By the time the news vans arrived in force, the morning sunlight had already caressed the corners of Zuccotti Park. They were too late. The space had been, for nearly 2 months, the foremost base of operations for Occupy Wall Street, the movement formed to shine light on the dark crevices of injustice inhabited by moneyed interests within the American political system. But now it was gone, barricaded on all sides and replaced by a barren expanse of concrete as it once was, before members of the movement built it into a modern-day Hooverville complete with a kitchen, lending library, media center and more.
There was no evidence any of it had ever happened, save for perhaps the police presence and crowds of angry demonstrators closing in on all sides. But more importantly, there was little to no evidence of how it all disappeared. At around 1 AM that morning, NYPD riot squads, under orders from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, advanced on the tent city and evicted its occupants, throwing tents, clothes, books, computers and other possessions indiscriminately onto large trash heaps sitting aside sanitation trucks.
Livestreams and twitter feeds lit up to broadcast equal parts signal and noise emanating from the dramatic event. But for the few regular media figures on the scene, those with more resources and credentials than your typical cameraphone-wielding protester, the night yielded little more than one recurring fact: The NYPD was not allowing press to observe the eviction.
As riot squads closed in on several hundred Occupier hold-outs, the majority of the press were being denied entry to Zuccotti Park, subjected in many cases to roughhousing and arrest by police forces. A CBS news chopper which landed to refuel was being ordered to remain grounded by the NYPD. And the few press who remained to hunt for truth in the darkness of Liberty Plaza were being limited to a suspiciously Orwellian-sounding "press area" that didn't offer a clear view of the action. Nearby, City Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez was assaulted and arrested by police.
A choice few courageous journalists like Mother Jones' Josh Harkinson managed to make their way into the park proper to get a more realistic account of how police were handling the eviction. Like many things done under cover of night and with few or no media reporters around, a lot of it was not pretty. And throughout all of it, #OWS and #OccupyWallStreet were still not (and in all likelihood, never will be) trending on Twitter.
The night gave way to a gray and unseasonably humid morning as protesters regrouped and slowly encircled the now clean-sweeped concrete square. We arrived on the scene, meeting up with Motherboard compatriot Erin Lee Carr to the immediate realization that a long standoff was underway. A city judge had issued an injunction that allowed Occupiers back into the park. But the police remained entrenched, standing with stoic gaze as processionals of role-reversed protesters encircled the "copupied" park. As the afternoon went on, one, then two, then three helicopters appeared hovering just over the east edge of the partially-constructed Freedom Tower. Engines and rotor blades nearly drowned out the sound of drum circles, echoing off the sides of buildings as a light drizzle began.
A long line of news vans were parked along the square's east-bordering street. Demonstrators occasionally trotted by to hurl insults at the news crews for their lack of coverage earlier that morning, when police action was at its highest. But mostly, everyone was wondering why police weren't moving from the square. A reporter from Fox News showed us a message on his Blackberry from the Mayor's office revealing that the earlier injunction was currently being contested. The fate of Zuccotti Park — the version of it that Occupy Wall Street had built — was going to be decided tonight.
While waiting, many reporters and curious protesters found Rey Lewis, a retired police captain from Philadelphia, huddled up against the barricades holding a sign and done up in police blues. The escalation that had just occurred, and that which was to come, was old hat to him. "Police are more trained to use force, not negotiation," he said, citing the 1985 'MOVE' incident where Philadelphia police, attempting to neutralize an armed standoff, dropped a helicopter bomb that burned down 60 nearby homes. While not quite as dramatic, Bloomberg and the NYPD's own 'smoke 'em out of their hole' tactics are proving to be as incendiary as they are invaluable to the continued momentum of the very movement they hope to crush.
By nightfall, the verdict was in: Protesters could return to the park, 24/7, under the condition that they do not sleep, lie down or bring in any tents, sleeping bags or other structures. Zuccotti's floor lighting was turned back on, for the first time since the Occupation began, offering the park's trees an Elysian yellow glow as protesters began to slowly funnel back in. The evening's General Assembly did its best to lift everyone's spirits despite all that had been lost.
But with its rebirth, OWS is left picking up a lot of pieces. The homestead they had built is likely gone forever, but its estranged and reinvigorated population needn't come out from the wreckage unscathed. Escalation, after all, is a game that both sides seem equally intent on playing. Right, El Bloombito?