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By LINCOLN ANDERSON | Fortified by a coalition of religious leaders and veterans of the civil rights movement, Occupy Wall Street is continuing to fight to pitch its tents in a privately owned lot belonging to Trinity Real Estate at Canal St. and Sixth Ave.
Following the surprise, early-morning eviction by police of the O.W.S. tent city from Zuccotti Park in the early morning of Tues., Nov. 15, the occupiers and their supporters regrouped at Duarte Square later that morning and attempted to occupy the adjacent, fenced-in Trinity space. Police quickly moved in and made about 20 arrests, including of two journalists with Police Department-issued press credentials.
Not to be deterred, O.W.S. demonstrators were back at Duarte Square five days later this past Sunday evening, holding a candlelight vigil during which they appealed to Trinity to let them use the space for their new “home.” The Trinity space is ideal for them, they say, and they badly want it.
“We have a long-term strategy to take this space,” an O.W.S. member announced to the group. “We want that space. We’re gonna take that space. This is the future home of the occupation — or one of them.
“Does everyone know that this space is owned by Trinity Real Estate and Trinity Church — the largest landowner in New York City?” he asked.
On Nov. 15, O.W.S. members had used a bolt cutter to clip a human-sized hole in the lot’s chain-link fence. They succeeded in planting in the ground a few yellow structures with “Occupy” and “Liberate” written on them before police cleared the property.
“We’re strong enough and militant enough to take that space,” the speaker said, referring to that short-lived occupation. “We can cut the locks.”
This time, though, he said, they’re asking for permission to use the space rather than seizing it outright. Having occupiers arrested and detained saps the movement of its strength, he added later.
What’s your name? the speaker was asked by the crowd.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said.
They resolved not to camp out overnight at Duarte Square last Sunday evening — at least not on this night.
“At 11:15, we’ll leave the space together,” the man announced.Showing solidarity
Things had started off Sunday afternoon with the Elders joining a worship service down at Zuccotti Park. Occupiers then marched up to Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South while the Elders — who have scaled their marching back a bit since the ’60s — cabbed it up to the famously progressive church.
Michael Ellick, Judson’s minister, who organized Sunday’s worship service and has been the leader of Occupy Faith NYC, said 300 people packed the church and 100 more were gathered outside.
Billed as a “conversation,” the Elders shared their activist experience and wisdom with the young O.W.S. protesters.
One of the Elders noted that they weren’t passing the torch per se to the younger generation, but rather that “it’s a continuous flame.”
The Internet-enabled Occupy Wall Street movement has exploded rapidly and phenomenally, the Elders noted, comparing it to their movements which were grown slowly over years. They reassured the O.W.S. members that there would be rough weeks, but to hang in there.
A question-and-answer session with the audience followed during which more knowledge and encouragement were exchanged.
Police and poles
Next, the intergenerational activists flowed out into Washington Square Park, in preparation for a march down to Duarte Square. They carried small tents on long poles, the tents bearing slogans like, “Foreclose on banks not people” and “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
However, police said the poles were too long, posing a danger. After a “mic check,” the protesters reached a consensus to cut the poles to a shorter length, did so, and the march then continued down to Duarte Square.
At Duarte Square, they projected scenes of Occupy Wall Street across Sixth Ave. onto a wall of the James Hotel.
They plopped down small tents and sat in them and lit candles in the disused sliver of southbound Sixth Ave. between Grand and Canal Sts. that separates the city-owned Duarte Square park plaza from the privately owned Trinity lot.
The religious leaders and Elders appealed to Trinity’s directors to open their hearts and let Occupy use the space.
Speaking afterward, Ellick said that, in addition to Judson, Occupy Faith NYC includes the likes of Middle Collegiate Church in the East Village, the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village, Riverside Church on the Upper West Side and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem.
Judson shelters occupiers
After the Zuccotti Park eviction, up to 100 O.W.S. members slept overnight at Judson Church from Tues., Nov. 15, to Sat., Nov. 19. But Ellick said having to provide the necessary security was taxing on Judson, which is not a wealthy congregation. So the church’s board of directors decided that other Occupy Faith NYC houses of worship should share the load. As a result, the occupiers were no longer sleeping at Judson as of last Sunday night.
As for the movement’s new outdoor encampment — the essence of Occupy — Ellick said, “This is the space they want next,” referring to the Trinity space.
Following the O.W.S. attempted Nov. 15 occupation of the space, Trinity issued a statement saying that neither it, nor the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council — which runs the seasonal “LentSpace” sculpture garden in the lot — had given Occupy permission to use it for its new encampment.
“That’s why we’re asking them to change their mind,” Ellick said of Trinity. “Hey, you’ve got this space. It was going to be this community-action space until the building went up. Brad Hoylman supports it.”
Two years ago, Trinity announced it intended to use the lot for community-minded amenities until a new project is developed there. Trinity hopes to get a rezoning for Hudson Square that would allow it to construct a residential tower there with a public school in the bottom floors.O.W.S. in C.B. 2
Board 2 covers the area between 14th and Canal Sts. east of the Bowery/Fourth Ave. to the Hudson River.
‘Please, give it to us’
“We want Trinity to give it to us,” the O.W.S. speaker said later on of the Hudson Square lot. “We don’t want to have to defend it,” he said, referring to a Zuccotti-like occupation that would be at constant risk of eviction.
“This is what we want,” he said of the “LentSpace” space. “It’s close to the Financial District. It’s larger than Zuccotti. We need outdoor space for visibility,” he stressed of the Occupy movement. “This is a crucial intersection at Sixth and Canal.”
He said they’d put to use the lessons they learned from Zuccotti if they got the Trinity space.
For starters, there would be “only communal tents, no personal tents,” he stated, saying it would be safer.
“We could use the fact that it’s gated,” he added. “We could use a checkpoint system similar to Tahrir Square. This way it would be easier to remove people — as opposed to surrounding troublemakers and kicking them out” (the technique that was used at Zuccotti).
The O.W.S. member noted that the Bible is full of teachings about generosity and sharing, and that Trinity, as a religious-based group, should do the same.
“We are political refugees,” he said. “We’re seeking political asylum. And we need a space as an organizing hub. We’re going to create ideas that will create the future.”Mini-tents are coming
Wearing a blue knit cap and sporting a thin black beard, the organizer had a commanding voice and was clearly a natural leader in the purportedly leaderless movement. He said he was a member of the O.W.S. Direct Action Working Group, which coordinates civil disobedience, marches, events and the taking of spaces.
Pointing to the brainpower behind O.W.S., he said he’d spent a year at Columbia studying economics and philosophy, then went on to University of California Berkeley, where he studied education, city and regional planning and sociology. He didn’t want to say more about himself than that.
Trinity sticks to statement
For its part, Trinity this week said it was sticking to its statement that it issued following the brief Nov. 15 morning occupation of the “LentSpace” lot.
For one, Trinity doesn’t feel the site is safe for this type of use, since it’s a block away from the Holland Tunnel’s entrance.
“It’s not appropriate, and it’s potentially unsafe for large assemblies,” a Trinity public-relations representative said. “O.W.S. does not have permission to enter the enclosed, private part of Duarte Square. It has no facilities. It’s hardly a place to have large rallies.”
Furthermore, although Trinity has stated its desire to have community-friendly uses on the site until it’s developed, the lot — like Hudson Square itself — is technically zoned for manufacturing, not community use, Trinity noted.
Trinity is continuing to make some of its indoor space available to O.W.S. during the day, though not for sleeping at night.
Asked if Trinity might have an alternative outdoor space for an O.W.S. encampment, the representative referred back to Trinity’s original statement that said Trinity had not given permission for O.W.S. to use the Duarte Square lot.
Attorney questions arrests
Norman Siegel, the well-known civil-rights attorney, has questioned whether the 20 arrests on Nov. 15 at the “LentSpace” lot were legal, asking whether Trinity had, in fact, requested that police bust the protesters — as well as journalists — for trespassing. If Trinity didn’t green-light the police action, then the arrests weren’t legal, Siegel maintained. Trinity referred questions to the Police Department.
In response, police said, “Trinity informed the police that [the protesters] were on [their] property and [they] were arrested after they were given multiple warnings to leave the area.”
However, Siegel further charged that, according to the Police Department’s Patrol Guide Procedure 212-49, Trinity would had to have given a special order for the journalists, specifically, to be arrested. Siegel said that particular section of the Patrol Guide states: “When incidents spill over or occur on private property, members of the media will not be arrested for criminal trespass, unless an owner or representative expressly indicates that the press is not to be permitted to enter or remain on the property.”
However, police said, when officers announce that everyone must leave a piece of private property or face arrest, it applies to everyone.