Occupiers evicted but message still resonates

Since Sunday, authorities in Oregon, California and New York have cleared public squares of their respective Occupy movements. In Washington, protesters remain determined to stay the course. .

They were met by about two dozen protesters. For about 20 minutes, the two groups shadowed each other around the outskirts of the 100 or so tents erected in the park, a short walk from the White House.

A police officer found it hard to suppress a smile while one person incessantly banged a drum, another strummed a guitar and others chanted "show us your warrant".

As standoffs go, it was good natured and it ended without incident after 20 minutes.

But members of the Occupy DC movement were concerned.

Tuesday's police inspection, to check sanitary conditions, was the second in two days, said Brian Grimes, who pitched a tent at McPherson two days after the first protesters arrived on October 1.

"They are possibly trying to provoke a reaction," said Mr Grimes, 34, who used to work in automotive sales but who has been unemployed for nearly a year. "We don't consent to the search but we don't stop them. People are not happy though and there are some concerns."

Since Sunday, authorities in Oregon, California and New York have cleared public squares of their respective Occupy movements.

Police moved at an hour chosen specifically to ensure the least number of bystanders - at Occupy DC, people would say witnesses - as well as protesters.

In Portland, Oregon, the eviction took place on Sunday, just before noon. Citing a growing concentration of drug users and thieves, municipal authorities said the camp had grown unsanitary and was a threat to public health and safety. Police arrested 50 people.

In Oakland, California, the shooting death last week of a young man in the camp - though not of the camp - provided the trigger for police to evict protesters early on Monday under cover of darkness.

Dozens were arrested but the eviction was less violent than clashes there three weeks ago, when police used tear gas to disperse the crowds and several protesters ended up in hospital. In New York, the eviction took about five hours on Tuesday. More than 100 people were arrested as police cleared Zuccotti Park.

The New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg, reasoned that public health and safety had to come before any First Amendment right to free speech.

The eviction was a strike at the very heart of the Occupy movement.

The New York camp was where it all started in mid-September, targeting Wall Street, the symbol of the one per cent of America that owns the bulk of the country's wealth - a one per cent that Mr Bloomberg, the 12th richest man in America according to Forbes magazine, belongs to.

Calling themselves the 99 per cent, protesters were first dismissed as a flash in the pan. But the movement - borrowing tactics from the Arab Spring - inspired others around the country and then around the world with their staying power.

The clearing of Zuccotti Park has raised questions about the ability of the movement to survive elsewhere and what its legacy might be.

The coming of winter will also test the protesters' commitment.

The amorphous nature of the protests has meant that a jumble of issues have been raised by the mixture of anti-war activists and social justice movements that make up the more organised elements of the demonstrators.

One message has bounded across the country and was likely to keep resonating, said Richard Eskow, a senior fellow with the Campaign for America's Future, a Washington-based lobbying group. "The movement has profoundly altered the national debate toward the topic of economic fairness and away from austerity economics," he said. "It has altered the president's rhetoric, if not his actions, and it has pulled the political centre of gravity away from exclusively electoral politics."

In Washington, protesters remain determined to stay the course.

On Tuesday, in Freedom Square, the second site of Washington's protests, a freelance boat painter, Mariel Escobar, 55, was handing out a free newspaper, The Occupied Washington Post, to passersby.

"This is our park. It's a public park. We will resist [any attempt at evicting us]," she said. "I am sure we will be here this time next year.

Like Ms Escobar, Mr Grimes suggested it would be the height of hypocrisy should the municipal authorities in America's capital - where authorities are sworn to protect the American constitution - move to evict protesters.

They also dismissed Mr Bloomberg's reasoning for clearing the New York protests.

"That statement [about public health and safety] could be true in the case of some extreme pandemic. But to clear the park of marijuana? In New York? Seriously?" said Mr Grimes. He added that the evictions were likely to have a galvanising, even a "martyring" effect on the movement.

"People are upset. It's not right. It's a sign that the powers that be are not concerned with the interests and the will of the people," he added.

 

okarmi@thenational.ae

Published: November 17, 2011 04:00 AM

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