Michael Moore led hundreds of people from the Left Forum conference to Zuccotti Park on Saturday where hundreds had gathered to reoccupy the park to mark six months since the launch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last September and launched protests around the world that gave voice to “the 99 percent.” That night, New York City police officers cleared the park, making at least 73 arrests. Many people reported excessive use of force by officers; several cases were caught on camera. In one widely reported incident, a young woman suffered a seizure after she was pulled from the crowd and arrested. Witnesses say police initially ignored Cecily McMillan as she flopped about on the sidewalk with her hands zip-tied behind her back, but she was eventually taken away in an ambulance. For more, we talk to Guardian reporter Ryan Devereaux, who has been following the Occupy movement closely. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: This weekend marked six months since the launch of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last September 17th and launched protests around the world that gave voice to “the 99 percent.” Activists in New York City marked the occasion by attempting to reoccupy the movement’s birthplace: Zuccotti Park, renamed “Liberty Plaza.” A protest there Saturday drew more than hundreds of people, and included street theater and dancing.
But police were also on the scene and appeared determined to stop any attempts to re-establish the Occupy encampment. At least 73 people were arrested. Many reported excessive use of force by officers with the New York Police Department. This is a protester describing what happened after activists tried to set up tents in Zuccotti Park Saturday night.
PROTESTER: Some people wanted to reoccupy the park, so people were out here with their sleeping bags, and there were a few tents. The officers basically came into the park and smashed the tarp down that people were lying under, and they began trying to arrest people.
AMY GOODMAN: In one widely reported incident, a young woman suffered a seizure after she was pulled from the crowd and arrested. Witnesses say police initially ignored Cecily McMillan as she flopped about on the sidewalk with her hands zip-tied behind her back, but she was eventually taken away in an ambulance.
Meanwhile, not far from the park, thousands of activists and intellectuals gathered at the Left Forum this weekend to discuss the theme “Occupying the System.” Renowned independent filmmaker and activist Michael Moore headlined the event Saturday. He said he had never seen a movement spread with greater speed than Occupy Wall Street.
MICHAEL MOORE: I have never seen a political or a social movement catch fire this fast than this one. And, you know, I’m in my fifties, so I’ve lived through enough of them and knew about those that came before me. And what’s so incredible about this movement is that people have—it was—really, it hasn’t taken six months. It really just took a few weeks before they started to take polls of people, Americans, and they found that the majority of Americans supported the principles of the Occupy movement. This was back in October.
And then they took another poll, and it said 72 percent of the American public believes taxes should be raised on the rich. Seventy-two percent. I mean, I don’t think there was ever a poll that showed a majority in favor of raising taxes on the rich, because up until recently, a vast majority of our fellow Americans believed in the Horatio Alger theory, that anyone in America can make it, it’s an even and level playing field. And now they—the majority, at least, vast majority—know that that’s a lie. They know that there’s no truth to that whatsoever. They know that the game is rigged. And they know that they don’t have the same wherewithal on that playing field that the wealthy have.
AMY GOODMAN: At the end of his speech, Michael Moore urged people to join the movement and go down to Zuccotti Park.
MICHAEL MOORE: I really want to encourage you to not let this moment slip by. Our ship has really come in. The spotlight is on Occupy Wall Street. And I think—I think this is our—this is our invitation to head over to Zuccotti Park. It’s a 10-minute—it’s a 10-minute walk. Five minutes if you’re young. Huh?
AUDIENCE MEMBER: [inaudible]
MICHAEL MOORE: All right. So, go ahead, start the banner. And again, thank you, everybody, for coming here tonight. Let’s not—let’s not lose the moment. The moment is ours and our fellow Americans’. Thank you. Occupy Wall Street!
AMY GOODMAN: Hundreds heeded Michael Moore’s call and helped swell the ranks of the Occupy protest Saturday night. Democracy Now! correspondent and now Guardian reporter Ryan Devereaux tweeted, quote, “Today’s events feel like any given day last fall with #OWS.”
Well, Ryan joins us now to talk more about Occupy Wall Street. We’re also joined by two of the people who led a discussion at the Left Forum about strategic directions for the Occupy movement: Frances Fox Piven, professor of political science and sociology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, author of Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America, a frequent target of right-wing pundits; and in D.C., we’re joined by Stephen Lerner, the architect of the Justice for Janitors campaign, on the executive board of the Service Employees International Union, has been working with labor and community groups nationally on how to hold Wall Street accountable.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Ryan, let’s begin with you with an update on what took place on Saturday night.
RYAN DEVEREAUX: Well, on Saturday night, protesters had been in the park since about 1:00 in the afternoon, and it had been a day that had been marked with some tension, but also a lot of joy. People were really enjoying the opportunity to be in the park again to talk to each other, to meet new people and discuss issues. At about 11:30, though, a representative from Brookfield Properties, which owns Zuccotti Park, said that he was working with Brookfield security, made an announcement that people had to leave the park because they were violating the rules. I asked him what rules they were violating. He said that they had brought in sleeping equipment and erected structures in the park, and these were violations of the rules. He made this announcement via megaphone, but he was drowned out by protesters. And I should say that the structures that I witnessed were a tarp that was strung over a cord tied between two trees, and protesters also had—they had symbolic tents up on polls that they were carrying around. It wasn’t as if they had created a tent city in the park or anything like that.
But the protesters decided to stand their ground, and the police moved in, in lieu of the Brookfield security. And it was rows upon rows of police officers coming into the park through the front entrance, coming down the stairs. And the protesters, dozens of them who chose to stand their ground, were gathered in the center of the park. Their arms and legs were locked. They were sitting in planters right there in the middle of Zuccotti. And the police moved in to break them apart. It was a violent scene, by just about all accounts, police ripping protesters apart from each other, people being hit, people being dragged across the ground, multiple reports of young women being pulled by their hair across the ground. I saw a young woman writhing on the ground in pain with a white-shirted police officer standing over the top of her telling her to shut up. It was really gruesome. I talked to a lot of people who were there on the eviction on November 15th, and they said that the course of the day, you know, the interactions with the police and the protesters were the most violent they had seen. Following people being pulled out of the park, you know, dozens of arrests, there was a winding march through the city, which resulted in, you know, a handful of—a handful more arrests.
What was really disturbing for a lot of people that were there on the scene was one incident with a young woman named Cecily McMillan who, witnesses say, suffered from a seizure. She was handcuffed in the street sidewalk area near the entrance to the park. She was on the ground. Videotape seems to show her convulsing. You can hear people screaming to help her, to call 911. Witnesses that were there said that it took approximately 22 to 23 minutes for an ambulance to arrive. People were really disturbed that there were hundreds of police officers there and no paramedics, and also disturbed by the fact that you see a number of police officers standing around this young woman as she’s convulsing, and no one seems to be doing much of anything. I spoke to a young man who said he was a paramedic in—an EMT in Florida, who was disgusted by the way that McMillan was treated. He said her head wasn’t supported. Numerous witnesses that I spoke to said that her head was bouncing off the concrete. The paramedics said that she could have easily died. McMillan was taken from the scene by ambulance to a local hospital and then transferred to police custody.
AMY GOODMAN: Did they take the handcuffs off of her?
RYAN DEVEREAUX: Eventually they took the handcuffs off, but it was quite some time she was on the ground convulsing in handcuffs. And people were screaming to let her loose, take the handcuffs off, stabilize her. People felt like it didn’t seem like the officers knew what they were—what they needed to do to handle her.
AMY GOODMAN: Is she in jail now or the hospital?
RYAN DEVEREAUX: She’s in jail now, as far as we know. Attorneys with the National Lawyers Guild are particularly concerned because, despite repeated efforts, they haven’t been able to speak to her. These attorneys have told me that in most cases, it would be easy for them to speak to a potential client, to speak to someone who is—you know, who’s in police custody but has been hospitalized. But those efforts have been stopped. It’s unclear exactly why. The police have released a video that they claim shows McMillan hitting an officer, hitting a police officer, shortly before her seizure. I don’t fully understand how that relates to her care or, you know, why it was that she wasn’t taken to the hospital. It seems irrelevant, and it doesn’t seem to address the issue of why she hasn’t been able to speak to an attorney. We do know that she is charged with a felony, but it is unclear what exactly those charges are, because, again, the attorneys haven’t been able to speak to her.
AMY GOODMAN: But she was—eventually, an ambulance came?
RYAN DEVEREAUX: Eventually an ambulance came.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking of healthcare, what happened to the Occupy medic?
RYAN DEVEREAUX: This was after protesters were cleared out of the park. An Occupy medic, who, by most accounts, from people that I spoke to, is a soft-spoken, pretty nice young guy, was grabbed by police for reasons that are unclear to me. He was directly in front of me at the moment that he was grabbed, and he was thrown into a glass door. Some people said that his head hit the door, but I was standing there, and I couldn’t tell what part of his body hit the door. But it was a massive crack left in this glass door. People were shocked at the force that was used. The young man, as he was being pulled away by police officers, looked me in the eye and said that he had been punched in the face. I asked photographers there on the scene. They said he had been punched in the face multiple times.
And this was something that, you know, repeated people—repeatedly I heard accounts of people who said that they had been hit in the face. I heard accounts of protesters saying that they were directly verbally threatened by police officers. I saw a high level of intimidation from a number of police officers towards protesters. And it should be said that there were police officers who seemed to be making an effort, or at least just trying to do their job, but it is the guys who go out of their way to not be like that that tend to stand out and that tend to scare people and tend to hurt people. And, you know, protesters were saying that this was really an ugly scene. The attorneys who were looking at cases that are developing out of these arrests are saying that they’re seeing more resisting arrest charges, which they tell me often sort of is code word for fighting with police officers or police officers beating someone up.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then we’re going to come back. Ryan Devereaux with The Guardian now, used to be a fellow here at Democracy Now! It’s great to have you back. We’ll also be joined by Frances Fox Piven and Stephen Lerner in a moment.