As word spread through Zuccotti Park before dawn on Friday that the Occupy Wall Street protesters would not have to leave their campsite, two dozen Columbia students joined the cheers.
Standing shoulder to shoulder, protesters chanted “This is what democracy looks like” and wiggled their fingers in the air—Occupy Wall Street’s universal signal of approval. Among the crowd were members of the Columbia University Democrats, who joined the demonstrators Thursday night in the park that has served as the movement’s home base since late last month.
When Brookfield Properties, which owns the park, announced that protesters would be told to leave at 6 a.m. Friday so the park could be cleaned, the movement’s leaders issued an emergency “call to action”—worrying that they would not be allowed to return and that the announcement meant an eviction.
CU Dems Media Director Sarah Gitlin, CC ’13, estimated that 25 Columbia students went to Zuccotti Park to protest the planned eviction. She said that at least a quarter of them would have been willing to get arrested, although none were taken into custody.
“I think Occupy Wall Street is speaking to a lot of Columbia students, which is why we were able to grab 25 together and take them down for a night when everyone has homework, when everyone has midterms,” Gitlin said, adding that the spirit of protest has extended beyond the park. “There’s a lot of talk on campus, a lot of excitement on campus, and we’re excited to see student activism.”
Although surrounded by police vans, protesters inside the park approached their all-night vigil with calm silence: sweeping the sidewalks, ducking under tarps to avoid intermittent rain, and huddling together on sleeping bags.
At 6:28 a.m. Friday, Deputy Mayor Caswell Holloway’s announcement that cleaning would be delayed was met with cheers from a crowd that had swelled to over 1,000 people in the early morning. The announcement came during a special assembly meeting of protesters, who said the reversal made the movement’s objectives “so much more possible because we are winning.”
Protesters then went on an hour-long “victory march,” which resulted in 15 arrests. Marching south on Broadway from the park, protesters were stopped by mounted police at barricades less than a block away from the New York Stock Exchange.
CU Dems first-year representative Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, CC ’15, said she had already joined the protesters earlier in the week to register voters and went back on Thursday, willing to get arrested for the cause.
“It’s extraordinary energy,” Ridolfi-Starr said. “Part of the reason I was registering voters … is because I feel like there’s an incredible transformative energy here, and I think that demonstrations of power, of anger, of frustration—I think the sentiments expressed here are extraordinarily powerful.”
CU Dems member Michael Spitzer-Rubenstein, CC ’12, called the cancellation of the cleanup a positive sign for the movement’s future.
“I’m glad [Mayor Michael] Bloomberg and everyone else came to their senses,” Spitzer-Rubenstein said. “I’ve never seen this large a crowd, this enthusiastic, at seven in the morning. Hopefully this is the start of even better things to come.”
Gitlin said that although it is too early to tell what the movement will become, it “has the potential to grow enormously.”
“As the chant goes, ‘The people united will never be defeated.’ The park was very energizing, it really attests to the dedication to goals of the movement, which is very inspiring and invigorating and exciting.”