Occupy Targets Finance Sector With Wave of ‘Sleepful Protests’
These days, Occupy is moving from the streets to the sidewalks.
It’s a different sort of civil disobedience that’s not, technically, disobedient. Citing court decisions that allow sleeping on sidewalks as a form of political protest—so long as at least half of the pathway is unobstructed—a growing number of occupiers have been setting up temporary “sleepful protest” camps each night on public sidewalks outside financial institutions.
In Washington, DC, the target has been the Bank of America branch closest to McPherson Square, where the occupiers had previously set up their campsite. In New York City, it’s outside the Stock Exchange—for the first time, they actually occupied Wall Street.
“I’m not leaving until I get to talk to [Bank of America CEO] Brian Moynihan personally,” DC protester Harris Ntabakos said of the new approach.
Ntabakos and other protesters are urging passersby to move their money to local credit unions and offering them unsavory factsabout Bank of America. Occupiers, citing a recent Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi, are keen to share the institution’s too-high percentage of American deposits, its fraudulent mortgage lending practices, and its debts which they say could total more than all the printed money on Earth.
Washington, DC’s action sees upwards of 50 people sleeping outside the bank at night. (They split into two groups, called “Sleepful Protest” and “Sidewalk Solidarity,” since more than 25 people sleeping on a sidewalk requires a permit.) And they’re careful to stay at least 10 to 15 feet from the bank’s entrances.
Ntabakos says he spent weeks researching the city’s zoning laws and testing the waters with smaller sleep-outs to ensure this action would work.
At the location, there’s just one tent, and it’s for symbolic purposes only. Everyone sleeps on makeshift pallets with blankets, sleeping bags, and cardboard (some of it for padding, some for signs). In the morning, the sleeping material gets packed up and only the protesters and their signs remain.
Still, all the sleepers’ scrupulous attempts to operate within the law’s guidelines haven’t stopped the arrests—a dozen peaceful ones total in DC, and 10 somewhat violent ones in New York City recently.
Christopher Robbins of Gothamist reported that New York officers were “frequently singling out protesters who seemingly did nothing wrong, and in some cases violently detaining them.”(Regular readers should be shocked—shocked—that the NYPD could ever be violent for no apparent reason.)
In Washington, DC, officers tend to appear in the morning after the bank opens, possibly responding to a phone call from unhappy bank officials. And they come in droves—often a dozen to 20 officers in six or seven squad cars. If arrests occur, the occupiers typically aren’t detained for more than a few hours before being released on bail.
Ntabakos was one of the recent arrestees in DC. He says that officers told occupiers to move a few feet so window washers could work, and he says they complied. But shortly after, they were told by a commanding officer to leave or face being arrested. Ntabakos objected to the contradictory orders and sat down against an exterior bank wall with fellow protester Rudy Roberts; both were arrested after three warnings.
“[The cop] said, ‘You’re blocking a public sidewalk!” Ntabakos said. “I’m looking around at 30 feet [wide] of sidewalk and I go, ‘Two by three of what I’m taking up is blocking? What about the whole semi-circle of you guys?’ ”
However, sleepers are quick to say that the Washington, DC Metro Police have been cordial and respectful, often advising occupiers to give their belongings to friends before their arrest, and even reportedly giving them cab fare for a ride home.
The level of police activity has still led DC occupiers to relocate to a different Bank of America branch, at 18th and K Street. But the sleepers have no plans to give up yet.
“We’re here to stay,” Roberts said.
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.