The New York demonstration was the ur-protest, the one that gave its name to the movement and inspired hundreds of other occupations.
As the Occupy movement built, inequality was thrust into the public discourse. Critics devoted copious airtime and column inches to insisting the demonstrations were irrelevant even as the protesters found support from unlikely quarters, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney.
But amid increasing pressure, the clearing overnight of the primary protest, the one closest to the heart of the financial system it vilifies, will inevitably raise questions about the future of the protests it spawned. The biggest: have the protesters built enough momentum to continue without a physical presence?
The activists, unsurprisingly, say they have.
“Such a movement cannot be evicted. Some politicians may physically remove us from public spaces — our spaces — and, physically, they may succeed,” reads part of a statementfrom Occupy Wall Street.
“But we are engaged in a battle over ideas. Our idea is that our political structures should serve us, the people — all of us, not just those who have amassed great wealth and power.”
The movement had earlier called for mass non-violent action Thursday to shut down Wall Street and occupy the subway system.
The activists in New York have been told they can return to Zuccotti Park, their home since September, provided they don’t bring tents or other camping gear.
Protests established on a temporary basis will blunt the criticism of those who dismiss the activists as nothing better than hoboes. But the movement will also lose the powerful psychological symbol of a permanent physical presence.
The New York Times reported that attempts to shift the protests onto university campuses have been opposed by administrators.
The end in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park was another example of the preferred method for clearing Occupy protests: praise the right to demonstrate while citing bylaws, health or safety rules to insist that this particular protest can’t continue.
The tactic has been employed in several cities and threatened in others, including Toronto and Vancouver. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the protesters will be allowed to continue after their site, owned by Brookfield Properties, has been cleaned. But they won’t be allowed to stay overnight.
“The First Amendment ... does not give anyone the right to sleep in a park or otherwise take it over to the exclusion of others – nor does it permit anyone in our society to live outside the law,” the mayor said in an early morning statement.
“Protestors have had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. Now they will have to occupy the space with the power of their arguments.”
The next move from the Occupy Wall Street protesters was not immediately clear. But activists in other cities where police have ended protests have struck a tone not dissimilar to Mr. Bloomberg’s second point.
“We feel we’re continuing to occupy now — in that occupy is a broad term that we’re using to refer to reclaiming of public places and ideas,” Occupy Nova Scotia spokesperson Ian Matheson told Metro Halifax after their camp was cleared by police.