commercial vendors, not public expression.
The standoff took place Wednesday in Union Square Park, after police forcibly dispersed an attempt by protesters a few days earlier to reoccupy Zuccotti Park, about three kilometers away, where the Occupy movement began last September.
Sherman Jackson, an Occupy media representative, says confrontations with police over territory draw media focus away from the movement’s core message of corporate greed and income inequality. Jackson says he defers to those who support a physical presence, but thinks it is not necessary.
“The fact is that we use social media, we use Twitter, we use Facebook, we e-mail, we text one another, and we can muster a couple of thousand people within an hour to gather at any spot that we ask them to gather at," said Jackson.
Protester and saxophonist Dave Intrator says a physical presence is essential. He adds that the act of human beings assembling in a public space to talk politics, exchange ideas and to play music has become an exotic luxury. He claims that peaceful gatherings, though often noisy and messy, threaten corporate interests that see the world in terms of efficiency and profits.
“This in itself is an ideal of freedom, which is under attack in our modern, branded, corporatized, pre-formatted world," said Intrator. "And so, with respect to this concept of freedom, having this space is central to Occupy.”
Meanwhile, Zuccotti Park is again filled with tourists and people eating lunch. But a substantial police presence and barricades stacked at the ready betray lingering tension between protesters and law enforcement. Attorney Gary Darche says that tension made him think twice about going to the park.
“It’s not a comfortable situation between the security forces and I don’t know who’s coming and who’s going, who’s taking my picture," said Darche. "For all I know - maybe I sound paranoid - you could be someone from some organization. I don’t know.”
While protesters have moved to another location, a portable police tower maintains a vigil over Zuccotti Park. As for the disputed sign at Union Square Park, protesters complied with police demands not to display it; they simply cut it in half and stood side by side holding each end.