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.