More than a thousand demonstrators celebrated early Friday morning as the Bloomberg administration announced at the last minute that it would not attempt to clear out the Occupy Wall Street home base for cleaning.
At the request of Brookfield Properties, which owns the occupied Zuccotti Park, the city had been set to begin emptying the space of protesters at 7 a.m., with a promise to eventually allow them to return, but without the supplies necessary to maintain the encampment. The demonstrators responded by offering to clean the park themselves, but also put out an emergency call to action "to defend the occupation from eviction," vowing to stand their ground and be arrested if need be. The face-off with police was avoided at about 6:20 a.m. when a statement from Deputy Mayor Cas Holloway announced that Brookfield had changed its mind.
"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. Our position has been consistent throughout: the City’s role is to protect public health and safety, to enforce the law, and guarantee the rights of all New Yorkers. Brookfield believes they can work out an arrangement with the protesters that will ensure the park remains clean, safe, available for public use and that the situation is respectful of residents and businesses downtown, and we will continue to monitor the situation.
That's a major turnaround from Brookfield's initial request that the park be emptied. In a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, the firm said earlier it was "extremely concerned about dangers posed by damage that may have been incurred within the Park and by materials and equipment brought into the Park by the protesters."
"Brookfield got lots of calls from many elected officials threatening them, saying 'if you don't stop this we'll make your life more difficult,'" Mayor Bloomberg said on his weekly radio show. " "If those elected officials had spent half as much time trying to promote the city to get jobs to come here we would a lot more ways towards answering the concerns of the protesters."
New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, who made headlines last month when he was handcuffed at the West Indian Day Parade, was on the scene. "I'm excited," Williams told the Daily News. "I was coming down here to help defend Occupy Wall Street, but I'm excited that we're here to celebrate a victory for democracy."
"Now we take a second to celebrate the victory," he added. "This is a victory in the battle but the war still continues, we need to start with the movement again."
The looming standoff prompted some moments of tension at Thursday's General Assembly meetings. "We can't even have this meeting here! There's potential police infiltration!" yelled one facilitator. “This is a strategy to burn us out!" yelled one woman in all plaid. "We'll all look sick and crazy on TV." Some of the park's homeless denizens saw an opportunity in the chaos. One man, wearing a huge hat and no pants, stood in the assembly to demand sleeping bags. "With the cleaning, they're going to get thrown away anyway!" he argued. "Please, give me something!"
The protesters tried to clean the park — it smelled a bit like wet dog after rainy weather on Thursday and Friday — to forestall any move by Brookfield and the police. Rami Shamir, a local occupier, worked feverishly with a mop and toothbrush. "We've been cleaning," he said. "We can manage our own democracy." Despite such efforts, the square remained strewn with debris on Friday morning. "It's a little grungy here," said Ross Wall, 26, "but not unsanitary." The cleanup efforts were temporarily derailed on Thursday by the appearance of Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello. Some facilitators were not pleased. As he sung his first song, the leader in the red hat yelled out, "Tom Morello, stop singing and come help us clean." Another: "Tom, I love you, but come on!" A third, older occupier was blunter: "I'm more of a Grateful Dead guy."
An Occupy Wall Street spokesperson said that the group attempted last night to deliver Bloomberg a petition with more than 100,000 signatures urging him to let the protesters stay. When the news came down today that they could do just that, some demonstrators set off on a march to Wall Street, which has been barricaded. Some arrests have been reported already, as the elation turns quickly to tension again.
Update: At least 14 protesters were arrested in the marches following the clean-up's cancellation, according to the NYPD.