The first Occupy Wall Street protester we saw this morning boarded the C Train at Jay Street in Brooklyn around 6:45 a.m. The solitary man stood next to a group of four police officers riding the train and silently held up his small sign, which read “Unarmed Taxpayer.”
Presumably he was traveling to join the protesters gathered in lower Manhattan to march on Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange this morning. From before sunrise, protesters amassed not in Zuccotti Park, which was barricaded and surrounded by police officers, but across the street, in the plaza in front of the Brown Brothers Harriman building (known colloquially as “the plaza with the big red cube and Alan’s Falafel.”) When The Observer arrived on the scene shortly after 7 a.m., several hundred sign-wielding protesters filled the plaza while the phone number of the New York chapter of the National Lawyer’s Guild was distributed and other preparatory announcements were made.
One protester climbed atop the black marble memorial to real estate baron and convicted tax evader Harry Helmsley and deployed the people’s microphone to explain that the protest would be splitting into two groups, one following a black flag and one following a green flag. We followed the black flag down Cedar Street, turned south onto Nassau and stopped at the corner of Nassau and Pine Street in sight of the NYSE. For the next two hours protesters held this and reportedly other intersections surrounding Wall Street.
At our particular corner, the mood was initially subdued and quiet apart from the helicopters hovering overhead. A delivery truck waylaid by the tsunami of protesters was stuck before the intersection, engine off, and its driver soon settled into a nap. Shortly after our arrival, a faction of the green flag group merged with the group in Pine and Nassau, including a brass band. Police officer Rick Lee, the so-called hipster cop, was spotted behind a line of officers in riot gear, prompting a group of enthusiastic young women to chant “HIPSTER COP, HIPSTER COP.” As the occasional worker tried to push his way through the barricade to reach Wall Street, protesters shouted “Take a day off!”
Beginning around 9 a.m., the mood at the street corner rapidly changed as police ordered protesters to vacate the street, speaking through a loudspeaker. By now approximately 50 protesters had arranged themselves into a sit-in, singing “We Shall Not Be Moved” as police began filtering out from behind the barricade to arrest them. The police moved swiftly, dragging approximately 20 protesters behind barricades and tying their wrists with zip cuffs while protesters sang “We Shall Overcome.” Soon they were yelling “shame” as police ordered those demonstrators who were willing to move to the sidewalks and more protesters were arrested. Former police captain Ray Lewis, who was walked down Nassau Street in front of the assembled crowd, received a loud ovation from the protesters.
The streets thus cleared, the delivery truck driver awoke, reignited his engine, and drove out onto Broadway. When we left the scene, protesters still occupied the sidewalks at the intersection, snacks were being distributed, and the brass band played on.