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November 17: Occupy Wall Street's Waterloo?


Was November 17th's Day of Action Occupy Wall Street's Waterloo? Probably not, but it somewhat appeared to be. With stunted executions of protest goals and hundreds of arrests, what is next for the Occupy Wall Street movement?

The protests prepared on Nov. 17 appeared to make for a critical day for the Occupy Wall Street movement. Protests were planned on subways, streets, bridges, and even the New York Stock Exchange. Where thousands gathered to protest in Manhattan, hundreds were arrested. Even so, contrary to what appeared to be Occupy Wall Street's intentions, the opening bell rang on Thursday.

Where Occupy Wall Street's goals of disrupting the trading day at the NYSE and closing down Wall Street failed, yesterday marked a show of strength on the part of the New York Police Department. One cannot overemphasize the impact of Occupy Wall Street's failure to prevent the opening bell from ringing. In some ways, in order for Occupy Wall Street to have maintained power and credibility behind its claims going forward, it was essential for Occupy Wall Street to delay the opening bell yesterday by any non-violent means necessary. Even with civil disobedience, for the Occupy Wall Street to maintain some level of populist credibility and support for the protesters' cause, Occupy Wall Street had to delay the ringing of the opening bell yesterday -- an endeavor that protesters ultimately failed to accomplish. As Occupy Wall Street wanted to jolt the "daily rhythm of the financial system", the movement's actions to delay the trading day appear to have been in vain, and the NYPD gained the upper hand.

The Canadian Press reported Friday that "New York officials have called for investigations of the police raid of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan early Tuesday". While the demonstrations have been generally peaceful, some protesters have become violent. Five individuals were arrested on charges that they assaulted police officers by throwing liquid and tossing glass.

On Nov. 17, Occupy Wall Street protesters also sought to disrupt transportation channels. In Washington, DC, more than 300 protesters marched on the Francis Scott Key Bridge, but failed to shut it down. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, in Philadelphia on Thursday, marchers blocked traffic on the Market Street bridge. In Los Angeles, 21 protesters locked arms in a downtown intersection thereby slowing traffic on nearby freeways. Businessweek: "In Portland, Oregon, police arrested 25 protesters sitting on the Steel Bridge and temporarily closed the span as a precaution." In New York, on the Nov. 17 Day of Action thousands of protesters marched on the Brooklyn Bridge as hundreds were arrested. Further, as part of the nationwide Day of Action Occupy Wall Street sought to take their movement underground and occupy the subways in order to spread their message of inequality. Nevertheless, according to Eli Rosenberg of the Brooklyn Paper, "The police made no Occupy Wall Street-related arrests in the subway system on Thursday."

As the NYPD has cleared Zuccotti Park of campers and Occupy Wall Street appears to have been knocked backwards temporarily, one has to wonder what the future of the movement will be. For all intents and purposes, it would appear that the Occupy movement has been defeated for the time being and must now retreat and regroup. That being the case, the spirit behind the Occupy Wall Street movement is far from being defeated, and given the nationwide influence of the Occupy movement, we will have to wait and see what is to come. Though hundreds have been arrested in the Occupy protests and Zuccotti Park has been cleared of encampments, it is too soon to say whether the Nov. 17 Day of Action was Occupy Wall Street's Waterloo.  

Though the reliable and formidable show of force by police across the nation may have been beneficial for those in New York and Los Angeles who work in financial districts, the response from law enforcement authorities and accompanying news stories reflect cracks and weaknesses in the Occupy movement. The New York Post recounted a story about how some Occupy Wall Street protesters sought to protest in front of City Hall chanting, "Bloomberg must go! Bloomberg must go!" -- when in reality the protesters were chanting outside the Department of Education...with one protester asking the others, "This isn't City Hall?" Even aside from being a leaderless movement without a specific agenda and even with issues with alleged drug use, diseases, and criminal behavior going on in Occupy camps, one has to wonder about Occupy's strategy and tactics going forward.

In terms of tactics and strategy, demonstrations on bridges across the country speak in waves to the latent, not-yet-fully-realized power of Occupy protesters. As I have repeatedly said, there comes a point in time when non-productivity becomes counter-productivity; we are getting to that point in this country. In this way, the Occupy protesters' ability to use civil disobedience to merely stake a presence on thoroughfares across the nation -- thereby disrupting traffic and the flow of commerce -- demonstrates that protesters have a viable avenue (no pun intended) to disrupt society and business affairs in the future.

The potential to disrupt traffic on roads and highways may evolve into a serious issue for law enforcement across the nation if the Occupy movement continues to grow. For now, the protesters are occupying the streets with their bodies. What would happen if Occupy protesters began to clog up roads, highways, and major high-volume thoroughfares with cars and/or tents? One could only imagine the mess that would be created were a hundred protesters (acting in civil disobedience) to drive fifty or so cars on highways leading into Washington or Manhattan -- only to park their cars in the highway lanes and stop there indefinitely -- thereby clogging up traffic and commerce.  Talk about gridlock. Such thoughts sound like the makings for a socio-economic disaster.

Was the Day of Action on Nov. 17 Occupy Wall Street's Waterloo? It is too soon to say. Though much of Occupy Wall Street's intended actions of delaying the NYSE opening bell and disrupting the trading day were quelled, the movement gained nationwide attention; in that sense, perhaps the Day of Action was a success after all. As both sides regroup, it will be interesting to see if and how the Occupy movement modifies its tactics and strategies. Either way, for better or worse, the spirit behind the Occupy Wall Street movement appears to remain alive and well in the nation.

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