Saturday, October 15, 2011
The occupiers have been camped out downtown in Zuccotti park for thirty four days. There doesn't seem to be any end in sight, instead the movement is only escalating and gathering momentum. Earlier today, I saw online that #OccupyWallStreet had planned a march from Washington Square park to Times Square. The marchers were scheduled to arrive at Times Square at five o'clock. I was home this afternoon working on some homework, so I walked my dog at around quarter after four, then I headed out the door, and down to Times Square on the subway. As soon as I got above ground at forty second street, I could feel that something big was going on. There was just an electric buzz in the air, I don't know how else to describe it. I crossed from the west side of Broadway over to the other side of forty second, and then I saw them; thousands of protestors marching up seventh avenue from downtown, many of them carrying banners and signs; young people, older people, some with children on their shoulders, some made up as zombies, veterans, union members, nurses, Teamsters, students, thousands of people as far as the eye could see, all gathered to express their grievances and discontent with corporate greed and economic disparity - all gathered at the crossroads of the world beneath blazing electric corporate logos; a brilliant metaphor of we, the people versus them, the gleaming corporate machine.
I was quickly ushered by a cop into a penned off area in the middle of the street between police barricades. I slowly inched my way uptown, trying to get further into the heart of Times Square, but I could barely move because so many people were jammed into the penned in area. Thrilled and excited to be part of this movement as it gathered momentum, I snapped photos and chanted with the crowd, "the whole world is watching!, the whole world is watching!" and "We are the ninety nine percent!, We are the ninety nine percent!" I got bumped into and jostled, and began to feel a little claustrophobic and concerned that I might get caught in the middle of the crowd, so I continued to inch my way uptown. It took me about a half an hour to go the single block to forty third street. Once I got to forty third street, I quickly shot east to sixth avenue to go uptown a few blocks so I could maneuver myself back into the thick of it. Walking up sixth I could see the police presence that I couldn't see when I was in Times Square. The whole avenue was lined with cop cars and cops on motorbikes and a few paddy wagons. There were also countless police on foot, some in riot gear, others with plastic hand ties, and orange crowd control netting.
I turned left onto forty sixth street and started heading west toward the big plaza in the center of Times Square, but about three quarters down the block, I saw that the crowd was so thick that there would be no crossing. I didn't want to get trapped in the middle of it like I was earlier. I got as close to the intersection of Broadway and forty sixth as I could when the police started calling for the crowd to get on the sidewalk. Helicopters could be heard overhead, and still the unrelenting cheers and chants from the people, "We are the ninety nine percent!" The sky was beginning to grow dark, and on the diagonal corner across the plaza, a Bank of America sign blazed brazenly red, back-lighting the impassioned scene below and in between.
The police continued to call for the crowd to get onto the sidewalk. I jostled for position at the curb, craning to watch the action, still trying to take pictures though it was getting too dark for my camera. There was a handsome young cop right in front of me, Officer Campanelli.
Me: "Any idea of how many people have shown up for this? It looks like there's about four or five thousand police here."
Officer Campanelli: "Yeah, there's at least that many of us here. No, they haven't said how many protestors they think are here."
Guy from the crowd: "Where's the Mayor?"
Officer Campanelli: "I dunno. In the Hamptons, eating a steak dinner."
There was some more friendly banter with Officer Campanelli. He told a couple of us how he wasn't supposed to be working tonight, and he'd rather be at home eating dinner. I chatted with a few other people around me too; a guy from Australia who said he fully supported what was going on and that protests have started down under too. I chatted a little with a nurse who was standing next to me, a middle aged Asian woman, who held a hand-written sign that said, "Nurses against corporate corruption." I also spoke with a young Latina, who told me that she's been going down to Liberty Park after work a few days a week since the protests have been going on to show support and solidarity for those who are camped there. She also told me that she wants to go down this week to hear Poland's former President address the crowd (Lech Walesa has said that he supports the Occupy Wall Street movement, and is coming to New York to speak to the protestors!). Then police in riot gear approached from down forty sixth street, some holding their clubs, others with their hands poised atop their pepper spray nozzles. They stretched the width of the street, shoulder to shoulder, and began moving slowly toward the plaza. I noticed police on horseback across the plaza, silhouetted by the Bank of America sign. I silently cursed my camera, knowing it wouldn't read in this darkness. Other cops were walking beside the cops in riot gear, carrying orange police netting, and it looked like they were getting ready for something. I had the horrible thought that the police might start pepper spraying the crowd - it was then that I decided it was time for me to leave.
I knew that there was no way I could make my way through the crowd and get to the subway, so I walked back toward sixth Avenue, and walked up the block to forty seventh through a small plaza between some office buildings. Forty seventh street was also lined with police cars, but I saw no riot gear and no lines of police readying themselves for aggressive confrontation. I walked toward seventh avenue, stopped at the blocked street and looked down from the corner at the crowd. Signs, banners, cheering, people, horses, celebration, madness, mayhem, hope, revolution; all of it perhaps signaling the beginning of the change we were promised and never got. I sidled up seventh avenue, crossed over to Broadway when I could, still constricted by the massive crowds, and made my way to the fiftieth Street subway station.
I'm encouraged by the huge escalation of this movement, and I'm optimistic that this will make some difference. I know that as long as bought politicians continue to decide legislature, nothing can or will change. I'm proud that this movement began in my city. I'm proud of my countrymen and women, and I'm filled with respect and gratitude for the occupiers and their dogged determination and commitment. I can't help thinking that if I were a little younger, or a little braver, I'd be camping out in the street downtown too.