In the spirit of seeing for myself what’s been going on for the last 17 days with Occupy Wall Street, I took the subway into Manhattan to catch Saturday’s march scheduled for 3PM. At Liberty Street and Broadway I joined the marchers, who were chanting: “Banks got balied out, we got sold out.”
It was hard to tell how many people were marching but the west sidewalk of Broadway was packed with people of all ages and colors from Liberty Street up to the Brooklyn Bridge. There was a large police presence on the street side of Broadway keeping the marchers on the sidewalk, making sure they didn’t spill out into the street.
Chanting, “We are the 99%,” some of the marchers waved at the police, “thanks for keeping us safe.” When I accidentally walked into the street, a cop was quick to reprimand me, “Stay on the sidewalk, lady.” That happened more than once in the crosswalks.
The people who were marching near me were peaceful, friendly and excited to be part of this fledgling movement. One woman, a 43-year old unemployed teacher, came down from New Paltz this morning by herself.
“You can’t wait for other people, you have to do what feels right,” she told. me.
Recently she was laid off from her job as a teacher at a Sullivan County BOCES, a job she’d held for twelve years.
“This movement needs a PR campaign,” she told me. “We need a great slogan which sums up what it’s about.”
Despite the lack of a cohesive message, she felt drawn to the protest because of the dire economic situation and the high level of unemployment, she told me.
“I’d rather be working might be a good slogan. I should have made a sign. Maybe I’ll put it on a pizza box,” she told me.
Pizza boxes are an oft used material for signage at these Occupied Wall Street marches. I was unable to estimate how many people were marching but there must have been a few thousand. I was definitely in the middle of the march and there were many blocks of people behind me and above me.
“This is what democracy looks like” chanted the crowd as we crossed Broadway towards the Brooklyn Bridge walkway. There was a bottleneck as the crowd was funneled onto the bridge Some members of the march went right towards the Brooklyn bound car lanes. It was clear that those who went in that direction were preparing to get arrested because they would be blocking traffic. Some Occupy Wall Street organizers warned people not to go in that direction. “If you go there you will be arrested.” At first, the police seemed to be letting people onto the car lanes. But then a high level cop with a megaphone told people not to go there.
The bridge looked crowded with demonstrators at 4:00 p.m. I chose not to get on the bridge because I was worried that I might get trapped there or arrested. I had the feeling that the protesters had permission to use the bridge’s walkway. But I noticed a policeman with plastic handcuffs on his belt loops and that was an ominous sign.
By 6:30PM, I heard on WNYC radio that upwards of 75 people have been arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge and elsewhere. Brooklyn-bound bridge traffic is closed and it’s a terrible traffic situation at the moment.
Despite the outcome, the march had a spirited and peaceful quality. I spoke with Hank H., a 54-year-old man from Connecticut, who came down this morning because he feels betrayed by the Obama administration.
“He sold himself as the candidate of hope and change and then he betrayed us,” he said.
Of the Wall Street occupiers he said, “This group is reasserting the power to use public space in a democratic manner. That’s democratic with a small d.” As he walked away he told me to stay safe.
“Occupying public space is a metaphor for occupying political space,” he said as we parted.
And indeed, that’s precisely what was going on today in lower Manhattan.
It’s 9:24PM and the New York Times reports that 400 people have been arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge car lanes.
At 6:14AM the New York Times reports:
In a tense showdown above the East River, the police arrested more than 700 demonstrators from the Occupy Wall Street protests who took to the roadway as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday afternoon.
The police said it was the marchers’ choice that led to the enforcement action.
“Protesters who used the Brooklyn Bridge walkway were not arrested,” Paul J. Browne, the chief spokesman for the New York Police Department, said. “Those who took over the Brooklyn-bound roadway, and impeded vehicle traffic, were arrested.”
But many protesters said they believed the police had tricked them, allowing them onto the bridge, and even escorting them partway across, only to trap them in orange netting after hundreds had entered.
“The cops watched and did nothing, indeed, seemed to guide us onto the roadway,” said Jesse A. Myerson, a media coordinator for Occupy Wall Street who marched but was not arrested.