More than a thousand protesters occupied several blocks of Broadway in Manhattan’s financial district for over eight hours today in an action called “Flood Wall Street,” protesting what organizers called “the role of corporate power in climate politics.” While the NYPD had been very restrained during the day — even when protesters surged against barricades at the entrance to Wall Street — after night fell, there were reports of pepper spray being used, and according to organizers, as many as 100 were arrested.
The day had begun with a 9am rally in Battery Park, at the lower tip of Manhattan, where speakers warmed up the crowd and organizers coached participants in the plan. Hundreds of people drank coffee, made last minute adjustments on banners, and did interviews with the milling press corps, who numbered nearly a hundred.
Participants practiced the gestures for “surge,” meaning that the crowd should “flow forward like water,” and “sit,” to occupy the space. Three groups were established, with the last one comprising those who did not wish to risk arrest. Then, shortly before noon, they headed north out of the park and out onto traffic on Broadway.
They ran into trouble almost immediately. There were two 15-foot silver-and-black mylar balloons, dubbed “Carbon Bubbles,” that the group was carrying, threading them among the busses and trucks at the intersection of Battery Place and Broadway. In an unintentional but ironic twist, one bubble was punctured by the anti-pigeon spikes on an ornamental lamp on the wall of the Citibank at One Broadway.
Traffic was brought to a stop as the group made its way nearly as far north as Morris street, just past the famous statue of the Wall Street Bull. It was unclear whether they were unable to progress further due to the traffic or the NYPD, but the group made a 150-degree turn down Whiehall Street which meets Broadway at that point forming the narrow triangular island where the Bull stands.
And that’s as far as things went for five hours. The NYPD had already deployed steel railings on both sides of the street, and now closed off both ends of Broadway, flushed out the remaining vehicles, and settled in to let the protesters have the space. Occasionally, police would take responsive action — chasing a group of indigenous protesters down from a window, or deflating the second “Carbon Bubble” when the group tried to bounce it onto the Bull. But for the most part, they hung back behind their perimeter fencing, watched, and waited. The strategy paid off: as the clock ticked through the afternoon, protesters visibly drifted away.
Before the closing bell, this reporter headed up to Wall Street. Security had been established at each of the entrances, with steel fencing augmenting the existing bollards and anti-vehicle devices. It was striking to see business as usual, with brokers exiting the white security tent set up as a checkpoint in front of the stock exchange as if nothing were happening a few blocks away.
Then, just before 4pm, the protesters, numbering in the hundreds now, surged up Broadway toward the entrance to Wall Street, where they were stopped and pushed back as police expanded the perimeter fencing to create a twenty-foot semicircle around the intersection. The protesters sat down, the police expanded the frozen zone several blocks north, and things seemed headed for another stalemate, which is when this reporter left. Subsequent reports on Twitter and in New York media indicated that an hour or so later, police arrested those still in the street.