It started on Tuesday evening when a hundred protesters began occupying City Hall Park in Lower Manhattan – with some staying overnight – in an effort to draw more attention to their demand for deep budget cuts in the department of police.
In a few days, a movement took root. What started on a lawn and a few square feet has now taken over most of the park and has drawn attention to social media, with “Occupy City Hall” as the group’s rallying cry. Volunteers gathered in the park, dropping off food, coffee and supplies to build a sort of campground.
So far, police have not stopped the rally, which was inspired by the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests at Zuccotti Park in the lower Manhattan financial district. But disagreements broke out between protesters and the police over the use of umbrellas, tents and bicycles.
The town hall camp, which was originally run by Vocal-NY, a local organization, is the latest addition to the wave of protests in New York after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in late May.
Jawanza James Williams, organization director for Vocal-NY, conceptualized the occupation as a way to pressure the city to cut its police budget by at least $ 1 billion, a sum that the group asked to transfer to other resources, including education and social services. services.
The protesters, part of a movement to fund the police, focus on the July 1 deadline for the city’s budget.
Corey Johnson, chairman of the city council, which has to approve the budget, called for a reduction of $ 1 billion from the $ 6 billion the city spends on police service, but Mayor Bill de Blasio did not approve such reduction.
“We can’t leave anything to chance,” said Williams, who calls “Occupy City Hall” a “popular bazaar for liberation.”
In no time, the organizers, largely black and queer, transformed the place. The hand-drawn art covers all semblance of government infrastructure: metro entrances, metal barricades and kiosks – a stark contrast to the municipal limestone building across the street.
A sophisticated network has been created to make the space habitable. The organizers built a library, a community garden and even a hut for tea lovers. They collected donations of prepared meals, water, hand sanitizer, blankets, vitamins and cigarettes. And they formed sophisticated teams for security, sanitation and food distribution.
The orange armbands distinguish the de-escalation team from the doctors, who wear an emblem of the red cross in electrical tape. On Saturday, the organizers had installed an Internet service and set up a laundry program.
As the movement grows, tensions over strategy have emerged, particularly over whether Vocal-NY demands sufficiently deep budget cuts.
Some supporters of the police dismemberment movement expressed unease at the number of young white people participating in the rally, as well as a sometimes optimistic atmosphere.
The organizers responded that the movement’s ability to accommodate a wide range of opinions was a sign of success.
The coronavirus threat also hangs over the rally. During rush hour, it is impossible for protesters to distance themselves socially. Thousands are side by side in the square as the occupation extends further south. At night, the demonstrators always gather on the lawn, sleeping with masks. Others unroll their sleeping bags and tarpaulins further when it is time to call them overnight.
The camp is managed by a combination of veteran organizers and volunteers for the first time.
Sierra Nicole, 23, of West Harlem, didn’t think she would end up supervising the reception desk when she arrived Thursday afternoon. The first day, Ms. Nicole had gone directly to this office to obtain more information, but when she noticed a volunteer who seemed tired, she offered to take her place. He accepted.
A few hours later, a protester approached Ms. Nicole who wanted to volunteer. The next available slot was in eight hours, at 3 am, but the protester, a woman, did not seem to care. Ms. Nicole entered it.
Many volunteers work around the clock. Friday at 4:00 am Gregory Lecrocq, 31, of the Upper East Side, began his shift at the food station, preparing sandwiches for the early risers. Since volunteering, he sleeps from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. At 4 p.m., he is usually back at the event.
Occupy has also become a meeting point for other walks. Protesters from Upper Manhattan and Brooklyn stopped to show their support and to buy food and water.
Some protesters have said they plan to stay in the square beyond the budget deadline until their demands for systemic change are met. Mr. Williams said he was not opposed to people staying longer.
Either way, Vocal-NY members said they were optimistic that they had organized a movement that could continue over the long term, said Jasmine Budnella, 34, the group’s drug policy coordinator.
However, as the week progressed, the organizers said they had sought to set the right tone. Although showing joy is an important form of resistance, said Williams, the group doesn’t want people to forget why they got together. Sometimes the occupation can look like a festival. But these moments are often followed by a speaker emphasizing the need to remain vigilant and vigilant.
“We are here because black people are dying on the street,” said one speaker Thursday evening. “We are not here to socialize, we are here for real problems.”
Many protesters said they had committed to sleeping outside every night until the end of the month, noting that they had everything they needed to survive: food, water, clothes, a place to take a shower and toilet.
Others said they would try to show up every other night. Those who did not want to sleep outside said that they would volunteer from sunrise to sunset.
Organizers said the movement’s philosophy is centered on anti-consumption, inclusiveness and camaraderie. Everything is free and the protesters are constantly on the lookout for each other. Making the camp a safe space for vulnerable communities has also been a top priority, they said.
On Thursday evening, Moji Armu and his two children – aged 6 and 9 – came across the demonstration on their way home.
Ms. Armu said that she had thought about bringing her children to protests in the past, but that they were afraid to do so after seeing images of demonstrators bumping into the police on television. Her children noticed an art station at the Occupy rally on Thursday and ran to the paint tube set.
A little later, she said that her 6-year-old son had stopped in perplexity. He did not realize that what he had seen – artistic creation, dance – could be considered a protest.
He asked his mother if he had just attended his first demonstration. She smiled and said, “You certainly did.”