NEW YORK — November 17, 2011. On “N17″, Occupy Wall Street protesters returned to the Brooklyn Bridge and crossed the span singing: “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, occ-u-py” — inspiring one community affairs cop to sing along.
For OWS Thursday was a “day of action” — marking the two month anniversary of the occupation. The day started with a thousand-strong effort to shut down Wall Street. Police responded with clubs and plastic handcuffs. At lunchtime, protesters performed signature “mic checks” in subway stations throughout New York — without disrupting subway service. The final N17 action came as night fell. OWS protesters, labor activists and members of various community groups gathered at lower Manhattan’s Foley Square at 5 p.m. An hour and a half later tens of thousands of protesters crossed the Brooklyn Bridge — 99 of their number sat down on the roadway and were arrested. Other than the one act of civil disobedience, there were no incidents or arrests.
I traveled to the late day labor march via the Staten Island Ferry, accompanied by my daughter. On board the ferry, we heard a drunk tell a cop, “Hey, I need help.”
The cop said, “You need help? Go to Zuccotti Park, they’ll help you.”
Apparently there was some truth to what the Daily News has been reporting — that police are telling substance abusers to go to Zuccotti.
On arrival at Whitehall we got off the ferry and walked up to Bowling Green where four cops guarded The Bull. The uniforms looked bored. I shot a few frames with my battered Nikon D50, then moved on.
At Zuccotti we saw police in riot helmets using white cable ties to lash barricades together as they encircled a small number of protesters still in the park. What purpose this served was unclear. As we left the park my old friend Mark Bray said hello. Mark is an OWS press liasion and a Wobbly. I asked if he was still in the Union and Mark said that he was a little behind on his dues, but still a Wob — as he opened his jacket to show me his IWW t-shirt.
I told Mark that on Wednesday, as I was having dinner with my 17-year-old son, I had asked my not-so-little-guy, “Did you hear what the police did at Zuccotti Park? They beat protesters and a city council member, blocked journalists from access, and then arrested people and dragged them from the park.”
I told Mark that my son had seemed surprised by the news. “I thought they said they weren’t going to do that?” my son said.
Mark nodded and sighed as I recounted the teaching moment. Saying farewell to my fellow worker, my daughter and I headed to Foley Square, walking up Broadway. We passed a number of cops in riot gear guarding City Hall as we made our way north.
We walked across Thomas Paine Park, at the north end of Foley Square, to Centre Street, the park’s eastern boundary. My daughter asked some cops why one of their barricades was painted purple. They laughed, telling us they hadn’t even noticed it. The four patrolmen seemed far more relaxed than their counterparts at Zuccotti.
Centre Street was lined with media broadcast vans. I asked a reporter from CBS if I could photograph him. He said, “Sure, thanks for asking — we don’t do that.” I said, “Oh, I know..” and took his picture. This section of the square was full of reporters: My9, CNN, Noticias, Eyewitness News, etc. Many of the TV journos were doing stand ups as my daughter and I walked past. We grabbed some free t-shirts from the UnitedNY.org table and went looking for my union.
Back at Worth and Lafayette, the northwest tip of the park, I ran into Leslie and David from MoveOn, Ed and Ruth from the War Resisters League, two members of Chapter 34 of Veterans For Peace, and a group of Teamsters. Professional art handlers, the Teamsters were from Local 814, the union that is protesting a lockout at Sotheby’s. I offered my support and wandered off to find the UAW.
Jason, the president of Teamsters Local 814, the art handlers union
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)
Tim Sheard, a novelist and fellow member of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981, found me as I was photographing protesters. I fired off as many frames as possible before nightfall — not being a fan of flash photography. As darkness descended and my existing light evaporated, Tim and I found ourselves surrounded by a sea of blue UAW placards — it was an excellent turnout. A bit later, a boisterous group of Make The Road New York activists set up shop next to us. In the distance, radiating out from the southeastern edge of Foley Square, I heard the angelic voice of Laura Newman as she performed “We are the 99 Percent,” a piece that she composed for Reverend Billy’s fully landscaped gospel choir.
The march stepped off late, 6:30 p.m. or so. I found myself rubbing elbows with the IWW contingent. UAW on one side. Wobblies on the other. One Big Union indeed.
The procession down Centre Street was the usual cattle drive. Cops flanking the roadway, herding pedestrians on to the sidewalk outside City Hall, making the usual mess of what should have been an easy march. The protracted procession didn’t dim any spirits, however, as protesters were decidedly fired up. As we squeezed past a phalanx of riot cops, their lieutenant yelling into a bullhorn, we found ourselves at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. And then the bottleneck ended. Jubilant, we ascended the bridge, flanked by still more police who were standing on the roadway. It was cold, windy, and truly inspiring. Police with bullhorns said, “You are reminded to remain on the walkway as you cross the bridge.” Protesters responded with, “Bloomberg beware, Zuccotti Park is everywhere…”
My wife, who had joined me at Foley Square, told me a story as we crossed the bridge. She said that a teacher she knew had complained that her classroom had falling plaster and mold growing. And yet, the teacher said, it was Zuccotti Park the mayor was “power washing” — using tax dollars to clean a private park while public schools deteriorated.
“Welcome to Bloomberg, New York,” I said.
I’ve been saying that a lot lately, I realized…
On the Brooklyn side of the bridge the air was crisp, spirits high. One of the community affairs cops, a thirty-something African-American guy, sang along with us as we intoned, “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, occ-u-py…”
Another cop said, in a tone that sounded sincere, “Welcome to Brooklyn.”
“Be careful of the steps at the end of the bridge,” he added.
In the park at the foot of the bridge, members of Occupy Wall Street were thanking marchers. A nice end to a shining example of people power.
Fast forward to Friday — a school and work day. I told my daughter, “Be sure to tell your teacher that last night you walked across the Brooklyn Bridge with 30,000 of your closest friends.”
My little girl beamed and nodded vigorously.