New York City

Bridge Over Troubled City

The Brooklyn Bridge never looked so beautiful as it did today, as hundreds, maybe thousands (it’s always hard to get good estimates on protest numbers) of people marched from Zuccotti Park to Cadman Plaza.

Along the way, however, hundreds were likely arrested, though the outcome is still unknown at the time of this writing. As the protest took the official route over the pedestrian pathway on the bridge, a significant number detoured and walked straight onto the highway, going in the direction of traffic. This created a bottleneck situation that backed-up traffic all the way up FDR drive alongside the East River. From above on the pedestrian walkway, about halfway through the bridge, we watched as a line of police approached the cluster of protesters, who were linked arm-in-arm, and plucked them one-by-one for arrest. Those being escorted to police cars in handcuffs shouted their name to their comrades above, who took note and later created a list of names so that friends could find out if people in their crew were arrested. (A NY Times freelancer has just Tweeted that she is on a bus of arrestees headed toward central booking, she believes, and others are Tweeting that buses are loading up protesters.)

Today’s march was the biggest event in numbers, by a good deal, of the Occupy Wall Street movement thus far. Momentum has piled up despite or perhaps because of media criticism, which has described the protesters as aimless and portrayed them as privileged, confused youth.

Yesterday in Zuccotti Park the protest crowd’s numbers were quickly bloated when news, later shown to be a rumor, spread that Radiohead was coming to play a show at the occupation. Given that Cornel West and Susan Sarandon visited the park last week, the rumor was believable. But once the hoards came, they stayed, sans Radiohead, to listen to the powerful voices in the main assembly.

A unique method of communication serves the protesters, who, being legally barred from using loudspeakers or microphones in the park, essentially use the childhood game of “telephone” to relay messages or speeches.

“Mike check!” means “listen up, we’re about to talk.” And everyone listens as, one by one, a sentence is relayed to a group of people scattered around the circle; once those people have belted out the phrase it is repeated en masse by the next wave of circled listeners. This goes on until a wave of repetition has carried the words to the outer rings of the circle, and all have been apprised. Cheers are expressed by waving hands in the air.

Over the past few days, protests have sprung up in other cities, like LA and Chicago. It appears that the movement is only going to get bigger. But the NYPD are also definitely going to begin enhancing their strategy and mass arrests might continue to occur after today’s episode on the bridge.

It is arguable that the protests are ineffective or largely symbolic and it’s clear that they are vastly different from the uprisings in the Arab world, where government repression reaches a level that no native American can really comprehend. But the symbolism of occupying Wall Street connects broader global injustice with the inequity caused by financial capitalism and its blatant support in the White House.

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