Post-Eviction: What Next?

Private security guards hired by Brookfield Properties are keeping the park on close watch

Things are not going to be easy without the park. In Zuccotti – or Liberty Square, as it was affectionately named in deference to its name before Brookfield Properties owned the space – the protesters could not only dream of a better world, they could create it. They could live without money. They were neighbors to each other. They had a library, a daily think tank discussion, a medic tent, and a nearly-constant audience of passers-by, tourists, journalists, and occasional Wall Street traders who dropped in to say, “You’re doing the right thing. Keep it up.”

It wasn’t perfect. There were serious problems: drug use at night, an incident of sexual assault, cases of hypothermia – twenty-five on one cold night a few weeks ago – and a labrynthine maze created by the ad-hoc tent city that had sprung up in the park.“Here, we had a divide within the camp, a ghetto over there – all the problems any society has, we had here,” observed Sean Allingham, a thirty-year old activist who slept in Zuccotti Park for five weeks before it was abruptly evicted on Monday night. Although it served a strategic purpose by creating a temporary autonomous zone, said Allingham, the park was not a utopia.The General Assembly was overburdened with trying to deal with the needs of the campers while also helping the working groups stay on track. A divide grew between the occupiers and the organizers.On Wednesday, as occupiers and supporters of Occupy Wall Street regrouped in Zuccotti Park, many people suggested that it was, perhaps, a blessing that the park was evicted. It had become pretty messy and hard to deal with – and a lot of energy was being devoted toward taking care of the occupation.

Daniel Zitah, a thirty-five-year-old who occupied Zuccotti since shortly after it was initially claimed by a loosely-organized group of activists on September 17th, seemed galvanized by the eviction, though he also recognized that it had been traumatic to many. “Instead of dealing with the ‘how’ of the Occupy, I wanna talk about the ‘why,’” he explained. “We’ve been focusing so much on how to maintain this movement. But we need to think about why we’re here,” he continued.“Why is it we feel like occupying some public space is the only way to meet our mission statement, which is to inspire, and engage the American people?,” said Zitah.

When pressed on the importance of having a public space for people to come together, Zitah conceded to that point. “I see why occupation was important when we did it,” he said. “But I don’t see why we need to come back and make it exactly the way it was. So much energy was going into that model. It could go into other things.”

Zitah’s vision of Occupy moving forward is “people out in communities doing work.” He envisions people getting their hands dirty – fixing houses, creating community gardens. “Not only is it going to inspire people to spread that message, it’s actually getting shit done in the real world.”

On Wednesday afternoon, Zitah attempted to convene a group of Occupy participants for an informal discussion at the public atrium at 60 Wall Street that has become the unofficial office of the movement. But it quickly became clear that tensions are still high after the drama of the eviction. People who joined his discussion became frustrated by facilitators who tried to tightly control the meeting. Others wanted to talk about re-occupying the park, and seemed dismayed when Zitah suggested that other actions were higher in priority, and that the park might not even matter at all.

Zuccotti Park, meanwhile, had been re-occupied – but not by protesters. First, the NYPD held the space for most of Tuesday – prompting the OccupyWallSt.org website to post a hilarious spoof update that lambasted the NYPD for occupying the space with unclear demands and an incoherent message. On a more serious note, however, private security guards hired by Brookfield Properties, who owns Zuccotti Park, took charge of the space on Wednesday, manning check-points at small entrances surrounded by barricades, and prohibiting anyone from bringing food, water, or musical instruments into the park. A representative from the National Lawyers Guild, who supports Occupy with legal advice, said that these private guards are not necessarily beholden to the same rules that NYPD are, and can more or less create rules as they wish, since the park is a private space. Moreover, since a New York State Supreme Court judge ruled on Tuesday that the protesters’ First Amendment rights are not being violated, since they don’t really need tents, generators, and other structures in order to hold a protest, Brookfield is fairly assured that they can regulate the park as they wish.

At a Spokes Council meeting on Wednesday night, where working groups were meant to make consensus-based decisions about specific matters, it was hard to know what the meeting was actually for. Without the park, most of the groups’ daily work was disrupted. How could Library do anything without a physical space for the books – and without the books themselves, which remain held in the New York City Department of Sanitation office, where they were dumped after the eviction along with all the occupiers’ belongings? What would the Town Planning group work on if there was no town? In general, morale was low. Many people, including one of the facilitators, had just returned from jail. And there was already talk of future arrests, since Thursday was designated as N17, the two-month birthday of Occupy Wall Street and a day of nationwide protest against austerity and corporate greed.

N17 may be the weather vane that will indicate where Occupy will go, and whether it can survive the winter – without the park. If the work goes on, if people continue sharing their visions of a better world and organizing, then Occupy will continue to capture the hearts and minds of Americans and the attention of the media. But if the physical space of the park was indeed the key factor in the movement’s survival, then the winter might prove bleary and dark for the protesters. As it stands now, there is no question that history has been forever marked by the rigorous organizing and impassioned call for change coming from Occupy Wall Street.

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