No tents, but O.W.S. still occupied with protests

[media-credit name=”Photo by Jefferson Siegel” align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]

A woman dressed as a squid held a mock news conference on Monday in front of the Goldman Sachs headquarters on West St. Her getup was inspired by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi’s description of Goldman Sachs as a bloodsucking “vampire squid.”

BY JEFFERSON SIEGEL  |  Three months after the Occupy Wall Street movement first settled into Zuccotti Park and a month after being evicted from that park, participants have been as active as ever in efforts to spread their message, “We are the 99 percent.”

The week after Thanksgiving started with a Monday demonstration outside Baruch College on E. 25th St. Hundreds of students and O.W.S. activists gathered to protest CUNY’s plan to raise tuition by $300 a year for each of the next five years. The crowd was noisy but peaceful until they marched away from the campus, first down Lexington Ave., then east on 23rd St. Many ran into traffic at Third Ave. as another group headed several blocks south. By nightfall the marchers returned to 25th St. for an hour of chanting outside the building while CUNY trustees met inside. Over the course of the evening there were at least three arrests.

Early on Thurs., Dec. 1, O.W.S. gathered in Madison Square Park to protest the nearby Aerospace and Defense Finance Conference, with participants decrying “war profiteers.” Later that day they joined the New York City Central Labor Council for a massive march of union members from Herald Square down Broadway to Union Square. The Labor Council called the march “for everyone who is frustrated and worried about the growing economic disparity in this country.”

After listening to speeches in Union Square, more than 100 people began walking down University Place and through Washington Square on their way to Zuccotti Park. They were met by another group on Broadway at Houston St. Eventually more than 300 people streamed down the sidewalks on both sides of Broadway.

Late that night, Philip Glass and Lou Reed participated in a General Assembly outside Lincoln Center. Glass led a “mic check” and recited quotes from Mohandas Gandhi. Inside Lincoln Center the final performance of Glass’s opera “Satyagraha,” based on the life of Gandhi and the history of nonviolent civil disobedience, was being performed.

The week’s most novel and creative event was the 24-hour marathon “Occupy Broadway” that started on Fri., Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. More than 100 acts and 500 participants took part in a nonstop series of performances in Paramount Plaza, a public space on Broadway at 50th St.

“It was the first successful occupation of a public space since Zuccotti,” said organizer Monica Hunken, a playwright and actor.

Police arrived shortly after the start, but only to request that access to the building’s entrance be kept clear.

“There is something sacred about the ritual of performance that aided in protecting it from the police,” Hunken observed.

“It went beyond our wildest imagination in terms of how well it went,” said Ben Shepard, another organizer. “The whole point was, we’re all the show.”

Performers included Mike Daisey, The Foundry Theater, Penny Arcade, The Living Theater, the Bread and Puppet Theater, the Radical Faeries, Kathleen Chalfant, the Yes Men, the bicycle troupe Heelz on Wheelz and Reverend Billy’s Church of Stop Shopping.

Early Saturday morning Dec. 3 in Zuccotti Park, two people tried to leave some books on a shelf where the original People’s Library had stood. Zuccotti guards walked over and handed the books back to the people, saying they could read books in the park but couldn’t leave them there.

“Books are sacred, only Nazis destroy books,” yelled Carol Gay, 63, a retired union leader from New Jersey. Gay wore a sign around her neck reading, “Crime Pays for Banks & Frackers.” As a small crowd gathered, one of the guards tried to defuse the situation by first, to everyone’s surprise, calling out a “mic check,” then quoting the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

After some heated words, most of the crowd moved to the steps on Broadway for a gathering of faith leaders. They listened to Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist Chris Hedges and Donna Schaper, the senior minister of Greenwich Village’s Judson Memorial Church. The small ceremony of Thanksgiving included Schaper quoting excerpts of Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

As reported in last week’s issue of The Villager,  on Saturday just after 1 p.m., three men sat down outside the fenced-in privately owned lot at Duarte Square on Sixth Ave. near Canal St. and began a hunger strike. They called on Trinity Church, which owns the fenced-in lot and the strip of property they were sitting on, to let O.W.S. use the enclosure.

“We are here to apply pressure until they agree to let us use this unused land,” one of them, Diego Ibanez, 23, of Utah, said.

The trio were arrested at noon on Sunday, charged with trespassing, held for five hours and released. They returned to the site and were arrested again late Sunday night. On Monday, Trinity constructed an extension of the existing fence to ensure the protesters stay off its property.

Also on Sunday afternoon, an O.W.S. Farmers’ March calling for food justice and a fight against corporate control of the food supply was held. Several hundred people gathered in the La Plaza Cultural Community Garden on E. Ninth St. at Avenue C.

Rallying behind a banner reading, “Occupy the Fertile Ground Beneath this Pavement,” the event included talks by food justice activists who discussed sustainable food systems and the challenges faced by family farmers. After several hours, they marched down to Zuccotti Park.

On Mon. Dec. 5, Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich attended a fundraiser in Murray Hill. O.W.S. protesters gathered outside the Union League Club on E. 37th St., mindful of a remark Gingrich made last month that O.W.S. participants should “go get a job after you take a bath.”

Across the street from the club, a dozen protesters chanted, including a man in a bathrobe holding a sign reading, “#OWS is clean, Newt is dirty.”

On Dec. 6, another “Day of Action,” “Occupy Our Homes” found local activist groups teaming with O.W.S. to reclaim an East New York, Brooklyn, home that had been foreclosed on by Bank of America.

“It’s criminal for big banks to sit on vacant homes when there are so many homeless families who need them,” said Eliot Tarver, a member of the O.W.S. eviction defense team.

Although the movement’s spirit remained strong, Occupy locations around the country suffered setbacks. Police swooped in and dismantled the Los Angeles encampment early on the morning of Nov. 30. Almost 300 were arrested. The same day another 52 were arrested when police moved into the Philadelphia encampment. On Dec. 10, 55 were arrested when police ousted the last San Francisco Occupy encampment.

Early Monday morning, Dec. 12, hundreds marched from Zuccotti Park to the West St. headquarters of Goldman Sachs. Several participants wore squid masks, a reference to a 2010 Rolling Stone article by writer Matt Taibbi in which he called Goldman “… a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.”

After a mock press conference, several dozen gathered inside the atrium of the nearby World Financial Center, a building that, like Zuccotti Park, is owned by Brookfield Properties. After several minutes of chanting, 17 people were arrested.

This Sat., Dec. 17, three months after first occupying Zuccotti Park, O.W.S. is calling for a “party” outside of Trinity’s vacant lot at Duarte Square, a space they first tried to occupy on Nov. 15 only hours after their eviction from Zuccotti Park. O.W.S. is calling the event “Occupation 2.0” an all-day performance event that begins at noon.

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