For Occupy Wall Street, the Honeymoon is Over

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It’s been one week since Occupy Wall Street was booted from Zuccotti Park in a pre-dawn raid. But there were already signs that the movement was growing unstable and fragmented.

Andrew Katz / The Brooklyn Ink

It took mere hours on Nov. 15 for hundreds of New York Police Department officers, under the orders of Mayor Michael Bloomberg for what he claimed to be deteriorating health and safety concerns, to tear down the encampment that protestors spent eight weeks constructing in a privately owned public space that they called home.

But just a few days after more than 200 protestors were arrested during a “Day of Action” that marked Occupy Wall Street’s two-month anniversary, the question of how the movement became so vulnerable to an attack lingers.

Protestors were initially portrayed as a nascent movement that objected to what they deemed to be unfair bank regulations, but as the weeks passed and the spotlight turned to the voices of the radicals and clashes with the police, the occupiers were ever more characterized as a purposeless group. A Nov. 16 poll by Public Policy Polling showed support among voters was waning, too.

Man Bartlett, an artist and part-time occupier from Bushwick, said it was only natural that the public lost interest and the conversation grew stale. “Like with any new relationship, in the initial phase will be a lot of excitement and a lot of support. As the movement develops and continues to grow, that initial honeymoon period will be over,” he said. “Once the story wasn’t ‘What are the demands?’ the story became more about ‘What are the internal struggles that the movement was having?”

Occupiers survived their first, temporary expulsion by the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties, on Oct. 14, but issues larger than sanitation began to take precedence over the following weeks. Zuccotti Park had become a breeding ground for problems the protestors could have avoided without a physical location.

The General Assembly doubled in time but halved in efficiency and its consensus-based form of decision-making, led by a team of rotating facilitators who spoke loudly and used hand gestures to move through agendas, began drawing fewer occupiers. A drifter could attend the open meeting and have as much say as an occupier in how thousands of dollars were spent. This ultimately led to the creation of the Spokes Council, which is essentially a smaller assembly that deals primarily with finances and logistics. Other issues in the park, including a sexual assault and reported drug use, as well as infighting between some of the more than 80 working groups also flared.

Alec Vincent, a 21-year-old occupier and culinary school dropout from Bay Ridge who made his living at Zuccotti as a shoe shiner, attributed the squabbling to the park’s hippie-homeless vibe and a visible difference between occupiers’ backgrounds. “Even though we’re all on the same socioeconomic level, there’s a class distinction,” he said. “I’m more afraid of an outbreak of violence within the park than from police.”

Eight hours before being ousted, Vincent said eviction wasn’t likely but acknowledged that the emergence of a visible hierarchy had begun to elevate tensions between occupiers. “There’s always leaders. You can’t not have leaders,” he said. “They’re just not official.”

A member of the occupation’s security team, Freddy Cepeda, of Bushwick, saw a leadership core materializing but thought eviction was inevitable because the park had become too unstable. “There’s people that were there for the right reasons and there were people that were there for the wrong reasons,” said Cepeda, 26. “It was just too much.”

At its peak, Occupy Wall Street raised more than $500,000 and drew 10,000 protestors for a demonstration in Times Square in mid-October. Thousands more took the streets in, among other cities, London, Berlin, Tel Aviv and Rome.

But as winter has crept closer, the occupiers erected so many tents that it became difficult to walk through the one-block park. The protestors had outgrown a home they were never entitled to and the mayor wanted to act before the situation worsened. So less than two days after similar occupations in Portland and Oakland were dismantled and the press was largely barred from reporting the raids, he gave the orders to take Zuccotti.

Bartlett, 30, called the move “deeply problematic” but wasn’t shocked the eviction finally happened. For nearly two months, he watched the movement’s initial concern of the bank bailout ramifications erode due to escalating problems within the park and the meaning of the “We are the 99 percent” becoming largely misunderstood.

“The problem is that not just that the disparity exists, but that the percentage of that one percent that is really exploiting the system and exploiting a huge percentage of the American public,” said Bartlett, who was arrested during the Wall Street demonstrations last Thursday and later pleaded guilty to one count of disorderly conduct. “And it’s difficult to put that into a tagline.”

He added that the movement that began with a tweet from Adbusters had become more structured and self-regulated. Long gone are the days when one “mic check” would be echoed by all of Zuccotti Park and the nights when hundreds of occupiers attended a general assembly that took only one hour. The leaders that few would acknowledge even existed had enacted enough rules that the city within a city was slowly, and publicly, crumbling so that only Guy Fawkes masks and NYPD barricades would be left.

From all this, it’s clear that Occupy Wall Street is down but not out—at least not yet. The movement is sitting on nearly $450,000 and still has encampments in major cities and college campuses across the country. Occupiers lost their park, but they’re staying in the public eye through coverage of how police officers treat the press and students, social media and smaller events, like the recent drum circle outside the mayor’s residence.

The occupation’s immediate future in New York isn’t set in stone. It’s regrouping, analyzing the past two months and hashing out a next move. For one, protestors gathered Sunday night at Duarte Square and organizers announced both a new “tenting” initiative and a plan to eventually take the space.

>>More on this story

NYPD evict protesters from Zuccotti Park
Where are the Intellectuals? An Essay on Occupy Wall Street
Masters of the Message for “Leaderless” OWS

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4 Responses to “For Occupy Wall Street, the Honeymoon is Over”

  1. jen powers
    November 22, 2011 at 1:23 PM #

    are most Americans thankful for #OWS and the discussion that have come about this holiday season?

  2. Lazio Giggalo
    November 22, 2011 at 3:10 PM #

    Obviously the Occupy Wall Street Protesters had been infiltrated by Tea Party members! They go as Protesters and make accusations! The Republicans hate the Protesters only the Homeless are hated more by this righteous political party who are alliened with the 1% and their Bankster friends and Lobbyists! The Democrates are goose stepping behind the pitiful Republicans because of fear from voter backlash! Everybody in the dirty business of politics follow the polls! Some get up in the morning to check which way the wind is blowing! Big Money is the problem here and it’s all corruption! 450,000 dollars is chump change compared to 1 billion dollars! You can see the media the tentacles of the corporate octopus at work! Forming and controlling how the public should think! Polls are one of the tools unfortunately public reads into polls as the word and truth of public opinion! No matter on who took the polls and how were the polls manipulated to fit in an agenda! In reality the Protests have been a success! The Nationwide crackdown on the Occupy Protesters are the knee jerk reaction to that success by the Authorities both Democrate and Republicans because everybody’s hand is in the cooky jar! This is a huge network of corruption the world has never seen since the beginning of time! It is very sophisticated it’s streamlined and is a well oiled machine! What OWS is doing in small ways throwing a monkey wrench here and there, in a effective but small manner such as the French Resistance did to the SS and the Nazis in World War II. It’ll be up to the American Public to decide wether they want to be enslaved in an un-Democratic Corporate World or not! Maybe the American Public needs to suffer somemore before there is real change that the people can believe in! This the moment and at the moment the OWS has the momentum!

  3. Gene
    November 23, 2011 at 4:19 PM #

    We have a Constitution and a political process. Once OWS passed the “raise awareness” phase, it had no utility and no ability to effect meaningful change. That’s what happens when a significant part of your constituency refuses to work within the system.

  4. Katie
    November 27, 2011 at 11:47 PM #

    “he protestors had outgrown a home they were never entitled to and the mayor wanted to act before the situation worsened. ” Wow! Not only are you the arbiter of entitlement, you have the apparent inside track on Bloomberg and also the good fortune to get republished in the Guardian. You must be one of the chosen few.

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