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A walk on the not-so-wild side

By Michael J. Smith on Thursday November 17, 2011 09:07 PM

After a day of running skirmishes here in New York between the Occupiers and the pigs, which I missed, I finally got myself down to Zuccotti Park around four PM today, to find a rather alarmingly sparse crowd, with a high proportion of nut cases trying to do 'mic checks' and then drivel on about some incomprehensible personal obsession. I wasn't really worried -- not as who should say worried -- but it was a relief when 5:00 rolled around and we took off for Foley Square.

Very different scene there. Lots of people. The number I heard bandied about was 20,000. I'm no good at estimating crowd sizes but this number did not seem wildly implausible. The union contingent was sizable, including a lot of people wearing T-shirts with the word 'MARSHALL' [sic] printed on them. I may return to this topic later.

There was a PA, rather than the now-characteristic Occupy 'people's mic'. It wasn't an improvement. I ended up in a spot -- near the corner of Duane and Lafayette. on the west side of Lafayette -- where it was hard for my old ears to hear the speakers. Might be time for a map:

View Larger Map

The bulk of the crowd was on the other, that is, the east side, of Lafayette Street from my coign de vantage; they were in Thomas Paine Park/Foley Square. I think most of these folks must have marched down from Union Square.

The cops -- there were easily a thousand of them, probably more -- had done their usual 'corridor' thing, dividing up the crowd into little Gaza Strips with metal barriers, leaving nice wide Haussmanian military highways in between. Lafayette Street was one such cordon sanitaire; I was penned on the west side of it, though there were a lot of other people there with me, spilling back into that awful bleak 'plaza' in front of the federal building.

The crowd was initially very polite and accommodating to all this police theater -- as all the Occupy crowds have been, in my experience. But after an hour or so of speechifying and standing around in the cold, you could sense a certain restiveness beginning to bubble up. The cops had to move the barriers on the east side of Lafayette a few feet into the street, because the crowd there had clearly become so huge and so densely-packed that it just had to have more room. A roar went up on our side -- in which I joined with the last articulate sound I was able to make today; I'll be speaking in whispers for a week.

The sense of a point gained was heady. My side of the street went from bubbling to boiling. After a few indecisive moments, a lovely young woman -- about five-two, maybe 100 pounds, raven hair and dark snapping eyes -- darted under my left armpit and kicked over one of the metal barriers. Oh how we loved that! Another woman, this one 70 if she was a day, but clearly very naily, shoved over another barrier. Even I managed to kick one over, with less conviction than the ladies, but effectively nonetheless -- then of course I beat a hasty and undignified retreat as the porkers charged.

They were fairly restrained. I didn't see any clubbings or beatings, this time. They just pushed us back and re-erected their erections.

But it was interesting to see them up close -- four feet, three feet away. They were scared. You could see it in their faces. They were trying to keep that stony automaton cop look in place, but it wasn't working. They were pale and jittery. The facial musculature was tense and drawn, the eyes way too wide, the pupils dilated, the eyes darting -- a world away from that slow scanning look they teach at the 'police academy', surely one of the most hilarious phrases ever coined, and on so many levels, too.

They're cowards, really, the cops. They're trained -- and probably predisposed, or why would they be cops in the first place? -- for situations in which they have the overwhelming advantage. They're not happy otherwise. Vikings they ain't.

You could read these guys' minds very easily. They knew that if we got pissed-off enough and really decided to charge, they would be going down under our feet. Oh, they could go down clubs-flying, sure, and take a few of us with them. Most were not visibly carrying pistols, though some were, and the latter group could have taken out maybe a dozen or so of us apiece before they were trampled into a bloody pulp on the pavement(*). But they would still be going down, if we charged, clubs or not, pistols or not. They knew it, and you could tell they knew it.

This evening gave me lots of material for reflection. But perhaps this is enough for one post.


(*) And not a minute too soon.

Comments (12)

Behold the power of people who believe in something. They're not sure exactly what they believe in, but they've got the belief.

It's what the left has been missing for many many years.

And that was worth a post over at my own site:


And MJS, I know you're a busy guy and have a lot of better things to do than worry about your sidebar, but if you could ever update the drunk pundit link in your blogroll to point to my new site I'd appreciate it greatly.

Cuz I'm not really drunk, I'm just drinking.



I think the police in this post are in situation similar to occupying troops in Kabul, Bagdad, various cities in Vietnam back in the day, etc. The first fully developed riot might end up "in favor" of the crowd. The long term casualty figures suggest one-trial learning for the police side. You could look it up.

Greatly out-numbered, identifiable people (uniforms in this case) are always uneasy, jumpy. Once they have been blooded, they make it hard on the opponent if they have the equipment/weapons they want.

Look at the situation in Kabul. The De-occupy Kabul forces don't confront the NATO Philharmonic and Chorus directly, they plant bombs or preach individuals into suicide missions and try to meld into the apathetic majority in between performances. Is this the dynamic society various pro-violence commenters seek to reproduce?


kicking over barriers eh father ??


"By the end of the 1960s the independent left wing revolutionaries like Clive Goodwin began to despair"


broadcast from the private urinal
of a boho pinko

here's a line i love from elsewhere

"What struck me first about Occupy Wall St. were its theatrical possibilities"


The police actually performed a service for me yesterday evening. As I got off at my subway stop in Bklyn, I saw swarms of them (yes, with the very looks MJS describes). This let me know there was some action in my home borough, right in my hood, no less. I just followed the phalanx of cops, and flashing cop car lights, to Cadman Plaza Park, where a raucous celebration had broken out, as thousands upon thousands poured off the bridge and into the park. Gotta thank the "finest" for pointing me to the action; and by their excessive presence, giving me more impetus to join.

MJS: I am somehow reading " missed opportunity" in your post. Like, we should've overrun them. Am I reading that right?

Some of these municipal chiefs are going to get smart enough, perhaps after an "intrepid reporter" publishes a mildly disapproving human interest blurb, to embrace the theatrical portions of the "Madison Method."

If that happens (or, where that is already happening), there is an increased risk of it successfully corralling a number of the less, er, revolutionary sorts back into community organized and ultimately fangless reformism.


I'm a little hesitant to say what 'should have' happened. Maybe this topic calls for a post of its own.

James Nostack:

Hey MJS, glad you weren't hurt or arrested.

I was part of the scene at Wall Street earlier in the morning for a few hours. The cops at that point seemed pretty calm, but then (after the big knot of protesters had moved on to Nassau & Pine) a group of about 10 cops rushed me, the vicar of Trinity Church, two topless girls, and five or six people dressed up as cardboard houses. They had their nightsticks out and were just bellowing at us. One protester tripped backing up, and when I got him to his feet--as cops were shoving me to get back--they knocked him down again.

This happens all the time, I'm sure. But I don't consider myself a "serious" participant and we'd been standing on almost-abandoned street just talking. Luckily nobody was seriously hurt, but I have no idea what set them off. I'd been standing there precisely because it seemed safe and far from any risk. Apparently there's no such place when the NYPD is around.


A vicar, two topless girls, and six people dressed as cardboard houses walk into a demonstration.....


off topic:

is the OWS what you get
when there's a spontaneous inchoate urge
to go to a higher level
beyond both balloteering
and even grass roots movements
beyond mere demands of any kind
on the face of it demands today
look like a wish list
post marked north pole

obviously OWS wants to be a systemic challenge

OWS wants to throw down a gauntlet

let loose a cry of
"on guard "
to our nation's all powerful
clique of multi national corporate hegemonists

so far its a hundred thousand fists
all at once
all across the country
shaken at
the archepelago of laputa
hovering over our heads

now after act one
after the nudging close of the encampment phase
how does a multitude's unified gestures
or even a torrent of unified gestures
morph into a menace to the 1%
and champions of the 99% ???


A gift to Father Smith: an Occupier sign in Latin.


No doubt, given the currency of another Latin tag, it would be suitable on signs as well:


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Thursday November 17, 2011 09:07 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Labor kleptocracy.

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