The clash last night between New York police and members of Occupy Wall Street was the best thing to happen to the protest movement in months.
The flagship New York branch of the leaderless movement attempted to re-occupy Zuccotti Park last night to mark the movement’s six-month anniversary. Police arrested 73 people as they removed protesters from the park, which is owned by a local real estate company.
The movement, left for dead by the press for months, is back in the news and on Twitter today. Protesters have been staging direct actions all winter but none have made headlines outside of advocacy journalism outlets until now. And that’s because last night resulted in dramatic photos and a considerable number of arrests — the kind of outcome that, as loath as most protesters are to admit it, is more likely to get them covered by reporters than a protest involving putting living room furniture in a bank branch, for example. And more media attention means an uptick in energy for the protesters, and vice versa.
“I think the past week the energy has been consistently ramping up,” said organizer Max Berger.
Last night’s events “helps remind people we’re still around,” he said. “And it shows that the one percent is scared of us. We’ve hardly been doing anything and we come back together and they flip out.”
But Berger, like many protesters, is worried that the arrests will dilute the movement’s original goal of highlighting economic inequality, a common concern among organizers since the occupation’s inception.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “It can be difficult to make it clear what this movement is about when all people see is us clashing with police.”
Organizer Jeff Smith dismissed the arrests as besides the point and said Occupy’s resurgence was made clear by the number of people who showed up last night.
“In so many ways it felt more like it had last fall than at any point previously,” he said. “There’s clearly an energy and excitement that’s back. The number of people that were there at the park last night was as many as there been since the eviction.”
The protesters are faced with a big opportunity: as the public’s ears have perked up again at Occupy-related news, the time is now to capitalize on it and plan more actions. Organizers say they’re doing just that, but “part of the problem we’ve had with OWS is nobody really knows where to go anymore,” Smith said. “You used to just be able to go down to the park.”
Logistical challenges have proved crippling to Occupy in the past -— practical discussions have been hampered since the beginning by the horizontal structure of General Assemblies and Spokes Councils, the two meeting structures that occupiers use.
But “that has been tempered by a much greater sense of pragmatism,” said Berger.
Protesters plan to march on Wall Street every Friday and meet on Saturdays every week until the “General Strike” planned for May 1st, the weekly events a way to provide a schedule and structure that new people can easily get involved with.
No large-scale actions are planned tonight in response to the NYPD’s behavior, organizers say, though a “peaceful vigil” is scheduled to take place at 8 p.m. Occupiers arrested yesterday are starting to be arraigned and released this evening.