Zuccotti Park Barricades Gone, But Occupy Wall Street Birthplace Not Re-Occupied

NEW YORK -- The barricades may be gone, but the birthplace of the anti-bank movement is hardly re-occupied.

On Tuesday night, metal barricades that had ringed Zuccotti Park since police cleared it in an early-morning raid in mid-November were removed, and hundreds of occupiers flooded back in. But by Wednesday afternoon, the park was mostly empty, and the small group of occupiers gathered there seemed unsure if the barricades' removal was a victory. If it was, some said, it was a small one.

For one thing, the old barricades did not actually block access to the park; two gaps remained on either side of the plaza, although they were heavily monitored by New York City police and security guards employed by the park owner, Brookfield Properties. For another, all of the rules put in place on the night of the raid remained. Sleeping bags and tents were not allowed, and lying down or standing on the stone benches that once served as the foundation for a thriving tent city was strictly forbidden.

The barricades were taken down a day after a complaint was filed by civil rights groups, arguing that the barricades violated city zoning law because they restricted access to the park, which is required to be open 24 hours a day. Police spokesman Paul Browne told the Associated Press that the decision to remove the barricades was made before the complaint was filed, because officials no longer felt they were necessary.

Since the loss of the park, the Occupy movement in New York City has lost much of its momentum. While distinct events have captured national media interest -- like a promising recent campaign called Occupy Our Homes, aimed at the foreclosure crisis -- there has been more silence than action.

Some protesters say that in order for the Occupy movement to thrive again, another public space must be taken. Others say this is merely a moment of transition; when the movement reemerges, it will take a different form. On Wednesday, the 40 or so occupiers gathered in the bitter cold seemed uncertain about the future, but one thing seemed clear: Zuccotti Park is not likely to return to what it was, at least, not anytime soon.

"I think it's great that the barricades are down because it makes the park a more inviting cultural and political space," said Mark Bray, a 29 year-old PhD student at Rutgers University and self-appointed spokesman for the movement.

"But beyond that, I'm really not sure how much of a difference it makes," Bray paused, glancing at the pile of metal barricades that were stacked where the press tent once stood. "The rules haven't changed."

There were nearly as much security personnel in the park as protesters. Last night, three protesters were arrested on minor charges such as trespassing, The New York Times reported. Others were threatened with arrest for bringing in books and food.

The People's Library was back Wednesday, with two small boxes holding about 50 books -- a random selection taken from the 2,500 volumes that currently make up the full library, now stored in a space a few blocks from the park..

"It's hard for us to bring the books out, but we're trying," said Hristo Voynov, a librarian with the movement. Since the park was cleared, he's been spending less time protesting, but still thinks of his position as a full time job. He spends most days sorting books in the storage space.

Nearby, the Think Tank working group began to mic check, announcing a meeting to talk about how the barricades' removal will affect the Occupy movement. A woman in a bright red jacket named Michelle stood briefly on one of the stone benches, holding an Occupy Wall Street Think Tank sign overhead.

A security guard quickly approached. "You can't stand there," he told her. "And don't lie down or stretch out either," he added. She quickly stepped down, and the guard moved a few yards to deliver the same message on to a reporter standing on another bench, attempting to photograph the scene.

Some of those huddled with the Think Tank group seemed worried. "This could be some kind of trap to let us in and then swoop down and arrest us again," said an older man wearing a puffy jacket. Several others murmured agreement.

"I'm just really excited that the barricades are down," Michelle countered. "If they go back up, we'll just have another reason to fight."

She added that she hoped to see more developments soon, like nationwide general assemblies. "There are lots of ways we can connect," she said. The rest of the group, bundled under scarfs, hands in pockets, nodded.

A tall man wearing a parka with the hood pulled up over his head walked by with a large sign: "OUR VOICES NEED SPACE."