Yesterday, I participated in the student “walk out” in support of Occupy Wall St. [Please ask my permission before you use any of these images, for any purpose.] It was also a union action day. Among others, I saw the New York Nurses, Plumbers, Teachers, and UAW. The Columbia walk out started at the Broadway gates of campus, proceeded into the subway, and down to the Park Ave. stop, from which we walked over to Foley Square. I would guess there were about 75 students and faculty in the group.
There were also about 12 cops stationed at the subway stop at 116th street. There are always a few NYPD around 3pm because schools let out around that time. This was at least three times as many police, but the walk out was pretty well advertised.
The first group I ran into downtown were the nurses. They were all dressed in these red t-shirts and hats, singing union songs, marching as a group. Lining the route from the subway station to the square (note: we’re not even at the rallying point for the march yet), there were hundreds of police officers, forming a line about 5 feet into the street. They warned us that anyone walking in the street would be arrested, and they had the bundles of zip cuffs to prove it.
We got a little hung up in a plaza space about a block away from Foley Square. There was a large band group playing, lots of kids, and bus loads of curious tourists driving by. Talk about a day to do a city tour…
While waiting on the corner, I overheard a conversation between a (European) guy standing next to me and a young American guy standing behind me, who had a Guy Fawkes mask propped up on his forehead. It looked like this:
So, the European guy says, “Hey, where’d you get that. I like that guy. Who’s that guy?” And the American kid says, “Guy Fawkes. From V for Vendetta.” The European guy says, “Yeah, him. Where’d you get it? I’d like one.” And the kid answers, “Hot Topic.” He repeated it twice, once because I asked him to. Of course, I double over in laughter. The kid was obviously confused by my laughter, and his response was, “No, really. I have the receipt right here.” Which I will share with you now. On sale. And I now realize this kid got an employee discount. Sorry, dude. A job is a job, ya’now?
The rest of it was pretty much what you’d expect. We all stood inside metal police barriers for a few hours, during which people chanted, a band played some pretty awesome Latin-inspired songs and a lesbian dance troupe performed with them, kids blew whistles, union songs were danced, and SLOWLY we were allowed to start marching. It was 6pm by the time I reached the edge of the park and the start of the march route. I cut out, so I didn’t really take part in the march, or end up in Liberty Plaza, and I certainly didn’t see any of the late night violence. I understand there were about 2 dozen arrests last night, mostly for protesters standing in the streets, instead of on the side walk. There’s some pretty amazing video of “white shirt” police beating protesters with billy clubs and using mase.
I’ll just say that I had a few conversations with police along the route and they were–to a person–willing to express some sympathy with the cause, and largely deflected criticism and questions with, “I’ve got to pay my bills.” or “I just work here, I don’t make decisions.” That said, there is no more hostile tactic than penning citizens into spaces, and lining them with armed guards. It always sort of amazes me when citizens see this, and enter the pens (myself included). Considering the number of people, the noise, folks’ frustration, the huge number of armed police, and the inability to leave the pens (plus their very existence), I think you really need to acknowledge the protesters were really well behaved. Quiescent, really.
Okay, some photos with commentary interspersed. Today is a work day, after all.