Occupy Wall Street: The end - or just the beginning?

A protester lies down under an Occupy banner in Zuccotti Park 15 November 2011 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Protesters say the Occupy Wall Street movement is more than a place - yet there is no clear next step

ZUCCOTTI PARK, NEW YORK - Despite the noise, the ambient background of indistinct shouting, it is peaceful, almost romantic.

The newly scrubbed square is lit by rectangles of neon lights embedded in the ground. They cast their light upwards, illuminating the autumnal yellow leaves of the evenly spaced trees.

But, I am constantly told by the protesters who have returned here, that this is not about a place. This is Zuccotti Park, home to the Occupy Wall Street movement for two months, now changed after an eviction and a court order.

This is where it all started. A global movement opposed to corporate greed, the political power of big business and what the protesters see as the injustice of inequality.

But is this where it all ends, too?

Changed space

After the break-up of the camp in the middle of the night, a court has ruled that the protesters can be in the square, but not sleep there.

Sleeping bags are banned. So are tents. And generators. Mass catering seems to fall foul of the rule as well.

Instead of free access on every side, there are barricades hemming in what was once a camp. Police in riot gear are spaced as evenly as the trees around the perimeter.

There is one entrance. It isn't really difficult to find it, but it takes an effort of will to force your way in, through the throng of diffident humanity congregated near the single file procession into the square.

It is slightly intimidating, walking past a line of security guards and riot cops, checking your hands (I don't know what for) and forbidding anything more than a small bag.

Inside, people tell me nothing has changed, the mood and resolve are the same. But they are wrong.

Beyond Zuccotti

The mood is neither fierce nor defiant. It would be wrong to call it resigned. Instead, there is an optimistically hippyish belief that this is one version of what victory looks like.

Every protester I speak to rejects my suggestion that this court ruling has changed this particular place profoundly. But they also accept the practical point behind it, that not many will stay here night after night without any protection from the elements besides the clothes they stand up in.

One person tells me that the Occupy movement is not about this park anymore but about workshops, looking at the problems of healthcare and post-prison rehabilitation.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters may continue to demonstrate in the park - but can't sleep there

Another says that Occupy lives in the space of the internet and in people's minds, that it doesn't need a physical location.

This is no holy place, someone else says, there was no battle fought here: Occupy's idea will live wherever its supporters choose to gather.

Indeed, it is true that this protest could move to many other places in this big city. The more militant mutter about the whole of New York being occupied on Thursday. Perhaps.

Winter's end?

There have been lots of comparisons between "Occupy" and the Tea Party. Most focus, rightly, on the shared sense of disconnect and disillusionment with the system.

But they are also both about people finding out that lots of other people think they way they do, even if their views aren't reflected in the mainstream media.

This is perhaps the beginning of the end for the protest at Zuccotti Park. The winter will put paid to any idea of sleeping out without sleeping bags or tents.

But it is much harder to predict the spirit of the renewal of the American left, as one protester put it to me, if it is such a delicate plant that it can be killed by the first snows of winter.

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