In mid-October I spent two days and a night with Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. Since then I’ve read a barrage of advice for what OWS and its companion movements around the world should be doing. But I’ve been haunted by another question: What should those of us who are sympathetic to OWS (according to polls, roughly two-thirds of Americans are), but are not going to relocate to a downtown park, be doing to advance the well-being of the 99 percent?
I got one part of my answer as I groggily logged on to the web at 5:30 the morning after I returned home from Zuccotti Park. When I left the park, its private owner Brookfield Properties had announced it would clear the park “for cleaning” and enforce rules preventing tarps, sleeping bags and lying down. Mayor Bloomberg said the NYPD would enforce those rules, effectively ending the encampment.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the eviction. When OWS put out a call for support, thousands of people began to converge on the park for nonviolent resistance to eviction. Unions called on their members to protect the encampment. The president of the AFL-CIO’s Central Labor Council lobbied the city to cancel the crackdown. Lawyers prepared to bring suit to protect the occupiers’ First Amendment rights. City council members and other New York politicians lobbied the mayor to halt the eviction. Against all expectation, Mayor Bloomberg announced that Brookfield was abandoning the “cleanup” plan and the company announced it would try to reach an accommodation with the occupiers. The mobilization of supporters had forced the mayor and the park owners to back down. I had my first answer to what the rest of the 99 percent can do: protect the occupations.
Since then, there have been similar mobilizations to protect occupations in cities from Atlanta to Oakland. Many have involved a similar combination of public officials, trade unions and rank-and-file 99 percenters just showing up to defend their rights. In one extraordinary case, law enforcement officials themselves were responsible for saving the Occupy Albany encampment in Academy Park across from the State Capitol and City Hall. As protests grew, Police Chief Steven Krokoff issued an internal memo stating, “I have no intention of assigning officers to monitor, watch, videotape or influence any behavior that is conducted by our citizens peacefully demonstrating in Academy Park” and that the department would respond “in the same manner that we do on a daily basis” to any reported crime.
According to the Albany Times-Union, Albany Mayor Jerry Jennings, under pressure from the administration of Governor Andrew Cuomo, thereupon directed city police to arrest several hundred Occupy Albany protesters. The police refused. The Times-Union reported that “State Police supported the defiant posture of Albany police leaders to hold off making arrests for the low-level offense of trespassing, in part because of concern it could incite a riot or draw thousands of protesters in a backlash that could endanger police and the public.” According to the official, “The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.” Meanwhile, Albany County District Attorney David Soares informed the mayor and police officials that, “Unless there is property damage or injuries to law enforcement we don’t prosecute people for protesting.”