Nice waking up Thursday morning still a free man. Of course I really had no expectation of waking up anything but. Just about everyone I told I was going down to Occupy Wall Street Wednesday with the Teamsters made a joke about my getting arrested. Several good friends told me to call them in the event, promising they’d put up bail money. But, truth is, I felt that even considering the possibility I might end up in the slammer was self-romanticizing. How likely was it to happen? The protesters have shown from the beginning they’re determined to keep things peaceful and non-confrontational, so if things got out of hand it would have to be that cops got out of hand, again, and I figured they’d be anxious not to make that mistake again. They knew they’d embarrassed themselves with the pepper spraying and the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and the City already had one class action suit to deal with, so the police were bound to be extra careful, especially considering that the odds were that every other person they’d haul in on Wednesday would be Union. It’s one thing to be seen on the news arresting dirty hippies and slacker college kids, something else to be seen cuffing teamsters, ironworkers, electricians, pilots, nurses, school teachers, and classical musicians. Besides, one of the benefits of belonging to a union is access to very good, and very fast-working, lawyers.
At any rate, the march was orderly to the point of making crowds at Disneyland look unruly. Orderly to the point that for long stretches it stopped being a march at all and became more like a very long queue at the DMV. We weren’t parading, we were taking part in a twenty-thousand foot group shuffle. If you’ve seen Metropolis and remember the scene of the workers on their way into work, that’s how it felt from inside the crowd.
People around me complained that the police were slowing things down deliberately and trying to make us frustrated and impatient by squeezing in the steel barricades and narrowing the designated marching lanes. Some thought the object was to back things up in order to annoy would-be marchers still stuck in Foley Square in hopes they would get tired of waiting to start marching and go home. Others thought the cops wanted us to make us antsy and irritable so that we’d start to push and shove and break out of line, giving them the excuse to start making arrests and busting heads. People pointed to apparently empty city buses parked along side streets and warned each other to be ready. But I think it was just the case that it’s very tricky to move ten or more thousand people through downtown at rush hour without shutting the city down.
The cops we passed along the route weren’t giving anything away. They were mostly stone-faced and seemed determined to avoid eye contact. They were probably under orders not to let themselves get baited by jerks like the one Sam Graham-Felson saw waving a sign in a cop’s face that read "Quick, sell everything and invest in pepper spray." I didn’t see any jerks like that anywhere around me. Considering who was marching, what a cop was likely to hear from any protesters who wanted to engage was a reminder that police are Union too, fellow members of the 99%, whose jobs, pensions, and benefits are being threatened by the corporate tools in Washington and the state houses all across the country. Right at that moment, up in Albany, supposed Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo was trying to browbeat the Public Employees Federation into paying for his deal with Republicans to cut taxes for millionaires with either big chunks of their paychecks and pensions or 3500 member jobs, take your pick.
Mostly, though, it seemed the marchers were as determined to pretend that the police weren’t there as the cops were determined to pretend the marchers weren’t there. I did talk to some cops, but at the end of the march, after we’d reached Liberty Park and I had to hurry to catch the Teamsters bus for home. The cops opened up a gateway in the barricades and let people stream through onto Church Street.
“Thank you, officers,” I said.
“You’re welcome,” replied a tall, apple-checked, broadly smiling young patrolman who looked as though he was barely out of college, “You have a good evening, sir.”
Other officers nodded and smiled. I thought they seemed relieved that it was all over for the day.
Turned out it wasn’t over. People did get arrested. Twenty-eight were hauled in. You probably know that Occupy Wall Street isn’t actually occupying Wall Street. Wall Street is off-limits for marches and protests and large gatherings of any kind and has been since 9/11. [See editor’s note at bottom of post.] But after the march, a group of protesters decided they would challenge that and they broke through some barricades and started in that direction.
Unless they were idiots, I’m pretty sure they wanted to spend the night in jail. That’s part of the point of civil disobedience. I’m not sure what the rest of their point was.
But they pretty much asked to get arrested, and the police obliged.
The night sticks and the pepper-spray were lagniappe.
Notice it looks like the white shirts were at it again.
I expect that a lot of the people arrested Wednesday were back on Thursday.
Thanks to Gary Farber.
Editor’s note: That Wall Street itself has been “off-limits” for large gatherings and mass demonstrations since 9/11 is one of those things I just “know.” But prompted by a question from Ken Muldrew in the comments, I went googling for a story that would explain things and turned up zilch. Instead I found news articles reporting that the City had declared Wall Street off-limits in the lead up to Occupy Wall Street. Wall Street has been closed to traffic and there’s been a heavy police presence round the clock. If anybody can explain how come I “know” something that isn’t there to be known, I’d appreciate it.
Also, the updated figure on the number of people arrested is 27.