Protesters marched shoulder to shoulder across the Brooklyn Bridge, shouting their now-familiar chants, as Occupy Wall Street's Day of Action in New York reached its apex.
All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street!
Trudging along, most tired from a day of protesting (or work), they threw up peace signs and let out cheers as drivers passing by honked in support.
We are the 99 percent!
By 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, the front end of the march reached the bridge's Manhattan-side tower. The protesters suddenly stopped and let out a roar.
A 99% flashed across the exterior of the Verizon building, which sits next to the bridge, neutralizing an otherwise imposing symbol of the corporatism Occupy Wall Street opposes.
The Batman-like signal went on to flash familiar slogans and listed the myriad Occupy protests that have sprung up worldwide. It culminated in a message that induced cathartic shouts; a message that, many Occupiers argued, defined the day.
We are winning.
For hours afterwards, thousands would follow, until the bridge's entire pedestrian walkway was covered end-to-end with occupiers. After a day spent scattered about the five boroughs, poking proverbial fingers in the eye of authority, they were unified. And they felt victorious.
Occupy Wall Street had spent the better part of its two-month existence as an ideological Rorschach test. Amoeba-like, it would mold to whatever circumstances dictated, easily adaptable and welcoming to multiple causes. Protesters felt that changed on Thursday night.
OWS: Change Stems from Changing the Rules
Their tactics of disruption had varying degrees of success, but failure didn't lead to despondency. By some estimates, their number surpassed 5,000. More importantly, their varying messages grew into a chorus -- albeit a broad one. To paraphrase one protester, who echoed many others: the current system serves a privileged few at the expense of the many, and change can't come from within its constricting rules.
We know we're right, said one protester, and the world is watching and soon they'll be with us.
Two full days had passed since the Occupiers' Nov. 15 police-enforced eviction from their home base in New York's financial heart, Zuccotti Park. Many wondered if the promised Day of Action would mark a rejuvenating moment or last gasp.
The Occupiers came with a plan -- a daylong itinerary of events across the city that saw them touch down in all five boroughs.
The protesters' initial goal was to shut down Wall Street at 7 a.m. Their move towards the thoroughfare initiated a daylong game of cat and mouse with the NYPD, as officers traveled with and guided the flow of the protesters.
Immediately, officers wearing riot helmets herded the Occupiers like sheep, forcing them to cut in on Pine Street, a block away from Wall Street. The protesters flowed forward, bobbing along side streets, trying to navigate around the cops, to no avail.
Turn a corner, make a way around a block, and inevitably police were waiting. Likely aided by two to three helicopters floating overhead at all times, police officers had the upper hand in predicting the protesters' movements.
By about noon, the protesters had set their sights south on Broadway. Along the way, the financial industry's lunchtime crowd tried to get to or from work.
Get a job, you hippies, and let me through, said one man.
Some Occupiers claimed they were headed for the iconic Wall Street bull, while others expressed a desire to run a hook around the cops to get onto Wall Street. They reached neither.
Halfway between Zuccotti Park and the bull, a Budget rental truck, carrying 20 new military tents Occupiers had bought earlier, cruised down the block. From the truck's open back gate, protestors egged on their compatriots. Police sniffed out what was clearly a violation of vehicle safety laws and chased down the truck, blocking protesters along the way.
Two men hanging out of the back of the truck were arrested. One of the men's girlfriend tried to intervene, and was allegedly sent hurtling head-first into a marble wall, according to protesters. They also alleged a second woman suffered a hit to the temple from the wrong end of an officer's boot.
Protesters reverted to a practice they adopted after several such run-ins with the police, placing a safe distance between themselves and officers while repeatedly shouting, Shame!
Officers hopped aboard the rental truck and drove off.
Hanging out of the back, I'll admit, that was dumb of us, said David, an occupier who managed to escape arrest. This is all over a moving violation, he added, shaking his head and then lamenting the cell phone he left in the truck.
276 Arrested Thursday
By last count, 276 arrests were made in total, according to CNN. But the charged morning and early afternoon, which saw police and protesters clash repeatedly, didn't play out at all of Occupy's events.
At 3 p.m., students from local universities gathered at Union Square, the geographic epicenter to several local schools. The crowd, which surpassed 1,000 students, marched down 16th Street, planning to head south along 5th Avenue.
In spite of police efforts to keep protesters on sidewalks, the students overtook the streets for the better part of two blocks, bringing one of the most expensive thoroughfares in the world to a complete halt. Police worked to erect a plastic barricade two blocks ahead of the surge of students. The two groups met at a loggerhead.
After some token arrests, the students regrouped, running back and around the block in an effort to cut back into 5th Avenue behind the police. Miscommunication eventually led the students in three separate directions.
The police tactic would play out repeatedly throughout the day: block off the protesters, make arrests for any bookable offense and wait. Time and again, groups of protesters were splintered by the tactic, and what was once a formidable throng was sent regrouping and planning for another surge.
Yet the protesters' efforts peaked at a pow wow in Foley Square. The event brought out causes of all manner, like a communist advocating revolution who, like many, refused to give his name.
The turnout's been great, man, he said, then shouted This system can't be fixed! It's time for a revolution! as he handed out a communist newspaper. It could have been much worse with the rain making it a washout.
A woman named Linda said she represented Military Families Speak Out, a group seemingly wholly detached from Occupy Wall Street's movement. The organization calls for the return of all troops in Iraq on behalf of the families of service members.
They talk about how there is no money for programs and we have to cut, yet they have $5 trillion to fund wars overseas, she said.
When asked about the gulf between her message and Occupy's, she responded, Oh, we're absolutely with them 100 percent. We're all workers whether or not we're employed.
On past Foley Square, the protesters approached the Brooklyn Bridge. Gathered together, after a day spent across the city, many shared stories of what they saw. And they developed a new twist on a familiar chant.
Whether or not they can link Thursday's Day of Action to further progress remains to be seen.