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Protesters' Eviction: The End, Or An Opportunity?


Yesterday, New York City Police evicted hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters from privately owned Zuccotti Park in New York, on the orders of Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A judge in New York ruled that the removal was legal and protesters could use the park, but their free speech rights did not extend to putting up tents or staying overnight. Similar evictions in other cities have raised serious questions about the future of the Occupy movement.

So what has Occupy changed? Where do you think it should go from here? 800-989-8255. Email: talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation at our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And we have an email that's already arrived. This is from Lorna in Palisade, Colorado: I didn't get the object of sitting in parks to protest Wall Street. It seems to me a more proactive approach would be productive. For example, systematically pick offensive companies and initiate nationwide boycotts of their product or services. I'm thinking more of the middle class would get behind this. Hit Wall Street in its pocket book, she says.

And let's see. We go to a phone call, and this is Jake, and Jake is with us from San Francisco.

JAKE: Hi. I'd just like to thank you for allowing me to speak on air.

CONAN: Sure. Go ahead.

JAKE: Yeah. So I think the way that Occupy Wall Street can go from here is actually speaking through voting. And the way the Tea Partiers got all their people into government was by voting them in. So I think in order to actually change the government, the Occupy Wall Street people need to vote in people or force Congress enact bills that will actually do something.

CONAN: Well, the way - just to follow up, Jake, the way the Tea Party did that, at least to a considerable degree, was to run more conservative candidates against Republicans they did not think conservative enough. Should Occupy Wall Street do the same in the Democratic Party?

JAKE: I don't think - not necessarily Democratic, but maybe more independent because I think both Democratic and Republican are corrupt. So if we actually talk about creating a new third party or changing up a two-party system that is our government, then maybe that's something that Occupy Wall Street could talk about.

CONAN: All right. Thanks for the call, Jake. We're also going to read excerpts from several editorials and articles that have appeared in the past couple of days. This is from "After Zuccotti, What Now From Occupy Wall Street?" by John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

Given the internal fissures that were developing, it could conceivably turn out that Bloomberg has done OWS a favor. In some ways, the movement has already outgrown Zuccotti Park. It has now more than 80 working groups looking at everything from community banking to town planning. It has significant media support. It has ties to trade unions, environmental activists and the backing of celebrities and public intellectuals such as Jeffrey Sachs and his colleague Joseph Stiglitz.

What is needed is some way to build upon those successes while maintaining the energy and enthusiasm that OWS unleashed. The recent history of the indignants in Spain shows that a heterogeneous protest movement can survive the loss of its focal point. In June, after repeated clashes with the police, the Spanish protesters decided to leave their encampment. In Madrid's Puerta del Sol, the movement lives on. Last month, hundreds of thousands of people marched, in its support, through Madrid, Barcelona and other cities.

Let's see. We go next to - this is Patrick, Patrick with us from Buffalo.

PATRICK: Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

PATRICK: In my opinion - first of all, I have the utmost respect for the Occupy Wall Street individuals who have been there day in and day out, encamped. However, I see this as a real opportunity for the movement, in that in my opinion, the movement needs to grow in number significantly and it needs to become much more heterogeneous. And, in my opinion, the way to do that is to have successive Saturday or, you know, maybe week - weekend protests where the call is sent out to people from all walks of life, you know, middle class, you know, teachers and firemen and everybody. I think that there was probably a mood among, you know, regular everyday middle class citizens that this was an occupation. And if they weren't going to stay in the tents, then maybe they shouldn't show up. And I think that was, you know, something that we could possibly correct.

CONAN: All right. Thanks very much for the call, Patrick.


CONAN: This is "Occupy vs. the LAPD" by Jack Dunphy and PJ Media. Now that these Occupy Wall Street people have been at their occupation for however long it's been, what next? No one seems to know. But whatever the denouement that awaits in the final act of this drama, it will be police officers who will be asked to bring the curtain and the tents. For people trying to live and work around the encampments, that day can't come soon enough.

Being down for the cause is all well and good, but when the paying customers avoid your shop or your restaurant out of fear of sharing space with the hygienically challenged cast of characters headquarters at Zuccotti Park, well even the most socially conscious have to pay heed to the bottom line. Let's see if we could go next to - this is Ryan. And Ryan's on the line with us from Tulsa.

RYAN: Hi, Neal. A little bit less logistical, versus that last caller, and a little more philosophical. On the question where occupiers go from here, I would put myself more in a Tea Party camp than I would in an Occupier camp, very conservative fiscally. But I think that there is some common ground. And there's a nerve that strikes, at least me, that's common with some of the Occupy movement. And that is that wealth has been consolidated and is being protected. And it's being the losses, as we've heard of – the refrain that the losses have been socialized, but the profits has been privatized.

And I'm a real estate investor/syndicator, commercial real estate in Tulsa. And so I go out and I find real estate deals, and I put together pools of investors to essentially buy commercial property. And as the markets were set to correct, I kind of started licking my chops and began to realize that, because of policies that were put in place through D.C., that institutionals -banks, (unintelligible) et cetera were protecting our interest.

And the resetting of bases, financial bases, that should have occurred in commercial real estate, didn't. And maybe there's a couple of points that you could talk about here, some observations of mine. Because that resetting is not happening, because it's being propped up...

CONAN: What you're essentially saying, it's still very difficult to borrow money.

RYAN: Well, it's - I'm actually talking less about borrowing money. I'm talking more about lowering bases. And so what I mean by that is the next generation - I'm 34. These younger folks, they're waiting for an opportunity to get into the game, into the economy. And because across the spectrum, from real estate to other industries, you see this very high barriers to entry where only the larger players can play and they protect the walls. They build the walls. When there's an event, like we had in '08, where things should have reset, and instead, props were brought in and (unintelligible)...

CONAN: So those companies should all have been allowed to fail in '08, including the car companies.

RYAN: And here's the discussion. This is where the next generation, my generation and below, has to, I think, come face to face with this reality. If we want that resetting to happen, there's going to be carnage, and it's going to be difficult. But in my mind, history shows that that's where the opportunities come from. And an earlier conversation on Diane Rehm - there's a great comment from a panelist saying that the older generation protects their wealth. The younger generation has a harder and harder time to break in.

I think it has to reset. In my opinion, it will be hard, but that's what we're made of. And I think that the - to get our trajectory back in the direction it needs to go, don't erode capitalism. Let it work in a true, free sense.

CONAN: All right, Ryan. Thanks for...

RYAN: (Unintelligible) the bases reset.

CONAN: Let's give somebody else a chance, but thank you very much for the call. This is from The Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin, who writes: OWS should not be rehabilitated. I wonder if the protesters' unbridled contempt for public order and wealth creation is really a desirable model for the left's discourse on income inequality.

Frankly, if the left wants to appeal to middle-class Americans, it would be wise to repudiate a grab bag of sleazy characters who are disrupting the lives of working people and adding to the financial burden of cash-strapped cities. Now is no time to celebrate their "contribution," quote, unquote, to American political dialogue. Let's go next to - this is Cory, Cory with us from Berkeley.

CORY: Hi there. That's an interesting to follow up on. Living in Berkeley, I have been to some of the demonstrations, and one of the things that I'm quite aware of is how much the movement has occupied the media dialogue and very quickly and very effectively. I feel like one of the things I've observed is that the very process of this organization is an important product. That it's based on small, decentralized groups working together that refuse to be categorized specifically. The fact that we are coming together to talk about topics that need to change, an inequity that needs to be settled. And that it's amorphous I feel like is a healthy thing, that these are not clearly delineated subject to say here's the problem, here's the solution. We're not there. Things are quite complex.

And it's appealing to me that a decentralized process is stepping up to say we need to reclaim democracy itself. We need to reclaim that process. We need to take care of people. We need to speak for people who are hurting. The other piece of it that I've observed is that the homeless people I see are suffering even more than the homeless people I was seeing on the streets 10 years ago, five years ago. I just feel like the people who are hurt the worst are in even worse shape, and that the safety net has fallen apart to the degree that it's OK to say something has to be done. I don't know exactly what, but to bring that up and say this needs to be what we demand that our government discusses. So I'm appreciating that aspect.

CONAN: No, I understand that, Cory, and I think, particularly at the beginning when that message resonated, I think, the movement was far more effective in communicating a message. The last few weeks, the message seems to have been complicated by numbers of incidents of violence and gassings and friction with the police, indeed, a couple of unfortunate deaths and violence within the communities.

CORY: Right. And there's important connections to bring up there. I think it really raises questions about the police role. Who are they protecting and serving? Why aren't they more integrated in with the demonstrations? Like, you know, San Francisco has had a very calm approach and has been very integrated with the protesters, in a way, to make it more effective for the whole city.

CONAN: And then you had situations like Oakland where the police - long history of friction there, and I understand that.

CORY: Exactly. And then in Berkeley, there was a man who just died. And I'm appreciating, at this moment, that that doesn't have to become something that's directly connected to the Occupy movement because it's not necessary. It may not have had anything to do with the protesters. It remains to be seen, and I appreciate that we're not jumping to conclusions here.

In Oakland, it's very entrenched and, you know, the mayor may lose her job over it. There's a lot of civic issues about how do we occupy space and who is considered the general public and who is not. And I feel like that's very much part of the debate here.

CONAN: Cory, thanks very much for the call.

CORY: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about the Occupy movement and where it goes from here. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And here's an email from William in Grand Rapids. Maybe we should take a lesson from the Arab Spring protest by gathering and marching every Sunday afternoon after normal Christian worship hours when more people are not working or going to school for support of Occupy Wall Street issues. This would allow our broader representation of the American public, allow the protesters – the protest to continue until some progress is made. Each week, there could be a different speaker at a central gathering place.

This is from Rachel in Detroit. Occupy Wall Street just seems like a really loud, vague question, pointing out issues many of us know. But until someone either decides to offer a response, solution or even excuse, it just doesn't feel like any dialogue has opened up. And let's go next to Paige, and Paige with us from Collegeville in Tennessee.

PAIGE: Hi. It's actually Clarksville.

CONAN: Oh, I'm sorry.

PAIGE: I participated in Occupy Nashville. I don't sleep there. I work two jobs. I have kids. But every free second, me and my children are both out there. And when they evicted everybody out of Richmond, I think that the resonating issue or the resonating picture that should be kept when they evict us is that there was - right after they had bulldozed everybody's camps, they'd bulldozed everything with tents with people in them. There was one lone protester holding an Occupy sign, standing in front of the police vehicle. And you can't let not having a tent somewhere in a park bend a movement that has been so resonating for my generation, for my children, for my parents.

CONAN: Paige, thank you very much for the call.

PAIGE: You're welcome.

CONAN: Here's an editorial from Leo Kapakos, a New York Political Buzz examiner. You can't evict the Occupy Wall Street revolution. As for the tarps and tents, the city can tear them down and take them away but that won't slow down this movement. The 99 percenters will not be deterred and are not going anywhere. Neither are any of the other 99 percenters all over the country. Occupy Boston was kicked out. They are back. Occupy Cal at UC Berkeley was kicked out. They are back. There have been police raids on Occupy Wall Street in Portland, Denver, Albany, New York, Burlington, Vermont, and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. They are all back.

Let's see if we can go next to Spencer. Spencer with us from Salt Lake City.

SPENCER: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I actually am really excited about the momentum of the movement. But I would see it being really tragic if they didn't actually at least use a part of their - the publicity and their energy and drive the momentum to get valid initiatives on to change laws because I think there's probably a fine line between activism and camping. And a lot of people would probably be interested in changing lives if that movement puts a - 10 things they wanted to legislate in order to change policy and put them up on a website, let people read them and then let start getting signatures. Because ultimately, they will probably have to bypass legislators unless we can get people to put bills forward in order to change policy, because that's really where a lot of the change has the potential to happen.

I mean, I think I don't really feel one way or another about Proposition 8, but - in California. But, you know, this was a grassroots, however you want to think about it, signatures got that on the ballot, and then the people voted. And I would think it would just be very tragic to not use some of this energy, at least from the Occupy movement, to say we want to change these laws. We want to, you know, whatever it is. Your campaign finance reform, I think, personally, is probably at the root of most problems (unintelligible)

CONAN: Spencer, I'm afraid we're going to have to leave it there because we're out of time, but thank you. Spencer, I apologize, but thanks to you and thanks to everybody who called and emailed. We're sorry we didn't have a chance to get to all of your calls. Brian Naylor is here tomorrow. See you Monday. TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.