The helicopters wake me, Dopplering low over the tenement roofs. Sleepily I think: Can they be trying to evict Occupy Wall Street? Then I think, No, I signed up to be on the emergency call list. I would have gotten a text. My cell, on the dresser, would have lit up and beeped.
At about 4:30 a.m. I get out of bed and go to the south-facing window with the best view. This window used to frame the World Trade Center towers. Now, in the brightening sky, hover three police helicopters. They form a triangle, a new constellation over Liberty Square.
The only light in my office glows from my laptop screen. I believe and can’t believe the bullet points that materialize on OccupyWallSt.org: 1:20 a.m. Police are in riot gear. 1:20 a.m. Occupiers chanting, “This is what a police state looks like.” 1:20 a.m. Brooklyn Bridge is closed. 1:20 a.m. Subway stops are closed. 1:27 a.m. Unconfirmed reports that police are planning to sweep everyone. 1:38 a.m. Unconfirmed reports of snipers on rooftops. 1:43 a.m. Helicopters overhead. 2:03 a.m. Massive police presence at Canal and Broadway. 2:07 a.m. Pepper spray deployed. 2:10 a.m. Press barred from entering Liberty Square. 2:29 a.m. Press helicopters evicted from airspace. NYTimes reporter arrested. 2:32 a.m. All subways but R shut down. 2:42 a.m. Brooklyn Bridge confirmed closed. 2:44 a.m. NYPD destroys OWS Library. 5,000 donated books in dumpster. 2:44 a.m. Defiant Occupiers barricade Liberty Square kitchen. 2:55 a.m. NYC council member Ydanis Rodriquez arrested and bleeding from head. 3:05 a.m. NYPD cutting down trees in Liberty Square. 3:13 a.m. NYPD deploys sound cannon. 3:15 a.m. NYPD destroying personal items. 3:16 a.m. Occupiers linking arms around riot police. 3:33 a.m. Bulldozers moving in. 3:36 a.m. Kitchen tent reported tear-gassed. Police moving in with zip cuffs.
After that last entry about the zip cuffs, the bullet points end. Chuck, awakened by the helicopters too, wanders through to the kitchen for some coffee. Today is his birthday. Instead of telling him happy birthday, I give him the news. Peering at my screen, he says, “When do we start calling it fascism?”
On the live stream is a grainy image of Zuccotti Park. Men in red-orange reflective vests slowly move around with brooms and hoses. Wet granite glistens in the Klieg lights. A uniformed officer passes in the front of the camera. The action freezes, then starts again.
Dawn glows pink at the top of my screen. Pale government office buildings are a background blur. The Occupiers who have marched north to Foley Square stand around in small groups or sit or stretch out on their sleeping bags and backpacks. Some smoke cigarettes.
The camera turns on a young woman who says, phrase by phrase, through the People’s Mic: “Zuccotti’s just a place. We occupy everywhere, in our hearts and in our minds. They can’t evict us from there!”
A man with close-shaved hair, his features pixilated by the live grainy feed, holds up an American flag. Through the human mic he says that he just came from Zuccotti Park. Everything there was taken or destroyed—everything except for the flag. The police said the flagpole was a spear and tried to stop him from taking it. His voice amplified by passion, then by the echoing human wave, he proclaims, “I carried it out and I’m going to carry it back in!”
I kiss my daughter good-bye on her way out the door to school, then glance again at the live feed. There’s an aerial shot of a crowd. Dots of color on a dark asphalt field move slowly down the street. They’re marching behind the U.S. flag. Finally, I begin to weep.
When I emerge from the A Train at Canal, the triad of helicopters hovers directly above the vacant lot at the mouth of the Holland Tunnel. Some of the evicted Occupiers perch on top of the fence that surrounds the lot. The fence is draped with yellow-and-black Occupy Wall Street banners. Two open-sided tents, also printed in graphically striking yellow and black, have been set up nearby.
John, my pastor’s husband, waves me over. With him is a woman I know from the People’s Kitchen. She’s one of the Occupiers I’ve been worrying about—especially after hearing news of the batons and the protesters who chained themselves together near the kitchen and were forcibly removed from the park. She was part of a “soft chain,” she tells me, linking arms with the others. “Are you okay?” I ask. “My back hurts,” she says. An officer picked her up, then dropped her on the sidewalk. “I only weigh a hundred pounds,” she adds. When we met, she told me that she was waiting for a heart transplant. Remembering this, I glance at the scar inching above her collar, where she already has been cut open.
People peer down at us from high-rise windows. Some take pictures. Glare bounces off the glass.
Occupy medics, wearing armbands and carrying bags with artfully spray-painted red crosses, take up a collection for supplies—all of which were destroyed in the raid. “Anyone who needs medical attention, come to the tent,” one of them says, through the People’s Mic.
One by one, members of an interfaith coalition—clerics in white collars, a rabbi in his prayer shawl, a Buddhist with a shaved head and gray robes—speak in support of Occupy. I pin on my church consistory badge and stand to the side and slightly behind them. I am a church elder and want to strategically swell the ranks for the sake of the TV news cameras aimed our way. Among the television journalists I will talk to later this day are a woman from the Mandarin-language station SinoVision and a man-and-woman team from Brazil.
The protesters sitting on top of the fence disappear into the lot. Others hoist over the yellow-and-black tents. The plan is to occupy the lot, which is owned by Trinity Church. Because of the colorful mesh netting and silver spangles that decorate the fence, the protesters on the other side become shadows in motion.
Soon they’ve cut the fence, opened a door in the chain links. Those of us unable or unwilling to scale the fence now file through. The ground is covered with gravel: softer to sleep on, I think, than Zuccotti Park’s granite. The woman I’ve walked in with, a poet who chooses to be a tax accountant because she has no stomach for academia, tells me that the site will be hard for people with asthma. Why? I ask. Because of the Holland Tunnel. The air quality, the exhaust.
Police amass outside the fence. Their Plexiglas masks glint in the morning light. I go out the way I came in, then join the crowd encircling the lot. A chant goes up: “There’s no riot here, take off the riot gear!”
The Occupiers who’ve remained inside are carried or walked into the waiting paddy wagon. The wagon looks like and may in fact be a yellow school bus painted white.
People start walking east. Which way back to Liberty Square? I ask. Just follow everyone else, I’m told.
We file onto Broadway. I seem to be marching directly in front of the big green Statue of Liberty puppet. In one hand the statue holds her torch; the other is raised in a peace sign. “Sorry,” says a puppeteer after she accidentally collides with me, the puppet’s painted mesh a soft padding between us.
From a second-story window above a Capital One Bank branch, a man in a tie and button-down shirt waves and hoots approval. The Occupiers wave and call back to him. He starts to climb out the window, as if to jump down us, then instead does an antic window-ledge dance before climbing back in.
Crowds on the sidewalks watch us pass. “Join us! I say. The Occupiers around me start chanting, “Join us! Join us!” Have I unintentionally set the People’s Mic in motion?
When the yellow locusts of Zuccotti Park come into view, the marchers in front fall into a break dance. All I glimpse of the dance are flashes of their bobbing, dipping bodies. Another chant rises: “Home sweet home! Home sweet home!”
We’re stalled in the crosswalk, blocked by helmeted police. A hearing about the legality of the eviction is now underway. Some marchers wave copies of the temporary restraining order that technically allows them back into the park.
I leave for home to cook a birthday dinner for Chuck and to help Gracie with her homework. We watch Cupcake Wars together, then light and blow out the birthday candles. By the time I click on the live stream, Liberty Square is occupied once again. Stripes of light glow in the stone ground. By the cameraman’s estimate, 1,500 to 2,500 people fill the park. More than he’s ever seen at Zuccotti.
The General Assembly begins.