I heard on the news this morning that the Occupy Wall Street encampment at Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan was broken up by police overnight and that protesters were set to march north today to the intersection of Sixth Avenue and Canal Street--one block from Scientific American's office in New York.
Indeed, when various SA employees and I independently surfaced from our subway commutes between 8 and 10 am, several hundred protesters and accompanying media, police and lookers-on were assembled off the intersection at Duarte Square (marked by a statue of Juan Pablo Duarte, a leader who helped establish the Dominican Republican's independence in the 19th century).
Public health was one of the grounds for the protesters' dismissal (they might return to their original site later today). Zuccotti Park was power-washed this morning and no doubt cleared of the debris that modern humans inevitably leave behind and the vermin that even Manhattan's finest restaurants struggle to purge. "Zuccotti lung," possibly a respiratory infection, has afflicted some of the demonstrators. Also, some reportedly use drugs. Most don't. Some have fairly obvious mental illnesses. Most don't. Some wear clothes of the sixties. Most don't. Some were napping on bed rolls or slouched against a nearby fence, which seems reasonable if one has been roused by police in the middle of the night. Some were chanting something about the UN General Assembly. Overall, it looked and sounded like a gathering of highly socialized humans.
That's not how insiders or outsiders tend to see it.
"You're looking at the height of disorder," a healthy-looking young man wearing a patch with a red cross on it told me through a couple light coughs as I asked him if there was a leader or spokesman to ask about the group's latest plans. I offered him a cough drop. "No, thanks. We have 'em."
Later in the morning, the protesters marched some more and reassembled at Duarte Square, a co-worker told me.
Living outdoors and self-assembling into organized groups and communities is what humans have done quite successfully overall for most of our history. It's not always pretty, but I've always been fascinated by how we make social order and civilization, on scales large and small, despite various adversities--bad weather, bad leaders, bad moods and ill health. Here's how that looked this morning at Duarte Square.