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Bonfires to Band Shell: Occupying East Village Style
With photographs by Clayton Patterson
The Villager, New York on December 1, 2011


The idea of “occupy,” as in Occupy Wall Street, might seem like a new one. But in the 1990s, the East Village and Lower East Side saw the continuation of an ongoing fight over who would “occupy” the neighborhood — radicals and squatters or housing development groups and the police.

In 1996, documentarian Clayton Patterson draped an “Occupied Not for Sale” banner on the Eighth St. Shul, above left, which a few years later was cleared of squatters and redeveloped residentially. While police have been arresting O.W.S. marchers if they just step off the sidewalk, back in 1991, Avenue A was regularly taken over by mobs of squatters and activists protesting a park curfew, who lit bonfires in the street and gathered bottles to throw at police, above right.

In 1991, the Tompkins Square Park band shell was occupied by the homeless, including a fan of Freddy of horror movie fame, below right. By 1990, police had also started putting the press in pens, keeping them at distance from the action, as seen in the photo, below left, which was the same thing police did when they recently cleared the O.W.S. tent city from Zuccotti Park.