There was a demonstration this afternoon organized by my friends Penny Lewis and Alex Vitale, among others, in front of NYPD headquarters to object to the nasty treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters and years of repression of dissent in what was once a rambunctious city. (Here’s the event’s Facebook page.) Since Giuliani and continuing through Bloomberg, the cops have used “quality of life” pretexts—keep the traffic moving!—to limit marches. And they’ve spied on organizers, arrested protesters en masse, and generally made peaceful dissent very difficult. The fact that a senior cop was videotaped pepper-spraying penned-in people who’d done nothing violent now seems to have the force on the defensive, thank god. But the longer the OWS protest goes on, the risk of more brutality rises.
When I got there, about a half hour after scheduled starting time, Penny was addressing a small crowd.
It was a spirited gathering, and Penny was terrific, but I was a little worried that the demo would turn out to be an anticlimax. Still, the cops were ready—on the ground
and in the air.
Any gathering in New York is guaranteed to have an aerial audience like this—there were at least three helicopters hovering overhead.
But then there was kerfuffle at the entrance to Police Plaza (through the Manhattan Municipal Building, a borough hall on a rather grand scale). People began chanting “Let them in.” I was too far away to see if the police were blocking the way, but if they were, they didn’t for long as a large throng of reinforcements came in from the main OWS site at Zuccotti Park.
Soon, Police Plaza was filled with a giant, noisy crowd. This is what the area where the white-shirted cops were standing in the photo above looked like about seven minutes after that photo was taken.
(That’s Rev. Billy with the preacherly pose in the center, and Greg Grandin, the Latin America scholar at NYU, in the green shirt, front right.)
Still, despite the size of the crowd, and the fact that there was no permit for the demo, the cops just stood back. There was a line of them in front of the entrance to police HQ, but they just stood around. Earlier, they’d looked a bit taken aback by the influx. Who knows what they’ll do if all this continues, but for now, free speech had the upper hand in lower Manhattan.
There were union signs and the usual crop of protest slogans, but there was also one odd image crafted presumably by a critic of quantitative easing:
But that was just an amusing curiosity. The overwhelming tone was spirited, determined, and thoroughly inspiring. As I’ve said before, who knows where this is going, but right now it’s exciting. It didn’t hurt that this particular demo had a very clear message—stop beating people and let people speak freely. But with the original OWS encampment persisting, and cities across the country joining in, I thought of Wallace Stevens’ line about searching “a possible for its possibleness.”