The campground in downtown Manhattan

Late Saturday afternoon on the spur of the moment I went with a friend to Zuccotti Park, located just east of the southeast corner of the World Trade Center, to see the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. It’s not really a park but a kind of plaza (in the middle of the wide block of Liberty Street between Broadway and Church Street) owned by a private company, Brookfield Properties (see explanation of Brookfield’s legal inability to have the protesters’ removed). We walked around and through the park. Many people held a variety of signs pushing various causes, attacking greed, inequality, the supposed Israel-Wall Street connection (evidence of the left’s anti-Semitism), and other grievances. One man held a sign saying we had been lied to about the 9/11 attack and demanding the truth. There was no definite theme or demand that one could make out. The gathering basically had the feel of every leftwing and Communist front demonstration you’ve ever seen, though with less coherence. Also, it lacked a slogan that has been a constant at such demos for the last 30 years, “End War and Racism.” We saw just one sign attacking racism.

There were hundreds of people camped out, with furniture, chairs, sleeping bags, assorted junk. There was an unclean, funky smell, though it was not as bad as I suppose it must have been two days ago, since on Friday (or was it Thursday?) the protesters had a clean-up of sorts. But the place is very messy. There were no Port-o-Potties, and no indication of how sanitation was being handled. As we were leaving I asked a police officer about that, and he said his job was to provide order and security and he knew nothing about sanitation. I could have asked one of the demonstrators, but didn’t feel like talking to these people. For the same reason I didn’t ask them what they believed in and were trying to achieve. One good question we could have asked, but only thought of after we left, was, “What would have to happen in America for you to leave the park? What would be success?”

On the racial angle, the protesters are not, contrary to reports, all-white. Though the majority were white, there were many nonwhites—blacks, some Hispanics, and a surprising number of young East Asian men holding signs.

The notion that this collection of silly, low-level leftists has any message for society is ridiculous. The only reason that they are seen as important is that they have been allowed to continue the demonstration for week after week, and apparently there is no legal way to disband them. Brookfield Properties had decided a few days ago to ask the police to clear the park temporarily of the demonstrators in order to clean it up, but then, as reported in today’s New York Times, various New York pols put a lot of pressure on Brookfield’s CEO, Richard Clark, telling him that the demonstrators would resist even a temporary removal, which would lead to a confrontation with the police, which would look very bad. So at midnight Thursday Clark changed his mind and decided to let the protesters remain.

As a result of Clark’s surrender, today the emboldened protesters expanded their operations up to Washington Square Park and Times Square, creating a lot of trouble en route.

Note that the below NYT story is somewhat misleading, as it gives the impression that the abandoned plan was to clear the protesters out of the park. But according to the New York Post’s story, the plan was only to clear the park of protesters temporarily to clean it up, and then allow the protesters back. So the paralysis of city and state officials in the face of the protesters would seem to be total. They regard even a temporary removal of the demonstrators to be such a draconian act that they dare not do it, and they persuaded Clark not to request it. By coincidence, this week I’m reading Lynne Olson’s Troublesome Young Men, about Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler and Mussolini in the late 1930s. Nothing changes.

However, even if Brookfield and the city had made the protesters leave the park temporarily for clean-up purposes, that would not have changed the fact that there is apparently no legal way for the protesters to be kicked out permanently.

Here is the Times article:

October 14, 2011
Calls Flood In, City Backs Off and Protesters Stay
Inside City Hall, the calls poured in late Thursday, predicting a debacle: Hundreds of people sympathetic to the Occupy Wall Street protest were streaming into Lower Manhattan, vowing to resist a forced cleanup of the park taken over by demonstrators.

“This is not going in a good direction,” Daniel L. Squadron, a state senator, recalled telling aides to the mayor.

Just before midnight came a sign that the calls were having an impact: The park’s owner, also under pressure, e-mailed City Hall to say the plan should be canceled. The mayor’s office agreed—the police would stand down and the protesters would remain, with their sleeping bags and tents, in Zuccotti Park.

The abrupt and unexpected reversal, loudly cheered by rain-soaked demonstrators in the early morning darkness, averted a dangerous clash at the southern tip of Manhattan and seemed to give the unfolding protests against corporate greed, once dismissed as aimless and ephemeral, a growing air of credibility and endurance.

Behind the scenes, interviews suggested, the change in course was fueled by an intensifying sense of alarm within city government, shared even among some of those who work for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, that sending scores of police officers into the park would set off an ugly, public showdown that might damage the reputation of the city as well as its mayor.

Jubilant demonstrators, heartened and emboldened by what they perceived as a victory, started marching through the winding streets of the financial district, brandishing mops and brooms and declaring that they had arrived to clean up the mess created by Wall Street, resulting in 15 arrests.

The relative calm of Friday morning followed a tense Thursday night, during which city and state lawmakers waged an aggressive campaign to persuade both the mayor’s office and the company that owns the park to back down, seeking to defend the protesters’ rights and defuse mounting tensions over the encampment.

“Everybody was in agreement about trying to avert something disastrous from happening,” said Jumaane D. Williams, a city councilman from Brooklyn, who called top aides to Mr. Bloomberg on Thursday night.

Several lawmakers said that aides to Mr. Bloomberg, who had backed the cleanup plan, expressed deep unease about the possibility of an early-morning fracas.

“There were serious concerns” inside the administration, said one elected official who said he had spoken with two of the mayor’s top aides; the official asked not to be identified because the conversations were confidential.

The mayor’s staff, under strict orders from Mr. Bloomberg, did not lobby the owner of the park, Brookfield Office Properties, about whether to push ahead, leaving the decision up to the company’s management, according to several people involved in the discussions.

But in a series of somber, back-to-back telephone calls from 6 to 11 p.m. on Thursday, officials including Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, and Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president, made personal appeals to the chief executive of Brookfield, Richard B. Clark.

Mr. Squadron, the state senator, said he spoke at least four times with Mr. Clark, telling him, at one point, “The plan is bad for protesters’ First Amendment rights and bad for the community.”

“Can we come up with a better solution?” Mr. Squadron asked him.

Mr. Clark, who keeps an apartment downtown, was noncommittal in his conversations with the officials, expressing sympathy for the rights of the protesters but also exasperation with the indefinite occupation.

“It has to be cleaned up,” the officials recalled Mr. Clark saying.

Even as late as 11 p.m., those who had spoken with him remained convinced that Brookfield would insist on carrying out the cleanup a few hours later.

But the drumbeat of worried calls and personal pressure began to weigh on Mr. Clark. Shortly before midnight, he drafted an e-mail to Deputy Mayor Caswell F. Holloway saying he did not want to proceed.

“Based on input from many, we have decided to postpone the cleaning operation for Zuccotti Park,” Mr. Clark wrote. “Accordingly, we do not require the assistance of N.Y.P.D.”

City Hall reacted swiftly, ending plans to remove the protesters, but did not inform the public or the protesters for another seven hours.

For Mr. Bloomberg, who simultaneously has extolled the demonstrators’ freedom to speak out but criticized their agenda, the monthlong protests are a particularly fraught challenge. He is a billionaire who comes from, and believes in, Wall Street; his girlfriend is on the board of the company that owns the park; and he is a mayor obsessed with the cleanliness of the city’s public spaces.

On Friday, Mr. Bloomberg attributed Mr. Clark’s decision to “threatening” phone calls from elected officials. “If you don’t stop this we’ll make your life more difficult,” the mayor said, in summarizing the calls. (The officials said they delivered no such threats.)

The decision seemed to frustrate Mr. Bloomberg. He said that if Brookfield later changed its mind, that would place the city in a difficult situation.

“From our point of view,” Mr. Bloomberg said, “it will be a little harder, I think, at that point in time to provide police protection, but we have the greatest police department in the world and we will do what is necessary.”

By 6 a.m., just before City Hall announced the cleanup was canceled, the crowd had grown to more than a thousand, their numbers swelled by Internet pleas for reinforcements.

The protesters, many of whom had stayed up all night anticipating confrontation, planned to form a human chain around the park to try to keep police officers from entering.

As they had before, the protesters took a stab at cleaning Zuccotti Park themselves, to send the message that official intervention was unnecessary. The mops, brooms and buckets of soapy water were gathered, and a group began a sweep of the granite-paved paths, throwing away unclaimed objects.

“This place is extremely important,” said Kyle Christopher, 27, a photographer from Buffalo who had been part of the protests a few blocks from Wall Street since their first week.

After the morning’s drama had eased, the occupation returned to its new normal: metal barricades lined Zuccotti Park and police officers were stationed around the park’s perimeter. People standing in the makeshift kitchen area ladled out food to others waiting in line. The sound of drums echoed across the park. At the eastern edge, a line of protesters holding aloft cardboard signs faced passers-by on Broadway. And in the park’s center, people milled about as they discussed what might come next.

- end of initial entry -

Beth M. writes:

The key to the protest is that somebody is supplying the protesters with free food. As long as the free hot meals last, and the weather stays mild, the campers will remain. If you have no job, and you are living on benefits and maybe staying with friends or relatives, protesting and camping in the park gives you a social outlet, as well as a feeling of doing something useful. You get a couple of hot meals per day, you supplement those meals with some snacks purchased with your EBT Snap card (“food stamps”) and you protest and engage in political arguments with your fellow campers instead of looking at your computer screen all day. If you don’t have a job, you truly do not have anything better to do with your time, and if you can’t afford a home of your own, camping with other unemployed people may be better in some ways than living in your mom and dad’s basement.

There will be more and more protests of a similar nature, as the unemployment problem will be with us for a long time.

I’m surprised that the city, or some lefty with deep pockets hasn’t brought in porta-potties. If I were running the local McDonald’s, I might supply porta-potties just to keep the protesters from scaring off the paying customers.

Is it true that there are only a thousand or so people at the park? I’ll bet this will turn out to be like Vietnam or Woodstock—ten years from now EVERYBODY will claim to have attended.

October 16, 10:15 a.m.

Ken Hechtman writes:

You wrote:

One good question we could have asked, but only thought of after we left, was, “What would have to happen in America for you to leave the park? What would be success?”

Too bad you didn’t get to ask that. It’s really the $64,000 question. The ability to answer it is what distinguishes a real political campaign from a bunch of kids acting out. It’s also Alinsky 101. Saul Alinsky used to define “the problem” as the general state of affairs that everybody already knows about. Racism or pollution or poverty might be “the problem,” depending on the campaign. But you couldn’t stop there (which is what the Wall Street people seem to have done). A real campaign also needs “the issue.” “The issue” is the clear, specific and achievable goal that’ll get you to stand down the campaign and call it a win.

Thucydides writes:

The reports of pressure being brought on the park’s owner, Brookfield, by state and local politicians, not to remove protestors even temporarily, are understandable.

These politicians are Democrats, and the demonstrations have been organized by groups that are at the core of the Democrats’ coalition (SEIU, Acorn people, etc). Strange as it may seem, the protests are evidently a part of their campaign plan. The hope is to stir up anger at the rich as a device to divert it from the politicians who blew up the housing bubble and are responsible for the financial crisis and resulting economic malaise. An essential component of this strategy is then to portray the Republicans as uniquely tied to Wall Street, and channel the hating on to them. This takes a lot of chutzpah: President Obama has collected more in political contributions from Wall Street ($18 million) in 2 ½ years than his predecessor ($13 million) did in eight years. Wall Street is Manhattan/Hamptons elites; not much less Democratic leaning than Hollywood, though they have sense enough to always contribute something to whomever seems likely to win.

There are reports of unlimited free food service being supplied. Is this the first professionally catered demonstration?

Posted by Lawrence Auster at October 16, 2011 12:23 AM | Send

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