If there’s anything more astounding than seeing a train derailed, it’s watching it get back on track. Liberty Square, the home of Occupy Wall Street, had been evicted early Tuesday morning. By Wednesday, the protesters were emotionally shaken and downtrodden, and many of them were still trickling out of jail. The newly formed organizing structure of the movement, the Spokes Council, was finding it difficult to govern when it met that night. As a representative body meant to serve the needs of working groups, many of which are focused on maintaining the camp at Liberty, the Council’s legitimacy was questionable now that the occupation was over. A small divide was appearing between protesters who wanted to move on without Liberty and others who insisted that they re-occupy.
Everything would depend on the success of N17, the Global Day of Action called to commemorate the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Ever since the eviction, Occupiers have been talking about what would come next. At a General Assembly that filled Liberty on Tuesday night, break-out groups were formed to discuss possibilities for Occupy moving forward. Various ideas were put forth: occupy new spaces, focus on the elections, unify with labor groups. The discussion continued on Wednesday, both at Liberty, where protesters in ponchos were outnumbered by private security guards hired by Brookfield Properties, who owns the park, and in the public atrium a few blocks away at 60 Wall Street, where working groups were meeting.
Daniel Zitah, a 35-year-old who occupied Wall Street shortly after OWS’s first day on September 17, 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,” Zitah 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. For Zitah, Occupy’s mission is to inspire and engage Americans all over the country to become more involved in shaping democratic institutions. They can do that without an occupation, he insisted.
But most people involved in the movement, whether they occupied Liberty or were active in other ways, concede that the physical location of the movement near Wall Street was immensely important. The symbolism of being in the city’s financial district spoke directly to the movement’s grievances, which point to corporate greed and austerity.
The Spokes Council meeting on Wednesday night exemplified the danger of Occupy becoming weighted down by the emotional and logistical challenges presented by the eviction. The Council’s legitimacy was unclear now that the occupation had ended, and as a result, they couldn’t make any decisions through consensus, the movement’s established procedure for collectively determining actions ranging from the mundane (purchasing batteries) to the strategic (organizing a march). There was confusion, and also dismay. People showed up halfway through the meeting, saying they had been at Zuccotti Park, trying to hold down the space on their own; they felt abandoned by those who seemed to have moved on without the park. Most of the Council meeting was spent listening to a representative from the National Lawyers Guild who advised the group on how to get their tents, clothes, books and equipment back from the New York City Department of Sanitation, where it had been hauled to and dumped following the eviction.
November 17, the Global Day of Action, was going to be crucial in gauging Occupy’s standing. The day was planned as a smorgasbord of activities: “Breakfast” would entail shutting-down the New York Stock Exchange at 7 am; followed by “Lunch,” where occupations of the subway would occur at multiple locations throughout the city alongside a student-strike rally at Union Square, and finally, for “Dinner,” the groups would all convene in Foley Square, near Wall Street, where they would march over the Brooklyn Bridge, the site of seven hundred arrests during an Occupy march in October.