I finally got around to writing about Occupy Wall Street (OWS) this week. Grad school has been great for that, motivating me to turn raw experience into 5,000 words.
Yesterday, in part because of the nostalgia that writing provoked, I took the train down to London for the Mayday protest. After the large, permitted march and rally I joined a breakaway, unpermitted march lead by Occupy London. It was nice to see that my favorite call and response from OWS—Whose streets? Our streets!—is also popular this side of the Atlantic. The biggest difference was the police response.
In London a few police marched to our side and behind but did nothing to try to stop us or alter our route. We used sound equipment on the streets and at our destination, where we shouted our messages to the targeted bank. We cut through intersections at will. A few of the slower protesters fell so far behind that they trailed the handful of police trailing us. They walked in the traffic that crawled behind the march, completely isolated, and still the police did nothing. In fact, the entire time the police never pushed anyone nor even attempted to make an arrest. They even helped stop traffic for us at times.
In New York anyone using sound equipment would be arrested. The police would be out in large numbers trying to prevent any unpermitted gathering on the street in the first place and if a march did make it onto the road they would immediately try to squash it, mostly by pushing and making arrests. Anyone isolated would be an easy target and almost certainly arrested.
I’ve seen protests in a fairly wide variety of places but I’ve never seen a local police force respond like the NYPD did to OWS. In most nations you do not need permission to protest, but in the U.S. and England you do. Even there though, whether in London or Philadelphia, I’ve never seen police go after protesters with anywhere near the amount of force and aggression the NYPD did.
So then, was the growth of OWS because of the NYPD or in spite of them?