New York, N.Y. — Enraged by their eviction from Zuccotti Park this morning, Occupy Wall Street protesters demanded that the city respect what they considered their constitutional right to remain in the area.
Awaiting the New York Supreme Court’s decision on their status, protesters circled the park, while policemen stood guard. Some taunted the officers, chanting, “You are not protecting us!” and “The whole world is watching!”
After Judge Lucy Billings ordered that the city allow the protesters into the park, demonstrators, assisted by members of the National Lawyers Guild (donning neon-green baseball caps), frantically distributed copies of the order to their compatriots. Word spread among the protesters that at 11:30 a.m., they would be able to reenter the park.
But 11:30 a.m. came and went, and the police never budged.
“The police are breaking their own laws,” protester Katie McVeay told me.
“I think [the removal] was totally illegal,” said Lynn Taylor, another protester. “It was a total attempt to smash the living standards of the middle class in New York.”
Demonstrators dismissed Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s contention that the removal was necessary to secure the space for public use.
“That’s nonsense,” said Laura Schleifer, a resident of Manhattan. “I just came here with my mother over the weekend. She doesn’t live here, and she visited, and [the protesters] fed her, and she enjoyed it.”
The argument that the police were ensuring public safety also fell on deaf ears. “It’s to protect the rich,” said Taylor.
If the city succeeded in ending the encampment, the protesters were unsure how they would respond. One demonstrator, the pierced and tattooed former Wall Street executive “Outlaw” Bobby Steele, promised, “If that happens, we’ll hit the streets.”
“Do we have to bring in federal troops to protect our First Amendment rights?” asked Charles Helms, a retired telephone-company worker who wore an AFL-CIO “Union Yes” flag around his shoulders. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Queried about the protesters’ concrete goals, Helms replied, “This is a state of mind. You can’t hurt a state of mind.”
Other protesters were more optimistic about their prospects. Richard Fisher, who said he had been “protesting since Nixon,” argued that the younger generation was waking up former hippies, who had been asleep among the bourgeoisie. With another middle-aged woman among the passersby, he reminisced about the 1960s. “I remember the Vietnam War,” Fisher said.
“We ended that war!” the woman chirped in response.
“We made a lot of change in the ’60s and ’70s,” Fisher responded. “Feminism, gay rights, civil rights . . . then we went to sleep. We became homeowners. And now these kids are waking us up.”
Still, this morning’s raid incensed the demonstrators. “This is fascism,” Fisher averred. One casualty of the dustup was the encampment’s 5,525-volume library, a collection of books donated to the movement over the course of its two-month occupation. Consisting mostly of fictional works, the collection at its zenith filled one corner of the park. Today, it is nowhere to be seen.
“The police threw all the books into their compacter trucks,” said protester Maggie Cunningham.
“Did they throw away all those books?” Helms asked me when I informed him of the library’s disappearance. “That would be a sin — a sin against God.”