Friday, March 23, 2012
Union Square is Special
I'm away right now and will be back home next week...that can be relaxing but also anxiety producing, when, the news from home ain't good. For some nights the NYPD has been rousting a fledgling encampment from Union Square. Each night the cops come up with a new harassment. First, they have to clean the park, then protest signs can't be too big, then your after shave has to be a certain hue.
The numbers grew progressively approaching 1000 or so on one night. Detractors said that OWS had piggy-backed on the event protesting the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. "That's why there was the big turn-out; OWS is riding that wave."
Let me tell you something about the protest economy of Union Square. Two nights after September 11th my wife and I, exhausted from being down at the Pile, and newly pressing chaplains into service through St. Paul's Chapel, stopped at Union Square. It was the only place in Manhattan with "the lights on." Literally. The place was lit by candles. Every conceivable group, person and clutch of friends had come to that plot of land. It was the international way station of hope. We were afraid of another attack yet we were receiving messages from around the world...they were hand written on the side of subway entrances, on mailboxes. "The Cortez Family from Barcelona loves you, New York City. We stand with you." It was also an unofficial clearing house for those lost in the Twin Towers. "Call xxxxxx if you've seen John xxxx. He's been missing since Tuesday. We've tried the hospitals. He may be dazed."
You go to Union Square to wear your heart on your sleeve. And so, it's not surprising that OWS began an impromptu take on a new home there. Union Square has the smell of home baked cookies for the struggling protest movement--or City/Nation in panic. It's this margin that demonstrations have historically received at Union Square which has not been recently recognized by the Bloomberg Administration. The Mayor discounted arrests at Liberty Park (Zuccotti) and Union Square as "to be expected--we always get a few complaints about brutality." Just another day at City Hall.
There was even a novel twist when the NYPD tried to spin the aftermath of another story to Occupy's detriment. A large demonstration was fielded from the Square in protest of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Naturally the two movements blended--Occupy and the outrage over Trayvon's murder. The latter was dubbed the "the hoody march" noting that if this teenager was dressed differently he'd be alive today.
Could the Trayvon Martin march really be calculated as an OWS march? Who cares?
OWS has the capacity to yield for conscience's prominent voice. Union Square has always shared space deferentially. This current culture is baffled by that but OWS sees it the future to be lived and shared: a yield to neighborliness. All voices are heard and a common speech is framed.