by Fred Gates
Like most romances, the beginning seemed like a beautiful fantasy: young dreamers gathered in a local park, captured the city’s attention, then the world’s. Most of the city’s residents (based on polling at the time) loved the new addition to downtown and even the mayor was seduced into letting the city’s newest tourist attraction flourish in Zuccotti Park.
But then, like more than a few romances, it got ugly.
The honeymoon was over, the story began to get stale, and even the most liberal city in the country’s citizens wondered where the thrill had gone. The mayor decided the cost of a long, lengthy “divorce” was a better option than tolerating another day of his ex-friend’s cruel taunts. So on November 15th, 2011, he kicked out his ex, got a court order, and began to pay and pay— not with his own money, but with yours.
Could he have done something else? Was he blinded by his own passion and bad feelings? More importantly, could he have reached a far less costly agreement? Perhaps the City of Buffalo could have helped: one of many that had found harmony and a successful “marriage” with the occupiers.
What was the secret to Buffalo’s success?
To be glib, just old-fashioned common sense. There is a good reason you haven’t read any articles on Buffalo’s Occupy movement: serious clashes with law enforcement are virtually non-existent, and from the beginning Buffalonians, and the city, “got it.”
I could write an entire article on why this is, but I can summarize it this way: Buffalo is a real blue-collar town, gutted by the shut down of Bethlehem Steel and other industrial giants, and truly affected by Wall Street’s abuses in a way that New Yorkers at least pretend not to be. And unlike New York, Buffalonians don’t need to pretend they are cool with Wall Street or make nice with the rich: both of these groups are barely represented here, and the mayor isn’t a billionaire either.
Their approach was practical, cost effective, and driven by common sense: they made an agreement with the protestors!
The simplicity and good sense of this agreement should be obvious to anyone. The city agrees to let the occupiers stay in Niagara Square (which, by the way, sits directly across from of Buffalo’s majestic City Hall building, pictured below) and the occupiers agree to keep the space clean, not engage in illegal activities, etc. This very amicable agreement also, in this writer’s opinion, creates a sense of goodwill between law enforcement and the occupiers that makes violence and tension far less likely.
New York, in contrast, has become bitter and antagonistic towards OWS post-November 15th and is paying for it. Consider for a moment the financial implications of our “divorce” from the protesters. Rather than have a single meeting spot and nerve center to (relatively easily) police, the city now has to deal with attempts to occupy other locations, disruptive “flash mob” actions (like the recent one in Grand Central discussed here), and a dissolute but dedicated group of OWS “nomads” who will pop up anywhere they can. In short, they cleaned up one mess and created a far bigger one.
The city will spend millions more than it needs to monitoring twitter feeds and OWS websites to discover the next action, paying police overtime, and, up until recently, creating and maintaining a “frozen zone” in Zucotti Park. Sure, New Yorkers have a little more money than Buffalonians… but can we afford to waste it on something that could have been controlled by a less antagonistic attitude and the mayor’s signature?
I wonder. So far it seems to be working out great in Buffalo.
Back home, Bloomberg is wasting millions to prove some point, or punish someone (or something?). Why can’t it work here?