Local man witnessed raid of New York protest camp

Published on November 19, 2011
Iain McCurdy is shown near the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park, New York. In the city for a friend’s wedding, mcCurdy witnessed the police eviction of hundreds of protesters. — Submitted photo

When Iain McCurdy travelled to New York for a friend’s wedding last weekend, he had no idea he’d be caught up in the police raid that evicted hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protestors from the Zuccotti Park encampment in Manhattan late Monday night.

The Memorial University grad student has been a supporter of the local Occupy Newfoundland movement and wanted to experience firsthand the action at the very spot where the North American movement began.

On Monday afternoon, he wandered into Zuccotti park, where he says he saw “generosity” everywhere.

“I kept being asked if I needed food and people who were hungry or homeless were being embraced,” he recalls.

He found the camp’s library, where someone told him he could spend the night.

“They were reading passages aloud to each other,” he explains, “so I read some Joel Hynes passages.”

McCurdy says he was impressed with the camp’s organization, which included medical tents, workshop spaces and places where people gathered to have equal opportunity to share ideas.

“There was acknowledgement of this pure, fluctuating thing that was important,” he says. “And just how horizontal the structure was — there’s literally no one who was going to tell you what you should do.”

During the day, the camp lost its Internet connection, so just after midnight he ventured across the street to find a wireless signal to check his email before going to bed.

“I sent this message (to friends) about how crazy it was that I had just left all my stuff down there for hours, in a public park in New York, and had no worries about it, and that all my stuff was there when I got back,” he recalls. “And then I left the park only to see that the police had surrounded it. And they wouldn’t let me go grab my stuff.”

As the chaos unfolded and police blocked many of the streets of downtown Manhattan, McCurdy found himself with hundreds of others scrambling to get away from the violence.

“I was trying to regroup … but I wanted to find out if my stuff was destroyed, so I went back down to the park and there was this chaotic trying to find everyone kind of thing going on. There were hundreds of people trying to contact family, but (the police) took people’s phones and computers, so it was hard to communicate.”

His flight departed the following day, so McCurdy wasn’t able to recover his belongings, which he says will cost him $1,000 to buy again. But the experience seems to have had a positive impression on the St. John’s native.

In the wee hours of Monday morning, he says, “I walked by this guy with a sign saying he was a veteran and out of work. He was crying and I walked by in this daze, and I looked at him and kept walking. Then I got to a light and looked back and didn’t know what to do, but knew I couldn’t not (go back), so I sat down and talked to him. And even though there was chaos, I had this place where I could tell him to go … because there are people there and they will care that you’re a person.

“The structures we have don’t move fast enough for a lot of people,” said McCurdy. “And that park was up to speed, and we can definitely do that here — to get people trained on quickly responding to needs. If someone’s hungry or has another serious need, putting their name on a list to get into some program — that seems to be how a lot of stuff works. We need to be responding to people better, one human to another.

The name “Occupy” is not important, McCurdy concluded.

“It’s kind of about having the right to live and be a person and have a right to democracy.”