Occupy protesters 'emboldened' by park cleanup delay

The decision to postpone a planned cleanup of a New York private park occupied by Wall Street protesters has "emboldened the movement," organizers said Friday..
Occupy Wall Street protesters partake in a celebratory march on Friday after learning that they would not be evicted from New York City's Zuccotti Park temporarily for cleaning. (Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters)

The decision to postpone a planned cleanup of a New York private park occupied by Wall Street protesters has "emboldened the movement," organizers said Friday.

In an emailed statement, Brookfield Properties said Friday that it had deferred cleaning the park for a short period while it negotiates with protesters.

"At the request of a number of local political leaders, Brookfield Properties has deferred the cleaning of Zuccotti Park for a short period of time while an attempt is made to reach a resolution regarding the manner in which Zuccotti Park is being used by the protesters," the company said.

But New York organizers said in a statement that the postponement "has emboldened the movement and sent a clear message that the power of the people has prevailed against Wall Street."

 New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the planned cleanup was postponed after the park's owners received threatening calls from the city's elected public officials.

Speaking on his weekly radio commentary on New York's WOR Radio, Bloomberg said he didn't know who made the threats, CNN reported.

"Late last night, we received notice from the owners of Zuccotti Park — Brookfield Properties — that they are postponing their scheduled cleaning of the park, and for the time being withdrawing their request from earlier in the week for police assistance during their cleaning operation," NYC Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway said in a statement issued before Bloomberg's comments.

The company believes it can make arrangements with the protesters to "ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use," Holloway's statement said.

Hundreds of protesters had vowed not to leave the small park in Lower Manhattan at the 7 a.m. ET Friday deadline.

Arrests in Denver

Dozens of police in riot gear have herded Wall Street protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol grounds, arresting about two dozen and dismantling their encampment.

Most retreated without resisting. Some chanted "Peaceful!" or "Shameful!" as police moved in early Friday.

The protesters have been camped at the Capitol for about three weeks in support of the national Occupy Wall Street movement.

Officers dragged some from the camp and led others by the arm. Police carried stragglers to small groundskeeper tractors and drove them away.

Authorities began taking down dozens of tents at about 3:30 a.m.

At about 6:30 a.m., officers advanced on a line of protesters who had locked arms around the remaining tents. Officers held their batons horizontally and nudged or pushed the protesters to break up the human chain.

—The Associated Press

The protesters had said the plan to clean the park was an excuse to shut them down. In a bid to address the rationale for clearing the park, the protesters worked feverishly overnight Thursday to clean the park themselves.

"It shows when people work together, you really can make a difference and make justice happen,"  jubilant protester Nick Glottal, 23, said following the deputy mayor's announcement.

CBC's David Common reported from New York City that the postponement helped the city and Brookfield avert the spectacle of police moving against the protesters.

"That's why we've seen this postponement," Common said. "It is just that. At some point, these protesters will again be asked to leave. But, at this point, that day is not today."

Some arrests were reported when several hundred protesters left the park and marched toward the city's financial district.

The demand that protesters clear out set up a turning point in a movement that began Sept. 17 with a small group of activists and has swelled to include several thousand people at times, from many walks of life. Occupy Wall Street has inspired similar demonstrations across America, is spreading to Canada and Britain, and become an issue in the Republican presidential primary race.

The protesters' demands are amorphous, but they are united in blaming Wall Street and corporate interests for the economic pain they say all but the wealthiest Americans have endured since the financial meltdown. 

Scramble of activity

There was a scramble of activity in the park Thursday afternoon and into the night. Hundreds of demonstrators scrubbed benches and mopped the park's stone flooring in an attempt to get Brookfield to abandon its cleanup plan.

Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrate by marching to city hall in New York after learning that they will not be evicted from Zuccotti Park. ((Jessica Rinaldi/Reuters) )

Members of the protesters' sanitation working group passed out bins for people to organize their belongings.

Protesters would have been allowed to return after the cleaning, which was expected to take 12 hours, but Brookfield said it plans to start enforcing regulations that have been ignored. That means no more tarps, no more sleeping bags, no more storing personal property on the ground — in other words, no more camping out for the Occupy Wall Street protesters, who have been living at Zuccotti Park for weeks. The park is privately owned but is required to be open to the public 24 hours per day.

"They're going to use the cleanup to get us out of here," said Justin Wedes, a 25-year-old part-time public high school science teacher from Brooklyn who was one of about 400 people in the park Thursday night. "It's a de facto eviction notice."

A spokesman for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose girlfriend is a member of Brookfield's board of directors, said Brookfield requested the city's assistance in maintaining the park. "We will continue to defend and guarantee their free speech rights, but those rights do not include the ability to infringe on the rights of others," Bloomberg spokesman Marc La Vorgna said, "which is why the rules governing the park will be enforced."


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Protesters said the only way they will leave is by force. Organizers sent out a mass email asking supporters to "defend the occupation from eviction."

"We are doubling up on our determination to stay here as a result of this," Sophie Mascia, 26, a Queens resident who has been living in Zuccotti Park for three weeks, said before the postponement was announced. "I think this is only going to strengthen our movement."

Protesters have had some run-ins with police, but mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and an incident in which some protesters were pepper-sprayed by police seemed to energize their movement.

Bill de Blasio, the city's public advocate, expressed concern over the city's actions as he inspected the park Thursday afternoon and listened to protesters' complaints.

"This has been a very peaceful movement by the people," he said. "I'm concerned about this new set of policies. At the very least, the city should slow down."

Attorneys from the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild — who are representing an Occupy Wall Street sanitation working group —  wrote a letter to Brookfield saying the company's request to get police to help implement its cleanup plan threatens "fundamental constitutional rights."

"There is no basis in the law for your request for police intervention, nor have you cited any," the attorneys wrote in a letter Thursday to Brookfield CEO Richard B. Clark. "Such police action without a prior court order would be unconstitutional and unlawful."

The attorneys said the sanitation working group has "committed itself to carrying out a thorough and complete cleaning" and to negotiate with the park's owner in good faith.

The protest has led sympathetic groups in other cities to stage their own local rallies and demonstrations: Occupy Boston, Occupy Cincinnati, Occupy Houston, Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Philadelphia, Occupy Providence, Occupy Salt Lake and Occupy Seattle, among them.

In Denver, police moved early Friday to push protesters from a park near the state Capitol. Officers placed plastic handcuffs on protesters and took down tents.

Canadian protests planned

More protests are planned 15 Canadians cities, including Toronto and Vancouver, this weekend, and European activists also are also joining in. Organizers announced a protesters' "occupation" of the London Stock Exchange to begin there on Saturday.

The movement has also drawn reaction from world leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, former Polish president Lech Walesa, Iran's Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev.

Walesa said Thursday that he supports the New York protest and is planning to either visit or write a letter to the protesters. He said the global economic crisis has made people aware that "we need to change the capitalist system" because we need "more justice, more people's interests, and less money for money's sake."

Khamenei said Wednesday that the wave of protests reflects a serious problem that will ultimately topple capitalism in America. He claimed the United States is in a full-blown crisis because its "corrupt foundation has been exposed to the American people."

With files from The Associated Press