BLOG EXCLUSIVE: The Republican Presidential race may have taken over coverage in the months since Occupy Wall Street’s eviction at Zuccotti Park, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Occupation is over. While we’ve seen occasional (and comparatively tame) gatherings, varying in size and scope, since the November 15th removal of protesters from the public park -- this weekend proved to be the busiest one in months for Occupiers across the US.
On Saturday, over 400 people were arrested at a rally organized by Occupy Oakland. Oakland was where 24-year-old Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was struck in the head with a projectile fired by authorities during a violent clash between protesters and police, the video of which resulted in national outrage and called into question Mayor Jean Quan’s aggressive tactics to control the crowd.
As evidenced by Saturday night’s clashes, tensions between the authorities and protesters still remain high. But this time, the Occupiers are sharing the heat. There are reports of people throwing rocks and bottles, protesters breaking into City Hall, destroying and vandalizing property and burning an American flag. Police allegedly cornered a group that was attempting to occupy a vacant building and used tear gas, flash and smoke grenades, bean bags, arrested over 400 and the detained at least one member of the media.
Sunday, in response to the arrests and what many considered to be excessive force used by the police, nearly 300 people took to the streets in New York City for what they called “Solidarity Sunday” and I went along to observe. The protesters came armed with signs and an array of chants that ranged from those resembling something that might be heard at an A’s game (“Let’s go Oakland!”), the Spanish cry of the Idignados-- a group fighting for radical political change in Spain-- (“Ah-Anti-Anticapitalista!”), to those directed at Bloomberg and the NYPD that are definitely not safe for work.
While it began as an organized march, it soon became fragmented due to lack of direction or leadership -- the group didn’t have a pre-determined or agreed-upon route (or if they did, it seemed to change at a moment’s notice, depending on police presence). This aimlessness led to infighting amongst the protesters about how and where to proceed.
Those attempting to use the shout-and-repeat technique known as the “People’s Mic” (a tool that I’ve witnessed to be the most useful for immediate organization, aside from social media) were drowned out by the unruly crowd. Tensions reached a boiling point when bottles were thrown at officers and the ensuing confrontations resulted in the arrest of 12 people.
From what I saw, the majority of the protesters appeared to be shocked and opposed to the sudden violent turn, responding with chants of “This is a peaceful protest!” and some even assisted the police in locating the bottle-throwing perpetrators, but the few aggressors had already made their mark and stolen today’s headlines.
As the longest-standing encampment in Washington DC faces eviction the Occupiers are continuing to lose physical ground. Last night I witnessed them striving to hold on to common ground as well. It’s unclear what exactly comes next and how the Occupiers will resolve the communication issues that seem to be hindering the movement’s progression, but this weekend definitely seemed to rouse the Occupation from its winter hibernation.