Just a few blocks away is another crime scene: Wall Street, which symbolizes an ongoing economic failure. In this past week, access has been limited, and in this free country of ours protestors could not parade in front of the NY Stock Exchange, another privately-run financial institution. That led Yves Smith of the Naked Capitalism blog to opine, "I'm beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US."
Many banks like Chase doubled their security forces and put up fences to protect themselves from the people the NY media hve labeled "kids and ageing hippies."
The panic in the exchange is mirrored in the insecurity in the streets where surveillance cameras, private police forces and NY cops defend the bastions of privilege.
The police went on the offensive Saturday with mass arrests of activists. Scott Galindez filed this report on Reader Supported News, "While the live feeds were up I witnessed a very powerful arrest of a law student whose parents were recently evicted from their home. He dropped to his knees and gave an impassioned plea for the American people to wake up! There are reports of police kettling protesters with a big orange net, at least five maced, and police using tasers."
There were also reports of the use of mace, tear gas and pepper spray which hit two old women. We are so used to these storm-trooper tactics that most expect them. There had been fewer arrests last week, although the police seem to now have identified key organizers and are singling them out.
On Saturday, police gave out a notice saying that it is now illegal to sleep in the park. They then put up a sign on a park wall. I watched a member of the police command, a "white shirt" named Timoney, march into the park and gruffly order the communications team that spends most of its time tweeting out the latest news to take down some large umbrellas the activists were using to protect their computers from rain.
The police consider these "structures" and prohibit them. Earlier in the week, they arrested people for using tarps to protect their gear. (They don't see the irony in that term given the way the TARP law bailed out the banksters.)
Many of the people in the park believe the end may be coming with the police eager to end what they see as a Woodstock on Wall Street, complete with topless teens and long-haired militants. This assemblage clearly affects their macho Identity as upholders of law and order as they define it. They probably agree with the right-wing Red State website that calls the protesters a "menagerie."
I wouldn't rule out mass arrests once a provocation, theirs or the protesters', provides the pretext.
Will the Occupy Wall Street collectives be able to continue to occupy a zone that has been occupied for years by the greedsters of the finance world?
More importantly, will the issues they are trying to draw attention to, however symbolically, be taken up by others?
Will it take more cracked heads, or even a police killing, to move New Yorkers to support a campaign to rein in Wall Street?
Where are the unions and New York's progressive democrats and organizations? Why aren't they in the streets?
Why don't they realize that economic justice issues are essential to transforming this oligarch-driven country?
I have been calling for years for more protests on Wall Street to put the issues of Wall Street crime on the agenda. But with media barely covering this "occupation," with the activists being denigrated for their youth and inexperience, will this one have the impact I was hoping for?
It seems unlikely.