Why Being Evicted Was the Best Thing to Happen to OWS in Weeks
A little after midnight this morning, New York City police officers stormed Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan and forced away hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters. The police were operating under orders of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who released a statement saying that protesters would be allowed to return to Zuccotti after it was cleaned, but no longer will anyone be allowed to sleep on the premises or erect tents: “There is no ambiguity in the law here—the First Amendment protects speech—it does not protect the use of tents and sleeping bags to take over a public space.”
Dozens of protesters have been arrested for attempting to remain in Zuccotti Park, which is now surrounded by police barricades and armed officers. And just before 5 p.m. Eastern Time, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Michael Stallman ruled against the protesters, saying that the city does indeed have a right to prevent protesters—peaceful or not—from sleeping in a public park.
Today looked disastrous for OWS, which is now in its second month as a global movement against income inequality. But it was actually the best one in a long time for the occupiers.
1. It wiped the slate clean. First off, things at the park were getting a bit out of hand. Though the protesters had accomplished some very admirable things—built a library, founded a volunteer-run mini-hospital, kept things peaceful—OWS was also struggling with an influx of homeless people and others who were simply drawn to free meals and drum circles. The clashes between those who were there for protest and those who were there for leisure were taking a toll. Perhaps a break from the park will allow everyone a chance to better plan their next steps.
2. It grabbed headlines again. Crass as it may sound, this is a matter of PR. Media outlets have a very short attention span, and when it comes to protracted stories like OWS, networks and reporters tend to lose interest over time. One of OWS’s strengths has been its ability to bring ideas like “economic inequality” to the forefront of the American political dialogue. To do that effectively, it needs media attention.
3. It reinforced OWS’s peaceful image. Bloomberg’s crackdown once again put the movement into the hearts and minds of people around the world. That the police force was brutal, and that it refused to allow media access to report on its behavior, is yet another coup for the protesters, as it showcases their peaceful-protest approach. It’s the wisdom of civil rights protesters who marched on despite certain attacks from police dogs and fire hoses: Your cause looks all the more just when you remain calm against a violent government.
Protesters are amassing in front of Zuccotti. They’re being told they can once again enter the park, though this time they’ll have to do it without any large structures, tents, or sleeping bags, and they can’t stay the night. An empty Zuccotti Park doubles as a clean slate. Now it’s up to OWS to take this opportunity to reset and amplify its cause.