I arrived at Zuccotti Park this Friday morning with my best time-to-get-arrested gear: levis, an old flannel shirt, a rain-proof jacket, my lawyer?s phone number, and a wallet in which I had left nothing but my driver?s license and a credit card.
It was easy to notice how quickly the mood changed just before 7:00 a.m. when it was announced that there would be no evictions for Occupy Wall Street. Brookfield Office Properties, which controls the park, said it was postponing taking any action. I was glad to get off easy. A day of getting processed is not my idea of fun. Others in Zuccotti Park seemed equally pleased not to be tested after all.
Occupy Wall Street?s cleaning efforts were Brookfield Office?s rationale for not going through with its threat to evict the protesters from the sections of the park it said it wanted to steam clean. It was a nice fig leaf of an excuse, and the Occupy Wall Street crowd greeted Brookfield?s decision to do nothing?like its original declaration that it would do maintenance?with derision.
Both decisions seemed a direct reflection of which way the political winds are blowing. A violent eviction this morning would have been a messy affair. In response to Brookfield?s threat, supporters of Occupy Wall Street had flocked to the park. I saw more people in Zuccotti Park in the 7:00 a.m. darkness than I had last Sunday afternoon, when the weather was beautiful and Wall Street was quiet.
Who I saw had also changed. This time around there were ministers wearing their collars and offices workers in business suits, along with a scattering of hard hats. Those arrested were not going to be what the New York Post labels the ?hordes.? At 7:00 a.m. the office workers and the businessmen and women mixed easily with those from Occupy Wall Street who had just spent the night in the rain and who, along with their damp sleeping bags, looked the worse for wear.
What comes next is anybody?s guess. The Occupy Wall Street protestors I spoke with were wary. ?I am sure they are going to evict us,? one told me. ?There are just too many people to do it today.? New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg?s girlfriend, the Associated Press reports, is a member of Brookfield?s Board of Directors, and there has to be enormous pressure on the mayor from Brookfield and New York?s Republican Party to clear out Zuccotti Park before Occupy Wall Street takes up more of the daily news cycle. It isn?t hard to imagine Brookfield trying to get its way more quietly, when fewer people are around. Just before I left, the cry went up, ?Stay in the park. Stay in the park.?
As far as urban battlefields go, Zuccotti Park is a perfect symbol for everyone. It is a privately owned park, bounded by four streets and open to the public twenty-four hours a day. The park came into being in exchange for zoning concessions the city gave Wall Street area developers. The fifty-four-story tower, One Liberty Plaza, that sits across the street from the park is a massive and charmless office with a black granite facade, and the park is almost as dour. It contains a bright red, seventy-foot-high steel sculpture by Mark di Suvero, Joie de Vivre, and row upon row of honey locust trees. But there isn?t a blade of grass in the park. It is a place for rushing through on the way to somewhere else.
After the 7:00 a.m. eviction did not take place, tension in the park remained. At one point a cry rang out that ?the riot police are coming,? and at 8:00 a.m. there was a brief scuffle between the police and a protester, but nothing more happened. ?I don?t think this is a good place for a child,? one of the Occupy Wall Street protesters cautioned a young mother whose toddler was having a wonderful time taking in the crowd.
The police at Broadway and Liberty were making it hard to get into the park and easy to leave, but down a block at the Trinity Place entrances everything was relaxed. You could come and go without even waiting for the light. As I headed toward the subway, I saw riot police in their football-helmet-like headgear, their belts carrying dozens of the plastic loops that are now used for handcuffs when mass arrests are made. But they did not seem to be looking for trouble. They refused to let me go down Wall Street without proof that I worked there, but that was it. One policeman made a sarcastic crack about my reporter?s pad, but otherwise they were all business.
I was struck by the long line of television trucks parked along Cedar Street and Trinity Place. The old sixties? cry ?The whole world is watching!? is true again. But when it comes to news coverage, what I was most impressed by was a reporter in the park with a press pass who was sitting on his sleeping bag, sharing a cup of coffee with his girlfriend. ?Where are you from? I asked. ?Appalachian State College in North Carolina,? he answered. He and his girlfriend seemed exhausted from their night in the park, but they didn?t look like they were going back to their classes anytime soon.