Brookfield Properties, the owner of Liberty Park, which had planned to schedule a cleaning of the property where protesters have been camped out these past weeks, canceled its maintenance plans suddenly last night, to the surprise of many.
Reportedly, Brookfield handed down the decision to the city late Thursday, though the announcement didn’t reach Liberty until Friday morning, when 2,000 activists erupted in cheers as they huddled at the center of the camp. I’m sure Brookfield and the mayor will stick with the story that this decision was made late last night, but the presence of thousands of determined occupiers probably sealed the deal if there was any indecision left in the board room.
Confused murmurs served as a prelude to celebrations—a haze of disbelief best articulated by a fellow reporter, who stumbled from the surging crowd to exclaim, “We don’t win! We’re the ones who get the shit kicked out of us!”
This was the first protest I’ve ever covered where the activists won—if only a battle, and not the war, and if only temporarily. And the victory is definitely temporary. Major problems have not been resolved and large questions remain: Will the protesters be able to bring their sleeping bags back into Liberty Park? Will they be able to sleep on the ground? Fourteen hours ago, Mayor Bloomberg declared protesters wouldn’t be able to return their gear to the park, and now the decree came down to postpone the cleaning entirely. Why the change of tune?
Many were braced for a disastrous clash with the police and were instead handed not a truce but ongoing purgatory, followed by a run-in with the authorities at a second location. After the cries of victory went up, a group of about a hundred protesters marched up the middle of Broadway. This caused quite a stir at Liberty. Many thought it was bad strategy, abandoning the camp when it was still so vulnerable, but some of the protesters seemed to have gotten a taste of victory and wanted to go on a celebration lap. At the gates of City Hall, protesters clashed with police armed with riot gear, and as of this report, six individuals have been arrested.
Hundreds more were prepared to go to jail to hold the park. In the pre-dawn hours, activists rolled up their sleeves and scrawled the phone number of the National Lawyers Guild on their forearms in permanent marker. A foreign journalist saw me writing the number on my arm and asked, surprised, “[The police] arrest press?!” I started laughing before realizing she was seriously asking me.
Occupiers then rehearsed over and over again a meticulously choreographed routine to lock arms and defend the camp. The plan was to allow the cleaning of the park, but only a third at a time. No one I spoke to really seemed to think this would transpire without a major incident. Many activists seemed completely prepared to go to prison in order to defend what has become the nexus of the largest activism force in the United States to come along in four decades.
A young man named Jesse told me about his experience going to prison during the Occupy Boston mass arrests. He called it a “positive experience,” and talked about how he got to meet like-minded people and examine the prison system from the inside. He’d only just gotten out of prison, and he seemed completely at peace with the idea of going back again—for the movement.
Bloomberg is certainly going to have his hands full with OWS. The protesters will not surrender Liberty without a fight, and have only planned to escalate demonstrations during the next few days. Tomorrow, a series of major protests are scheduled in the Liberty, Washington and Times Squares.
I truly thought the NYPD would raid the camp at 2 am before commuters, unions or council members could witness the purge, but the police buses never came as they came for the Brooklyn Bridge activists. And I’d only be speculating if I sought to understand Bloomberg’s motives at this point. I do find it curious that the establishment media haven’t raised more eyebrows over the fact that the mayor’s live-in girlfriend, Diana Taylor, sits on the board that owns Liberty Park. That arrangement seems like it could be swaying the mayor’s behavior in some way.
It’s also impossible to know what his attitude will be going forward. What we do know for sure is that the word “postponed” was hammered into the minds of everyone present. Not cancelled. Postponed.
The cleaning crew will return. But at least for one more night, Liberty Park belongs to OWS, and not a single person who was there will forget what it felt like to win a battle.