Another day, another march: Occupy Wall Street endures
Patrick M. Barth didn't plan on getting arrested when he set out on foot to protest corporate greed, but he was one of about 700 demonstrators who found themselves in jail cells over the weekend as tensions escalated between New York police and a movement now in its third week of a Manhattan sit-in.
The movement, which calls itself Occupy Wall Street, came to Los Angeles on Saturday with a protest outside City Hall downtown. Supporters, who are spreading the word largely via the Internet, say they will congregate in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 6. Check out the photographs of the L.A. event, in which protesters remained camped out in front of City Hall on Sunday night.
But the real Wall Street is in New York City, making that protest the focal point of a force that has drawn increasing attention primarily because of its showdowns with police. Those confrontations peaked Saturday evening on the Brooklyn Bridge, where police and protesters agreed on just one thing: a lot of people were arrested. Otherwise, their versions of what happened have little in common.
On Sunday, in response to many protesters' claims that they were led into the bridge's traffic lanes by police and then trapped by officers, police released videos showing officers facing marchers on the bridge and warning them to leave the vehicle lanes or face arrest. Protesters in the front lines, at least, responded by chanting "Take our bridge," and "This is what democracy looks like," and moving forward with arms linked.
Barth says he and scores of people farther back could not hear or see what was happening up front, so they continued following the crowd -- straight into jail. Barth and others also say they were lulled into a false sense of security because officers were walking alongside them as they began crossing the span.
"It looked as if our walking on the ... path was condoned. They gave the people I was with no indication we shouldn't be there," said Barth. "Then we got up near the front of the crowd, and the gig was up."
He said some protesters apologized to police they encountered at the front of the crowd and tried to turn around, but by then, more officers had hemmed them in and began making arrests. Hundreds of marchers who kept to the pedestrian pathway were not arrested.
Barth spoke Sunday from Zuccotti Park, the small plaza in Manhattan where, since Sept. 17, Occupy Wall Street has set up its headquarters. Scores of people have camped out there, and a food station sits at the center of the plaza. There is also a "media center" where volunteers working on laptops powered by generators post updates on the group's activities. Read more about the scene in this Los Angeles Times article.
Despite the arrests, the demonstrators vowed to push on with their protest. Most of those detained had been freed by Sunday. Barth said that after his arrest, he was placed on a bus with about 35 protesters watched over by six police officers. All the marchers had their hands bound with plastic cuffs.
After driving around the city for what Barth described as "hours" by the bus driver, as police were on their phones apparently awaiting instructions on where to take the detainees, they ended up at a Brooklyn precinct, four to a cell. Several hours later, at about 1 a.m., Barth was let go with a citation for impeding traffic and being on a "prohibited roadway." He was ordered to appear in court Dec. 16.
For all the indignance among protesters over the arrests, they have served to publicize the Occupy Wall Street movement because of the videos and photographs that have saturated the Internet. Barth managed to wriggle his wrists enough to get his cellphone out of his pocket and snap pictures of the scene, which he then sent to relatives in Utah who had not heard about the movement. By Sunday, he said they were telling others in that state about what was happening.
Occupy Wall Street remains a fluid movement whose presence in Manhattan ebbs and flows, according to the time and day of the week. On Sunday, it was packed, but many of the people were not permanent residents taking part in the 24/7 sit-in. And last Friday, thousands gathered at Zuccotti Park after work after the group fell for a hoax that the band Radiohead would put on a free show for them. The announcement appeared on Occupy Wall Street's website. Hours later, a correction and apology was posted, but it was too late to stop people such as Briya Madhok and her friend Ben Bindra, who headed to Zuccotti Park at 3:30 p.m. in hopes of seeing Radiohead.
"We're both big fans. It's my ultimate favorite band," said Madhok, who was at work when a friend saw something on the Internet about a free Radiohead show. "I was like, we're totally going," Madhok said as a man with a sign reading "Where is Radiohead?" paraded around Zuccotti Park. Neither she nor Bindra, who is originally from Los Angeles, had any interest in the protest.
"It's really absurd. There's no united cause," said Bindra, echoing skeptics' complaints that the protesters have a lengthy list of complaints -- everything from racism to global warming to corporate greed -- but no specific demands or plans beyond marches and sit-ins. "If you want to change something, give me something to change, don't just sit around," he said.
Occupy Wall Street's die-hard believers beg to differ, even if some of them do admit that the movement seems a bit vaporous to outsiders. At the very least, they say, it has started people talking about some of the country's problems and spurred people who might not normally protest to lend their support.
"That's why I'm here," said Courtney Adams of Manhattan, who stopped by Sunday at Zuccotti Park and who considers herself part of the protest, even if she doesn't stay in the park day and night. Adams' mother was arrested last week in Boston during a similar protest, which helped drive her to support the New York crowd. "This is just the visible part of the protest. For every person here, there are thousands of others who agree with them," Adams said.
The Occupy Wall Street crowd, meanwhile, appears to have found a solution to its complaints that the media are ignoring the demonstrations. On Sunday, protesters were handing out copies of the Occupied Wall Street Journal, whose lead headline read: "The Revolution Begins at Home."
And on Monday, it planned to rally in front of City Hall.
-- Tina Susman in New York
Photos: (from top) The donation desk at Occupy Wall Street's camp in Manhattan is shown. Credit: John Minchillo / Associated Press
Passersby pick up the Occupy Wall Street Journal. Credit: John Minchillo / Associated Press