A late Wednesday afternoon seems like an odd time to protest, especially while most people are still at work. Even in Times Square, crowds were hard to come by yesterday, as few tourists took in the sights on a cold, cloudy weekday. But members of the Occupy Wall Street movement chose yesterday, the 10th anniversary of the opening of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, for a hybrid protest and solidarity march that combined international and domestic politics.
Most of the movement’s marches have focused on one key issue, usually pertaining to the general theme of corporate greed and income inequality. But on Wednesday, organizers handed out fliers blasting the recent passing of the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains a provision allowing for the indefinite detention–even of American citizens–who are suspected of terrorism. The protesters drew a line from the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, signed by President Bill Clinton in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, that made it more difficult for federal judges to grant relief in habeas corpus cases. The protesters largely gave President George W. Bush a pass, arguing that while the Patriot Act did allow for indefinite detention, it was only a temporary measure.
The demonstrators reserved most of their displeasure for President Obama, who said he signed the NDAA with large reservations. The protesters say the 1996 law and the Patriot Act were temporary measures, while the detention provision in the NDAA will last until new legislation is passed. “You could say we’ve seen an indefinite detention of the Sixth Amendment,” one of the protesters yelled to the crowd, speaking of the amendment that ensures a speedy trial by an impartial jury and the right to counsel.
Yet just as the crowd began to warm up over the detention issue, other protesters interrupted and began to speak about Occupy Nigeria. Shortly after the new year, large protests erupted in Nigeria, Africa’s largest oil producer, over the government’s decision to end fuel subsidies. In a country where most people live on $2 a day, subsidized fuel was one of the government’s few benefits. Several people have been killed in clashes with police, sparking the ire of New York’s Occupy movement. “These brave protesters named themselves Occupy Nigeria,” another protester said in Times Square using the people’s microphone. Sufficiently rallied, the few dozen people who had braved the cold began marching east in the direction of the Nigerian consulate.
Wednesday’s protest came the day after Occupy won an unexpected victory allowing them greater access to Zuccotti Park. Since the Nov. 15 eviction, the park has usually been surrounded by metal barriers with limited access through a single gate. On New Year’s Eve, protesters tore down the barriers and scuffled with the NYPD resulting in more than 60 arrests.
Then on Jan. 9, the New York Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the New York City Buildings Department arguing that the barriers prevented the public from enjoying the park, violating zoning laws which require unobstructed access to the space. On Tuesday night, security guards for Brookfield Properties, which owns the park, took down barriers, but stayed on hand as a couple hundred protesters entered the park.
Because a judge’s ruling after the eviction upheld rules preventing tents, sleeping bags and camping in the park, the removal of barriers is largely a symbolic gesture. Barring new rulings in the future, the reentry into the park is largely symbolic, which is appropriate, given that Zuccotti Park was always one of the most effective symbols of the protest movement. As the protesters branch out into new areas of social injustice, they will be able to return to their once and future home — but they won’t be able to sleep over.