On Saturday afternoon, October 8, the Occupy Wall Street protesters marched from their encampment at Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square north to Washington Square Park to convene a General Assembly. As with the other days of late, the weather could not have been better for a public demonstration - clear, even warm, with no clouds in the sky. A few hundred people marched uptown to the park, surrounded by a hefty police presence. Many local supporters had come to the park to greet the marchers, joining the usual park crowd of book readers, musicians, and dog walkers. Several mounted police stationed themselves a block south of the park on W. 3rd, and many unformed offers flanked all the park entrances.
Neighbors of the Washington Square area awoke to the news on Saturday morning that Washington Square Park had been selected as a place for a second General Assembly, the deliberate process of announcements and decision-making that has come to characterize this movement. It wasn't clear, however, if the park would become a second and larger encampment, one that would surely test the park curfew rules late Saturday night.
Washington Square Park and the larger Greenwich Village made an appropriate setting for Occupy Wall Street's move to the north. With its history of radical politics and bohemian culture, though one largely dissipated in our era through high rent and gentrification, Greenwich Village can still rise to the occasion as a beacon for alternative thought. A hundred years ago, in the 1910s, the Village served as the home for progressive-minded intellectuals, poets, artists, and playwrights. In 1917 artists Marcel Duchamp and John Sloan, together with poet Gertrude Drick, illegally broke into the arch, climbed to the top, and proclaimed Greenwich Village to be an independent nation.
The Village was the home of the folk movement of the 1950s and 1960s, with its fusion of old ballads and contemporary protest. Fifty years ago, in April of 1961, when the city outlawed singing in the park as a subversive activity, folksingers and police clashed in Washington Square Park. The Village has long symbolized a place for the occasional and often miraculous rediscovery of democracy and the public space. This story goes back a long way. The Village is where the spirited American Revolutionary pamphleteer, Tom Paine, died. Paine had participated, too, in the French Revolution. Modeled after the 1806 Arc de Triomphe in Paris, the Washington Square Arch made a great backdrop for this current uprising, one that bears a hint of mai 68.
After the General Assembly concluded on Saturday afternoon, the participants marched back downtown to Zuccotti Park to the spot where they are making history. At the end of the long day on Saturday, the police made a sweep through Washington Square Park, enforcing the curfew. By Sunday morning, there were few remnants of what had occurred the day before, just the regular scene of a few homeless people and dozens of men and women out walking the dog. For this one Saturday, though, Washington Square Park was again an independent nation.
Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from October 8, 2011.
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