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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | Continuing their unflagging effort to win access to Trinity Real Estate’s vacant lot at Canal St. and Sixth Ave. as the home for their new encampment, Occupy Wall Streeters met with members of Community Board 2 and local residents Tuesday night.
An invitation billed the event as an “O.W.S. Holiday Party” but, in fact, it was more of a pitch by O.W.S. members — including a full PowerPoint presentation of what the Trinity lot could look like once “occupied.”
The young occupiers said they had learned lots of lessons during their initial encampment at Zuccotti Park, located in the Financial District, which is in Community Board 1, so that a new encampment at Duarte Square, at Canal St. and Sixth Ave., would be much improved. Hence, their dubbing the initiative “Liberty Square 2.0.” (Liberty Square was the original name of Zuccotti Park, plus is more evocative of the spirit of O.W.S.)
O.W.S. members also announced that they’re planning to hold a “really exciting party” at Duarte Square on Sat., Dec. 17, “a big, three-month birthday party” for the movement. The plan is to have art, music, maybe even a full concert, starting at noon — that is, provided the police allow it to occur.
The Police Department’s Deputy Commissioner for Public Information did not respond to a request for comment by press time as to how police will respond to this planned big event. One O.W.S. member at the meeting said, if police cordon off the square and prevent the event from happening there, the protesters will still try to hold it the same day, but in other nearby parks.
Tuesday evening’s meeting — which was not a formally calendared C.B. 2 meeting — was held in the Church of the Ascension Parish Hall, at 12 W. 11th St.
The two main O.W.S. presenters were Laura Gottesdiener and Amin Husain. Joining them were about 10 to 15 other occupiers. One of them, showing the creativity of Occupy, flitted around the room, deftly festooning attendees with intricate, multicolored balloon bracelets, rings and hats.
About 25 to 30 local residents attended, along with a handful of C.B. 2 members, including Brad Hoylman and Bob Gormley, the board’s chairperson and district manger, respectively.
Husain said that having lost their home base at Zuccotti on Nov. 15, when police evicted them, they need a new outdoor space as a creative cauldron for their movement.
“It’s the pulse,” he said of what the coveted outdoor space would mean to them. “It’s important that we have a physical manifestation of it.
“We wouldn’t be using this primarily as a place to sleep,” Husain added. “This is about giving us a place where we can talk to the world. What we’re hoping for is an environment there where Community Board 2 helps us reach to the world.”
If O.W.S. gets the space and feels confident they don’t have to defend themselves from being evicted, then, “We don’t have to have anybody sleep in there,” he explained.
However, Gottesdiener later added that they would still want 24-hour access to the space. She also said O.W.S. only wants the space “for a minimum amount of time.”
Yet she also said, “We’re not taking sleeping off the table — it’s something we’re talking about internally.”
Another option could be for people to take “three-day shifts” at the encampment, she said, which would make the space “more communal” with less of a possessive feeling by individuals who are camping there.
She also offered that if it was felt that a big O.W.S. rally would somehow be dangerous or block traffic to the nearby Holland Tunnel, then they’d just move the rally elsewhere.
Of course, it’s all moot unless Trinity decides to reverse its position and let O.W.S. into the space. The lot is currently surrounded by a fence and leased to the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council for an ongoing, seasonal, public-art show called “LentSpace,” which is currently on hiatus
Minister Michael Ellick, from Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square South, said trying to dialogue with Trinity has been a challenge. In fact, he said, after O.W.S.’s eviction from Zuccotti Park, followed by their failed initial effort to occupy Trinity’s “LentSpace” that same day, Trinity has “cut off communication” with Occupy
Faith NYC, the group of faith leaders headed by Ellick.
Ellick said Occupy Faith NYC enlisted the help of the Episcopal Church’s leadership to reach out to Trinity, but to no avail.
“Eventually, they stopped talking to their own bishops,” he said. “They closed down more and more.”
Meanwhile, he said, the idea of a religiously based group like Trinity giving the lot to O.W.S. for an encampment is, well, a no-brainer.
“It’s a very easy argument to make that they should give them that space,” he said.
On a personal note, the cleric said he came to Greenwich Village four years ago because he was inspired by its rich history of progressivism and creativity and especially by his personal “hero,” former Judson Minister Howard Moody, a crusader for civil rights. Yet, Ellick said, he didn’t see that spirit really bloom until Occupy Wall Street took root in the Village’s “back yard,” in Zuccotti Park.
“This is why I became a pastor,” he said of the “99 percent” movement. “This is why I did this.”
Gottesdiener added that O.W.S. members, too, have tried to have a sit-down with Trinity Church’s rector, Jim Cooper, also without success.
She said the only response from Trinity has been that “They have had statements written by their P.R. firm, which is a very powerful P.R. firm.”
C.B. 2 member Sean Sweeney indignantly said that Trinity Church has a lot of nerve to refuse O.W.S., especially considering that Trinity got its copious real estate given to it for free by the English crown back in the colonial days.
Sweeney pointedly noted that Trinity will be seeking C.B. 2’s approval for a residential rezoning for the currently manufacturing-zoned Hudson Square neighborhood — which includes the vacant “LentSpace” site, where Trinity hopes to build a new residential tower. Sweeney inferred that the community board’s review of the rezoning should be used as a leverage to get Trinity to let O.W.S. use the currently empty lot.
“That was the idea of this meeting,” Hoylman replied, regarding ways that the board could assist O.W.S.
Afterward, Husain noted that performance artist Laurie Anderson and rocker Lou Reed, who live nearby, have been especially helpful in the recent effort to gain the Trinity lot. The power art couple sent a letter with 500 petition signatures to L.M.C.C., of which Anderson is a board member, asking them to support the use of the space by O.W.S. They also sent a letter with 1,000 signatures to Trinity.
Husain said if Trinity comes around to supporting them, it will be a tremendous boost for the Occupy movement.
“In the major cities, no one is allowing occupation,” he said. “So now we’re turning to churches for sanctuary. It could be the best opportunity,” he said, noting that churches’ humane values resonate with those of Occupy Wall Street.
Amin was one of about 20 individuals arrested on Nov. 15 when O.W.S. tried to occupy the Trinity lot. Several journalists were also arrested in that incident after entering the privately owned lot.
Meanwhile, Gottesdiener said, they’ve been doing outreach to residents and small businesses around Hudson Square and are getting a great response.
“Our goal is to talk to every resident and small business,” she said. “We’ve been blown away by the reception so far.”
She said some small galleries on Grand St. near Cafe Noir said they’re all for Occupy coming in to the Trinity space. The protesters also plan to distribute “We Support Occupy Wall Street” signs to local businesses for display in their store windows.
O.W.S. showed it can work with local community boards, she added, recalling how Occupy, with the help of Community Board 1, was able to cut down its drum circles from 24 hours a day to four hours.
Trinity, however, in a statement issued on Dec. 9, said it’s sticking to its position — that its Canal St. lot is not appropriate for an occupation, but that Trinity will continue to help O.W.S. in other ways.
In the statement, Rector Cooper said, “From time to time people of goodwill may disagree. We disagree with those who argue that Trinity should — indeed, must as a matter of conscience — allow Occupy Wall Street to liberate its Duarte Square lot at Avenue of the Americas and Canal St. for an open encampment and large-scale assemblies. In all good conscience and faith, we strongly believe to do so would be wrong, unsafe, unhealthy and potentially injurious.
“Trinity has probably done as much or more for the protestors than any other institution in the area,” Cooper continued. “We have provided O.W.S. with meeting rooms and offices for them to assemble, plan and hold private discussions. We have provided pastoral services. We have provided a place of refuge and tranquility at our neighborhood center during open hours where they can rest, use computers, charge cell phones and use bathrooms. Hundreds avail themselves of these facilities and services every day. It is one simple reflection of Trinity’s inherent concern for our community and for social and economic justice, which has been at the heart of the church’s mission for more than 300 years.
“We want to be responsive, while also being responsible, to our residential and business neighbors, partners, visitors and tenants — our entire community,” Cooper went on. “There are no facilities at the Canal St. lot. Demanding access and vandalizing the property by a determined few O.W.S. protesters won’t alter the fact that there are no basic elements to sustain an encampment. The health, safety and security problems posed by an encampment here, compounded by winter weather, would dwarf those experienced at Zuccotti Park.
“Calling this an issue of ‘political sanctuary’ is manipulative and blind to reality,” the rector stated. “Equating the desire to seize this property with uprisings against tyranny is misguided, at best. Hyperbolic distortion drives up petition signatures, but doesn’t make it right. Those arrested [on Nov. 15 at Duarte Square] were not seeking sanctuary; they were seeking to be arrested. Trinity will continue our responsible outreach and pastoral services for all. We appreciate the many expressions of support we have received from so many in the community.”