It is a surreal moment. One of many. The crowd rushes through us, out from Zuccotti Park. I ask, what and someone says riot cops. Screams behind us. A mass of twenty or so protestors are ejected from the narrow corridor of the Fulton Street subway station, splayed on the stone barricades by forearms and batons, riot shields and blue muscle moving en masse. A teenage girl, stocky and fierce, is thrown to the ground. Her hands bound to her back. The crowd yells shame! shame! shame! and rushes to bend its form around her, but the batons shoot up, the shields push out. She’s screaming something to someone in the crowd. Her arms are marked up with various phone numbers: emergency contacts, maybe; the Lawyers’ Guild.
A twenty-something man a few meters down the sidewalk shouts something anti-police and throws a traffic cone, and almost immediately he finds himself swarmed by protestors. Non-violent! they say. “I’ve been here since day one!” he says. non-violent! non-violent! non-violent! “I’ve been here from—get away from me!” non-violent! non-violent! The man is furious but the mob is relentless with their chanting, with getting into his face and raising palms, with a thousand conciliatory gestures and requests to yo, yo, calm down. He’s red in the face, furious, but when he storms off he passes three more traffic cones – all left unmolested.
The crowd grows. Vans of armored police arrive and unload, stand with wide stances along the edge of the curb, forcing everyone shoulder to shoulder on the sidewalks. Each block is corralled like this: the roads no-walk zones guarded by tight, professional police formations. At my height, I can see over most the heads, to Zuccotti just a block or two away, but it’s all lights. Lights and heads. The police line begins to walk forward.
A white shirt officer says into a megaphone that all who refuse to leave this area will be placed under arrest.
For what, standing on a sidewalk?
A white shirt officer says into a megaphone that all who refuse to leave this area will be placed under arrest. A formation of new police arrivals step quickly behind him and start pushing into the crowd, shoulders forcing shoulders into an inch-by-inch retreat.
A young man in a suit yells, I just want to go to my apartment! That’s my apartment! He points to a building between us and Zuccotti. Someone suggests it might be time for him to occupy a hotel.
MIC CHECK. (MIC CHECK.)
MIC CHECK. (MIC CHECK.)
As block after block of protestors are slowly crammed into each other and onto sidewalks further from Zuccotti, a discussion about maybe going mobile arises; consensus is reached quite quickly, actually, owing to the sudden appearance of squad cars in the group’s sole remaining mode of egress. Someone yells City Hall! and the mob of protestors, now easily 500 strong, takes to the middle of the street, winding its way around stunned taxis and garbage trucks headed for the park. The first police helicopter arrives; for a moment, its glaring searchlight is positioned directly on me. I squint.
Off of the sidewalk and into the street!
WHO’S STREET? (OUR STREET)
My friend lights a cigarette. He nods his head behind me, to three lanky men clad in black with black bandanas already pulled over their face. Most of the protestors are comfortable enough disrupting traffic, but these three are clearly looking for something more; they walk with a spring in their step, and one of the Zuccotti medics has already become suspicious. Non-violent! he chants, and it echoes a few rounds, but the crowd is growing tense. The helicopter blades force people to raise their voice. We can see and hear the squad cars and vans speeding down the parallel streets.
Already, rumors are coming in from Zuccotti: people bike-chained themselves to the trees, so the cops cut the trees down; riot cops clad in black destroyed the thousands of books in the park’s library; news helicopters have been banished from following the march to City Hall, banned from the airspace in a grievous violation of freedom of the press – people are shouting this to each other, shouting our street! and offa the sidewalk! and we are the 99%! and join us! and shouting, shouting constantly as we near City Hall, the crowd very high-energy.
Anarchists in black start tossing the garden of traffic barricades spread out on the streets around City Hall. Garbage cans get tipped. And each time the same cycle:
- Black-masked protestor tips something over.
- Peaceful protestor runs and gets it, returns it to its rightful position.
- Black-masked protestor gets in peaceful protestor’s face.
- Mob surrounds masked protestor, chants non-violent!
- Black-masked protestor continues walking onward.
- Go to: 1)
Only once does the cycle lead to a confrontation, and again the ratio of peaceful protestors relative to the troublemakers is so skewed that any antisocial behavior is again quickly curbed. Which is good, because as the group approaches City Hall, it’s discovered that several rows of non-riot police officers are casually following behind the protestors, maybe a quarter-mile back. Other than the scramble outside Fulton station (and maybe the initial physical corralling of the protestors congregating on the sidewalk), the NYPD has appeared to take a laissez-faire approach – flanking the march but not intercepting it – yet all that could disappear on account of one particularly violent anarchist. Self-policing is high.