Updated: Friday October 14, 6.30am ET. As the days ticked by, September rolled into October and the Occupy Wall Street movement dug in at Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, a question loomed: How long would they stay once cold weather came?
But a potential flashpoint was averted early Friday. New York City Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway has confirmed in a statement that the proposed cleaning of Zuccotti Park has been postponed at the request of its owners Brookfield Properties. The news brought cheers from those in attendance, who believed the cleanup was a pretext to kick them out.
“Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park – Brookfield Properties – that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation,” the statement read. “Our position has been consistent throughout: the City’s role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
It’s been reported that between 600-700 protesters had arrived by the early morning on Friday as they set about mopping, collecting trash and scrubbing the pavement.
Earlier in the week, on Wednesday, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s office had released a statement that the park, where protesters have made their camp for more than a month, would be cleaned on Friday. The announcement said that the cleaning would be done in stages, and that afterward, protesters “will be able to return to the areas that have been cleaned, provided they abide by the rules” established for the park. The statement came just two days after the mayor spoke at the Columbus Day Parade and said that the protesters could remain indefinitely, but the harsh winter weather would likely drive them out.
The day after the mayor’s speech, however, Richard Clark, CEO of Brookfield Properties, the company that owns Zuccotti Park, sent a letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly asking for assistance in clearing the park so that it can be cleaned. Clark’s letter explained that the park is usually cleaned each day, and that they are concerned about possible damage from the month of occupation. The park has lighting in the ground, which if cracked, the letter explained, could cause an electrical issue with recent rains. “In light of this and the ongoing trespassing of the protesters,” the letter said, “we are again asking for the assistance of the New York City Police Department to help clear the park,” so that the company could undertake the cleaning.
While the word itself has not been used, the protesters saw the initial letter as a notice of eviction. The movement put out an “Emergency Call to Action” on its website, asking for supporters to come to the park Friday at 6 a.m. “to defend the occupation from eviction.” And sure enough, they streamed there in their hundreds.
From their perspective, had they been forced from the park, the movement was worried that, even if they were allowed back in, their efforts to occupy the space may die. The OWS website says that the rules of the park include no sleeping bags or tarps and no lying down.
If such rules are eventually enforced, it would mean an end to the occupation in its current form. At 2 a.m. Tuesday, my last trip to the park, people were sleeping in clusters around the trees, bundled up in sleeping bags against the chill. The NYPD forbids the erection of structures, but protesters have used tarps since the beginning days to protect themselves from the rain.
The NYPD had said that they will begin the clearing Friday morning at 7am. The response from the protesters on their Facebook page read, “We’ll position ourselves with our brooms and mops in a human chain around the park, linked at the arms. If the NYPD attempts to enter, we’ll peacefully/non-violently stand our ground and those who are willing will get arrested.”
The Friday morning showdown could have been much ado about a spray wash, or perhaps a seminal moment in an increasingly growing movement. Despite the postponement, the same scenarios remain in play if and when the cleaning does eventually take place. If the protesters did decide to leave, it’s not clear where they would go to continue their efforts. As the sun came up on Friday morning, Occupy Wall Street, in so many ways, has not been cleared up.