Wall Street protesters clean up, hope to avoid eviction
NEW YORK — Young people in knit hats and jeans scurried around Thursday wielding brooms and trash bags, moving mountains of sleeping bags, backpacks and jackets out of the way.
By cleaning up Zuccotti Park on their own, they were trying to persuade the park’s owner, Brookfield Properties, to back down from its plan to send in cleanup crews Friday morning and begin to enforce new rules on the use of the park that would end the Occupy Wall Street protest, at least in its current form.
But as the day wore on, it seemed that the protesters’ efforts to placate Brookfield might, in the end, not matter, and all sides were girding for a Friday showdown. The police said they were ready to step in if the company asked for help in removing protesters or enforcing the new rules, while protesters planned to form a human chain around the park and, using Facebook and Twitter, called on sympathizers to join them.
Some protesters saw the cleanup as tantamount to an eviction notice, and they vowed to stand their ground, even if it meant being arrested. “This is a public park privately held — I don’t even understand what that means,” Travis Nogle, a 32-year-old protester and “earthship builder” from San Francisco said as he changed his shoes and prepared to pitch in with the cleanup. “We have a constitutional right to protest.”
Zuccotti Park, a plaza that takes up an entire downtown block, is owned and maintained by Brookfield but open to the public. While the police have confronted and arrested demonstrators during marches in the streets and on the Brooklyn Bridge, they have largely left the Zuccotti Park protests untouched, allowing the people there to camp out around the clock while ringing the park with barricades and dozens of officers.
But in a letter to the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, this week, the company’s chief executive, Richard B. Clark, said that sleeping protesters were blocking walkways “at all hours of the day and night.” The letter said there had been neighborhood complaints of “lewdness, groping, drinking and drug use” and that the company had not been able to perform its daily maintenance.
“We fully support the rights of free speech and assembly,” he wrote, “but the matter in which the protesters are occupying the park violates the law, violates the rules of the park, deprives the community of its rights of quiet enjoyment to the park, and creates health and public safety issues that need to be addressed immediately.”
The company circulated a notice in the park Thursday explaining its plan: It would clean a third of the park at a time, allowing protesters to return to each section once the job was done. More important, however, was the company’s vow to enforce new rules that it imposed after the protest began about a month ago, which seem aimed at the very essence of the occupation: no camping, no tents, no tarps, no sleeping bags, no lying on the ground or on benches, and no storage of personal property on the ground or walkways “which unreasonably interferes with the use of such areas by others,” the company said in its notice.