Zuccotti Park: the Birth & Death of Occupy Wall Street

Table of Contents

Zuccotti Park in 2016
Zuccotti Park in 2016, by Paul Hermans, CC BY-SA 4.0

image source: Wikimedia Commons

Zuccotti Park, one of the few havens amid the towering skyscrapers in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan, made its sudden rise to prominence in late 2011, as the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

WHAT WAS OCCUPY WALL STREET?

Sparked by the Arab Spring and a message blast from Canadian magazine Adbusters, Occupy Wall Street was a “people-powered movement” that worked to level the economic playing field between the elite (the “1%”) and the rest of the public (“the 99%”).

According to the movement’s website, Occupy Wall Street “[fought] back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.”

We at the Zero Theft Movement (ZTM) view Occupy Wall Street as an early model or predecessor. Although the movement spread around the globe, it failed to have the push and long-term support to fully complete its mission. It has, though, provided learning lessons and led to stronger, better organized, and defined anti-corruption organizations such as RepresentUs and Move to Amend.

In this article, we’ll explore the famous occupation of Zuccotti Park and how ZTM has reimagined Occupy Wall Street’s mission and methods in order to better ensure economic reform for you, the 99%. 

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Planting the Seed

Starting on September 17, 2011, and lasting for about two months, the “Occupy” in Occupy Wall Street was acted upon quite literally. Zuccotti Park, in other words, took on many overnight tenants in makeshift tarp tents. 

Yes, you read that correctly. 

Some activists not only protested in the park but also took up temporary residence there.

activists protesting in the park

Debra M. Gaines, CC BY 3.0

source: Wikimedia Commons

NPR, as well as the New York Times, attributes the whole idea to the aforementioned Adbusters. Under the name ‘CultureJammersHQ,’ the magazine released a blog post in July 2011 partially quoted below:

Standard Disclaimer

The Zero Theft Movement does not have any interest in partisan politics/competition or attacking/defending one side. We seek to eradicate theft from the U.S economy. In other words, how the wealthy and powerful rig the system to steal money from us, the everyday citizen. We need to collectively fight against crony capitalism in order for us to all profit from an ethical economy.   

Terms like ‘steal,’ ‘theft,’ and ‘crime’ will frequently appear throughout the article. Zero Theft will NOT adhere strictly to the legal definitions of these terms (since congress sells out). We have broadly and openly defined terms like ‘steal’ and ‘theft’ to refer to the rigged economy and other debated unethical acts that can cause citizens to lose out on money they deserve to keep.  

“On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices… It’s time for DEMOCRACY NOT CORPORATOCRACY, we’re doomed without it.”

This reportedly marked the first time the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ name was used, in the form of a hashtag. 

Taking Over Zuccotti Park 

When September 17 arrived, around 1,000 protesters assembled in Zuccotti Park and began their march on Wall Street. The police, in anticipation of the event, had set up barricades around the Financial District. But the protestors remained undeterred, flooding the surrounding streets.

1,000 protesters assembled in Zuccotti Park and began their march on Wall Street

Protestors gathered at Zuccotti Park on September 17, 2011. By David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0

image source: Wikimedia Commons

Many protestors eventually found their way to Zuccotti Park, and despite park rules prohibiting overnight stays, they decided to set up camp. Such was the beginning of what would end up being a contentious two-month tenure. 

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Occupation Proclamation

Protesters quickly started to establish a full-blown operations center. Alysia Santo, for the Columbia Journalism Review, explored Zuccotti Park during the occupation, detailing the various stations/areas the protestors had established.Occupation-Proclamation-portest

From The New York Times

Santo writes, “There’s the art area, towards the back of the park, overflowing with posters. A buffet-style food assortment resides near the center, kitty-corner to the sleeping area, where mattresses and sleeping bags lie, some vacant, some not. Behind the sign marked ‘info’ sat computers, cameras, generators, wireless routers, and lots of electrical cords. This is the media center, where the protesters group and distribute their messages.” 

Occupy Wall Street formed the New York City General Assembly (NYCGA), one of the decisions making bodies of the movement. Instead of having designated leaders, the NYCGA operated inclusively, establishing a direct democracy (i.e. where all citizens, rather than just representatives, vote on policies). 

Zuccotti Park became a public forum, a modern-day agora, where citizens delivered speeches and musicians performed. The message was sustained, broadcasted all around the world. 

Zuccotti Park Evictions

Numerous halfway attempts were made to get protestors out of Zuccotti Park. None of them worked, leading to the police stepping in and evicting Occupy Wall Street. 

The Failed Cleaning

Naturally, the Zuccotti Park occupation polarized opinions. Brookfield Properties, the owner of the space, worked with then New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to oust the protestors. 

On October 13, they announced the park had to be vacated by the following morning for cleaning. Brookfield distributed a notice to protesters saying they would be allowed to return after the cleanup on the condition they abide by park regulations, including no tents, no tarps or sleeping bags on the ground, no lying on benches, and no storage of personal property on the ground.

Protesters would not be put out though, vowing to “defend the occupation.” Many swept and mopped the park to improve conditions, and the scheduled cleaning was abandoned

It wasn’t until a month later, on November 15, 2011, that Occupy Wall Street was actually evicted. 

The Eviction

The NYPD lit up Zuccotti Park with floodlights. Officers in riot gear began the eviction, immediately removing people and the tents and tarps that had served as makeshift residences from the property. Protesters resisted and were met with batons, pepper spray, tear gas, and handcuffs.

The Washington Post reported on the eviction, writing:

“Zuccotti Park wasn’t cleared by weather or the insufficient commitment of protesters. It was cleared by pepper spray and tear gas.”

Judge Michael Stallman, according to a Reuters article, ruled that New York City had legal justification for evicting the protestors. While they could return to demonstrate, they did not have the right to set up residence in the park. Some protesters, of course, went against the ruling, leading to further conflict with the police. 

200 people reportedly got arrested. Among them were six journalists. 

The Society of Professional Journalists responded to the news, calling for “all charges against these journalists to be dropped and for greater care by police to avoid arresting or otherwise obstructing journalists who are simply and clearly doing their jobs.”Worryingly, countless reporters started tweeting about the eviction, appending the hashtag “#mediablackout” to their messages. Many claimed that the police had prevented them from covering the cleanup, sometimes violently.

Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson (@joshharkinson) tweets
Mother Jones reporter Josh Harkinson (@joshharkinson) tweeted: “Cops telling me not even media with press passes allowed inside.”
michaelcalderone zuccotti park blackout
Then reporter for The Huffington Post Michael Calderone (@mlcalderone) tweeted: “NYPD barred journalists from covering #OWS (Occupy Wall Street) raid, with some cops restoring to violence. #mediablackout.”
NBC New York (@NBCNewYork) tweeted: “Media pushed back from #OWS raid. POlice and mayor @MikeBloomberg said it was for their protection. #Mediablackout.”

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Nearing the Ten-Year Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street

Included in the CultureJammersHQ message linked above is the following sentiment: “This demand seems to capture the current national mood because cleaning up corruption in Washington is something all Americans, right and left, yearn for and can stand behind.”

As we approach the ten-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, many of the concerns brought up by the movement appear to still apply. Perhaps it might sound harsh, but unfortunately, the occupation of Zuccotti Park did not amount to much actual change. 

Alasdair Roberts, a professor at Suffolk University Law School, penned a study entitled “Why the Occupy Movement Failed.” He writes, “The movement was limited by an organizing philosophy that impaired its ability to articulate demands, build alliances and control militant elements. These problems were not unique to the Occupy movement. This experience is illustrative of larger difficulties in organizing a protest against the long-term consequences of neoliberal economic reforms.”

So, how does our community address these problems that have derailed past movements? 

For one, we have worked to develop the Zero Theft philosophy to properly define what our community strives to achieve. Furthermore, claims without strong evidence do not go very far. We seek to eradicate crony capitalism from the U.S. economy by identifying, debating, and voting on exactly where the economic foul play is occurring.

Our platform operates using direct democracy just like Occupy Wall Street did. You can view it as a virtual Zuccotti Park. Just to be clear though, the Zero Theft Movement has no connection to Occupy Wall Street, other than somewhat overlapping goals. 

Citizens author theft proposals and the community decides whether that investigation has convincingly proven (1) theft is or isn’t occurring in a specific area of the economy, and (2) how much is being stolen or possibly saved. Through direct democracy, we can collectively decide where the problem areas are and start working on addressing them systematically. 

We do not approach any sector or area of the economy assuming it’s rigged. That’s up to citizen-led investigations and the majority vote.

The public has spoken! See how much the rigged economy is ripping off from you.

Explore the Problem Hierarchy

We have primers on potential problem areas of the economy. Before you start voting, it’s important you get a basic understanding of the issues at hand, so you can be as helpful as possible to other community members. Take a few minutes and come prepared. 

Serve your fellow citizens as a citizen investigator

The success of our movement rests in your hands, the leaders willing to dedicate time to conduct investigations into potentially rigged areas of the economy. Lead the movement and help create an ethical economy. 

Heroism made easy

Twenty minutes! That’s all the time you need to contribute to our effort. Just review a proposal and vote. Our reports will only gain legitimacy and power with your contributions.

Commitment to nonpartisanship

The rigged layer causes all of us to suffer, regardless of our political allegiances. If we wish to eliminate rigged economy theft, we have to set aside our differences and band together against crony capitalists and corrupt officials. 

Beyond Zuccotti Park…

An educated public is an empowered public. We regularly publish educational articles on ZeroTheft.net, just like this one on Zuccotti Park. They teach you all about the rigged layer of the economy, in short, digestible pieces.