New Year's Eve at Liberty Plaza

I did something I normally wouldn't do for New Years Eve this time around. I spent it by myself at my favorite place on Earth at the moment — I was off to Zuccotti Park, Occupy Wall Street.

I did something I normally wouldn't do for New Year's Eve this time around.  I spent it by myself at my favorite place on Earth at the moment. A quick stop at my sister's party in Jersey and off to Zuccotti Park. That was the plan. There was no where else I wanted to be at midnight. With the horrible quality of my iPhone 4's video, I livestreamed New Year's Eve with Occupy Wall Street on my own. I've since purchased a new camera.

Every year, I reflect on what has just been. 2011 was full of turmoil and upheaval for my family and me. My husband had just had emergency open-heart surgery (we didn't have health insurance). I had lost my job on a whim of my employer after I had turned down a sizeable offer from a competing company after they told me that I was "family." My sense of loyalty was repaid four months later with termination that was never fully explained, but that I am sure was based in discrimination. The EEOC didn't care and, to add insult to injury, my ex-employers merged with a huge Manhattan conglomerate, and probably pocketed some impressive coin.

These are the times we live in, where the mood of Wall Street's sense of entitlement and folly trumps another person's entire life. We all come to the movement for different reasons, that was my last straw. As one of the picket signs read this summer: LOST MY JOB, FOUND AN OCCUPATION. I needed to reaffirm my committment to the movement. 

There was something amazing happening, the electricity was in the air. And it wasn't what you think, but something that no one had expected. The mood seemed light and jovial at first, and as I made my way with many others toward Liberty Plaza, the twinkling lit trees looked pretty and inviting. From half a block away, the vibe of those heading toward the park was of exhilaration and hope.  After all, many of us hadn't been back since Bloomberg decided freedom of assembly was getting tedious and threw us all out in the most violent of fashions. 

Edging passed a final group before making it to the giant red structure, Joie de Vivre, a 70-foot-tall sculpture consisting of bright-red beams, that has come to symbolize the reaching hope of the movement, one thing became very clear. New Year's Eve would be celebrated in a sarcophagus, large, heavy barricades zip-tied together, hundreds of them, five or six deep.  My first thought was, "They're scared. They're really scared."

I began to resent the twinkling Christmas lights the moment I saw the walls of Wall Street in barricade-form around the people's plaza. Still, I was determined to ring in 2012 with love and brotherhood in my heart, albeit, in the middle of a police state and in a PUBLIC park. 

I couldn't get through the wall. There was a line of people that I moved toward still on the outside, which I assumed was the entrance, since they were all zip-tied together. I wasn't prepared for what I saw. New York's finest had set up a checkpoint and was examining everyone's bags for tents before allowing them to enter the Plaza. Turns out, two little girls had brought in a little pink tent and were playing in it when the police spotted it. Apparently this was all they needed to freak out — they resolved the issue of the tiny tent by literally ripping it away from the girls and that's when the checkpoint was set up. 

It was a bit overwhelming at first, because there was no plan. It was just a huge house party with random mic checks, but at Liberty Plaza, sans booze. I searched for Patti Robinson, a friend from , that I knew would be there. But when I found her, I saw that she had brought her boyfriend, and not wanting to be the annoying third wheel, I pushed off with my iPhone rolling, video live-streaming to Ustream. 

In the corner of my eye, I saw two revelers gently test the waters by pushing one of the barricades. On the north wall, a large group had come together and were chanting, "Bring troops home! USA, USA, USA!" When I edged closer I saw that the police were not allowing the American flag to come through. When asked what for, the man who had brought the flag said that they called the stick that holds the flag upright "a weapon." What?!

Anyone who looked around could see that the two dozen trees had leaf-bare branches hanging all over the place, making for easy access to "weapons." I got the feeling that the police actually believed the nonsense of calling Occupiers stupid hippies looking for hand-outs. The first scuffle had broken out, the mood just shifted to palpably tense. 

"Shame! Shame! Shame!" Usually when protesters are yelling those words means that there is an arrest taking place. I ran to the north end where we were barricaded in, where a young man was being held to the cement ground with a huge swarm of officers all over him. He was put into a truck and disappeared.

Mood just went from tense to restrained anger.  It was New Year's Eve, after all.  The kid probably pushed a barricade, because the dance of the barricades was now happening on all sides of the plaza in retaliation for the arrest. A group of Occupiers pushed, a group of cops pushed back. Nothing crazy. Yet. 

Within minutes, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" At the south wall of barricades, another group in a frenzie had formed, and above them a loose barricade made its way through the throng and passed me as I ran over. I heard the metal clang of the barricade hit the ground. 

"It's gonna take more than that, pigs! I'm a New Yorker, that's not going to stop me from my rights!" A man was being restrained by others, his face covered in red throbbing skin. He had been peppersprayed and others were trying to get water into his blood-shot eyes. I asked him if he were okay, and he yelled, again, "It takes more than that!" 

Another young man was sitting on the ground playing his guitar right in the middle of the chaos, it was obvious that he had been asked to move. He refused, and continued to play. But it was only seconds before five massive police officers were throwing yet another man for pushing a barricade to the ground. One cop shoved me and others to the side while they zip-tied the kid. It was overkill, and it took everything in me not to attempt to pull them off, as they were clearly hurting him. 

When it calmed again, something had started. Much like the organic growth of the Occupy movement itself, everything is taken as it comes — including the reactionary actions that erupted that night. The balance of power was something we fought for, however fragile. In the suddenly tranquility, there were whispers.  "The west wall is open."

Someone was freeing the barricades, messengers delivering the cues, groups walking towards the west wall. Six more barricades make their way through the crowd and crash on top of the few already downed. A mound of metal was growing. It became quickly obvious to all that the start of the new year, 2012, was going to be about taking the wall down. 

As in Wall Street.

Nothing quite symbolized the control and restraining of the people like those omnipresent barricades, the walls of Wall Street. Because the sense is that if we don't take down the "wall," we'll lose what is left of our basic rights, the very thing the barricades symbolize, loss of the true freedom to assemble and demonstrate our grievances. They controlled our movements, much like Wall Street controlled our dwindling pensions with their gambling and greed, our livelihood and standards of living was at the mercy of psychotically selfish hedge fund managers and bankers. And in protesting the rape of the global economy's financial security, our rights were being violated.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Those are not my words, but the words of Thomas Jefferson. It is this language that separates us from the governments that are Libya, Mayanmar, Iran, Syria, the Congo and Egypt. 

Take note that the first amendment does not describe at what time of day, in what form, for how long a people's assembly can take place. That is intentional. When you start telling Americans that they can't assemble in "camp" form in a public park, it is clearly a slap in the face of freedom as our founding father's clearly demanded. True patriots understand this.

It became clear that the war of the barricades came to represent the fight for our first amendment rights. We weren't going to start the new year suppressed in what could easily symbolize the metal cages of concentration camps or the metal coops that keep wild zoo animals from their natural world.

The pile of barricades kept coming, exponentially growing as the crowd grew.  Men and women were carrying them over our heads, with the swell of pride and heroism in their hearts.  The pile quickly became a mountain. Jesse LaGraca called it, Liberty Mountain. And so it was christened. 

Pretty soon the barricades began to be placed in a fashion that would secure those above it from collapsing because dozens of people were climbing atop the precarious metal hill.  Soon someone else was weaving yellow "occupy" tape through the bars to keep it steady. It was a disaster waiting to happen — that, thankfully, didn't happen. 

The American flag, stick and all, had gotten through and a reveler was waving it from atop Liberty Mountain. Next to it was a Union flag. A 30-foot Occupy Wall Street banner was hoisted up and was carried by others high above us.  Something historic was happening. 

We were winning. 

Despite the continuation of pepperspraying and arrests, the police did not come anywhere near Liberty Mountain.  Maybe they realized that they were outnumbered and this could easily turn into another Occupy Oakland incident, or they realized what I realized: Liberty Mountain was no longer a massive pile of metal bars, but something worth fighting for.

It's true that after we rang in the new year, American flags — attached to their respective poles — flew in the warm winter's night as the police force came down hard, arresting over 70 people that had started an impromptu march of solidarity on the streets of our dear city. It was ugly, but like all wars for freedom, a worthy battle. 

For me, personally, President Obama has been a huge disappointment, doing things he promised he'd never do, taking contributions he said he'd never take, appointing corporate monsters he claimed he'd never allow into his administration.  I don't have a lot of faith any more in our president, the one I contributed to and fought so hard to succeed, the one who took the oath on Abraham Lincoln's very bible. 

I have only one thing to say to President Obama:  Take Down This Wall, Mr. President. 

And I'm not talking about the barricades. 

Update: On January 11th, one day after the lawyers for the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild sent a letter to the New York City Buildings Department, threatening a major lawsuit, objecting to security measures arbitrarily set up at the park by Brookfield, its official owners, the walls were removed. For now. 

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Preliator January 17, 2012 at 08:49 PM
"I have only one thing to say to President Obama: Take Down This Wall, Mr. President. And I'm not talking about the barricades. " Sorry Ty, even if you add a check to this President Obama won't do a thing, he needs all the Wall Street money he can get to pay for his BILLION dollar re-election run. Say, isn't he one of the 1% too. Hope and Change...yeah right.
Ty Wenzel January 17, 2012 at 10:29 PM
Wishful thinking, Preliator...
Jaguar-Guy January 17, 2012 at 11:48 PM
That's all you can say ?? He sucks up to the SUPER RICH (because he needs them), and then bashes the hell out of them all to perpetuate the class-warfare that he is losing. He is the 1%. I am thankful that they've marched on the Whitehouse and recently, outside Nany Pelosi's $9,000.00 per night hotel. FINALLY, some Equal protests. THAT I support.
Ty Wenzel January 18, 2012 at 03:12 AM
I agree with you, Jaguar, but he's still our president and I am working my hardest to be part of a movement that will demand our grievances be heard by him. No one is buying the bull he's going to spew this time around. He lost my vote already, and I won't vote for the lesser evil ever again. It's important that everyone that is disgruntled get down to the front lines to show their disgust in the status quo.
Dorrie Gilbert January 18, 2012 at 07:24 AM
Campaign Finance Reform. That is the solution, and we need to push for it, cause congress isn't going to otherwise. But thanks, Ty, for documenting and caring!!!!
Hazel Wilkonson the First January 18, 2012 at 12:50 PM
Who will you vote for, Mitt Romney, the poster child of 1 percenter cluelessness? Those of you on the left who say you won't vote for President Obama are out of it. Take a look at what this president has accomplished - http://obamaachievements.org - even with this obstructionist congress. Obama has not been perfect and you may feel you are making some grand statement by opposing him, but just wait and see what happens if a republican gets elected. The President will have my vote - I will work hard for him and, once re-elected, I will continue to push for him to do more to help the poor and middle class
Preliator January 18, 2012 at 01:50 PM
We can all hope for better times Ty but I am just so disappointed by Mr. Obama, I can't help but wonder what happened to the guy we all saw, Candidate Obama and the promise he held and who is the guy in the White House, they are not the same man. I don't know what the answer is, no one does but we can all agree that we need to keep hope alive no what you political stripe is.
Jaguar-Guy January 18, 2012 at 08:33 PM
Well written Ty. I completely agree with all you wrote. I can tell you mean it.
Ty Wenzel January 18, 2012 at 09:07 PM
Hazel, believe me, I wish he had done the things he had promised, but what you're showing me are things that he did that were watered down versions of his promises. He has never had the guts to stand up to the GOP and, thus, continues to churn out half-ass versions of his lip action. http://www.renewamerica.com/columns/dicintio/110924 At this point, he's lost millions of votes. If he had kept his promises, Occupy Wall Street would never have happened, but his lameness helped create conditions for an American Spring. He's not the only aspect of this, but he is definitely part of it. I'll never work hard for him ever again... it's not a statement. It's an informed decision - if my vote means you'll continue to hire WALL STREET MONSTERS, LOBBYISTS, etc. to your cabinet, you will LOSE my vote. If SOPA passes, you will lose my vote. I can't vote for a bought president. I'd rather write in Bernie Sanders or Kucinich before I vote for Obama again. Because they are the real deal, whether they can win or not. And if the GOP gets that Ken Doll for president, we can watch the country burn and maybe everyone will get off their lazy butts and help with the most powerful movement since the 60s.
Ty Wenzel January 18, 2012 at 09:15 PM
I couldn't agree with you more, Dorrie. Congress is a joke - what is it now, 8% approval rating. Pathetic. Wish you had been there, Dorrie... it was history unfolding, however a blip in time that it was. We all have to do our part, because our government doesn't care about us. We have to physically get off the couch, stop watching MSM, and fight for our children and futures. If the 1% got their way, we'd all be living in poverty, because they are psychotically selfish. I mean, why fund public schools when their kids go to private schools? It's the obviousness of their agenda that scares me. So they will pay and pay and pay whoever has their hand out so that they can keep that money for themselves. The only thing that trickles down is poverty.
Hazel Wilkonson the First January 19, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Ty, forgive me but I think you are behaving in a very childish manner. You seem to have very little understanding of how our government actually works. Perhaps you will gain insight with age, as I have. This "all or nothing" arrogance is just wrong-headed. I have met a large number of OWS supporters who are willing to take a strategic approach towards achieving their goals and the first step is to elect politicians who will at least listen. I believe your anger is misplaced and your attitude harms the movement as a whole. The 60's movements were not about "watching the country burn", they were about positive change through persistence. As for me, I will not see this country handed over to the Republican party and I will fight for the President's reelection and then continue to fight to push for income equality - it won't happen over night.
Ty Wenzel January 19, 2012 at 01:34 AM
Hazel, I don't think what I am doing is "all or nothing" - but at least I'm doing something. I am 45 years old, I'm not a kid, and I'm sick of voting for people who don't really care about the people. I may be idealistically "childish" but I refuse to be jaded about this country and its potential. 99% of the times that I have voted has been for the lesser evil. Is that right? Has Obama listened? The Republicans will keep finding losers, and they won't win anyway based on their ridiculous choices. But at least I won't vote for a liar again. And if they win, then maybe people will finally wake up and get off their ipods and join us in protests. Look, I'm not set in stone. I am watching Obama carefully to see what he really stands for. But hiring a Monsanto monster, Vilsack, to head the USDA, well, that's just heinous and SCARY in my opinion - and all the while, Michelle Obama runs an "organic" garden in the White House grounds. Oy.
Patti Robinson January 19, 2012 at 02:21 PM
Thanks for the beautifully written article Ty. In spite of many previous visits to Zuccotti Park and marches this fall I didn't know what was going to happen there on New Year's Eve. Singing folk songs or mass arrests? Maybe both? I knew I couldn't be anywhere else because my intention for 2012 is to Occupy even more! I don't know where the Occupy movement will go in 2012 but I do know that I'll be part of it in ways that I don't even know yet, and that its going to be one hell of an adventure. The SOPA & PIPA blackout yesterday was pretty amazing and successful. Occupying the internet is a great start to 2012. P.S. I believe that diversity is one of the strengths of the Occupy movement. Its not a problem that we have different points of view, its an opportunity. We have basically one voice running this world right now -- the corporate one -- and that's not working for the majority of the people. Who's world? Our world!
David D'Agostino January 19, 2012 at 09:06 PM
I am an OWS supporter who does not believe that President Obama's accomplishments are " half-ass versions of his lip action" and I think to portray them as such is myopic and wrong-headed. Just yesterday the president took a huge political risk in rejecting the Keystone Pipeline which is supported by Democrats, Republicans and Unions. As Robert Redford said in a blog post this morning, "Big Oil is used to getting its way. But not today... and we have President Obama to thank for standing up to them in spite of the political risk" Additionally, last week the administration made very clear that they do not support SOPA legislation. I am a progressive who has often been extremely disappointed by the president, but I agree with much of what Hazel has said. Righting the wrongs of economic inequality will not be accomplished over night and the cause will most certainly not be furthered by a republican president. Obama's reelection is far from a certainty and until this country is ready to vote for a true progressive, a protest vote for Kucinich or Sanders (both of whom I greatly admire) is a vote for Mitt Romney.
David D'Agostino January 19, 2012 at 09:08 PM
I do not see Occupy Wall Street as a rejection of Obama and the movement did not sprout as a direct result of him not keeping his promises. The movement is the culmination of decades of increased economic disparity that is a direct result of Republican policies. I am not a blind supporter of the Democratic party, in fact, I switched my voter registration to blank after the healthcare debate in protest of their concessions, but as disappointed as I am with democrats I am ten times as terrified of the prospect of a republican president with a republican house. The President is not a king. There is very little he can do without congress, but he has accomplished much. Yes, he could have fought harder for real healthcare reform and to close gitmo and he could have ended the war in Afghanistan sooner and on and on . . . but no president in American history has faced such unyielding opposition at every single turn and Obama has had to work within those confines while being relentlessly attacked by the left and the right. OWS is not about one person or even one message. It means different things to different people and when you go to Zucotti you see and hear a number of different concerns being expressed, but I have not heard anyone else say that if Obama had kept his promises, the movement would never have happened.
David D'Agostino January 19, 2012 at 09:15 PM
Last thing, here is a great article by Bob Cesca "Progressives, Obamabots and a Realistic Evaluation of the President" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bob-cesca/progressives-obamabots-an_b_1215133.html
Ty Wenzel January 20, 2012 at 06:26 AM
Hi David, thank you for your input. What I mean is that the conditions were right for an American Spring (or Autumn), since everything kind of fell into place: The Arab Spring was underway, the economy went from bad to worse, the debt ceiling fiasco (which many expected Obama to invoke the 14th Amendment instead of letting the GOP play their anti-American games with their president), the intense lack of jobs, and then the fact that Obama has watered down almost everything he promised - at least on the things that mattered to me. Gitmo is a disgrace, war is still raging, signing the NDAA after promising he wouldn't, he keeps hiring monsters and crooks to his cabinet (I mean, a Monsanto VP to oversee the USDA, are you kidding me???). It was bad enough that Paulson, Bernacke and Geitner were hired after destroying the world economy... These aren't little things... they're monstrous. Yes he has opposition, but as the president he needn't just take it either. Roosevelt had opposition, you didn't see him cowtowing to his opposers. Look, all I'm saying is that if I had known he would go back on so many promises, I'd never have voted for him... those grandiose speeches were inspiring, but ring hollow to me now. Let's see what Obama does after the elections and he's in for another term... or if this is all election posturing. Occupy for me is the first time I've seen Americans get up and do something... I know we will prevail.
Ty Wenzel January 20, 2012 at 06:54 AM
Oh, and please check the comments of the HuffPo article... I am definitely NOT alone in my thinking. Just sayin' ...
Kevin Gray January 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM
Obama should be sent home to enjoy the fate of Jimmy Carter and go down in history as one of the worst president EVER! Blame it on Bush, Blame it on Congress. Blame it on you and me...this ill equipped community organizer made a bad situation worse and should be ran out of town for his lying and cronyism politics (the politics he decried before his election.) Need cuts in government spending? Decimate the military. Need jobs and oil, sell out the businesses and workers that would have made millions on the pipeline, for OUR economy. Need an army to divert attention from failed policies...community organize an "occupy this or that... just not Barry...no don't occupy the Whitehouse, the true cause of our disatisfaction. I'll say it again...you have the right to protest your government...you do not have the right to protest a business and set up camps and disrupt others rights. Don't like Wall Street....don't do business with them. That'll teach em. By the way the park and the barricades were lawfully being protected. By your account it seems vandalism occured...should have been more arrests. Peacefully protest, my ass. You guys were looking for trouble and trouble was caused. I fear the spring, when civil war could erupt as a result of occupiers misguided, self entitled, spoiled revolutionary wannabees who are mere puppets and don't realize it. You play with fire with your utopian dreams.
Dorrie Gilbert January 22, 2012 at 08:44 AM
Kevin...please, try some punctuation. And Jimmy Carter was not the worst president, but a man that I believe had integrity. And kevin, the average person can't make the decision not to do business with Wall Street, since Wall Street has found a way to make money on any sort of loan -- even if you default!!! Deregulation of commercial and investment banking has been a disaster and it affects all of us. Also, even if the civil war is led by a group of spoiled revolutionary wannabees, it will certainly be taken over the rest of the disenfranchised population. It may take the average (and very distracted) American a minute, but at some point this population will have to confront the glaring disempowerment. Corporations rule.


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