Inside Occupy Wall Street’s Next Occupation

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At first glance, Occupy Wall Street’s plan to take over a gravel lot in SoHo tomorrow seems a bit strange. After all, the property isn’t all that close to Wall Street. It’s owned by Trinity Church, which hardly seems like the kind of symbolic target that OWS found in Brookfield Office Properties, the politically connected owner of Zuccotti Park. And the occupiers have already gotten free food and meeting spaces from Trinity; they now risk the appearance of biting the hand that feeds them.

Of course, organizers behind #D17, as the occupation attempt is known on Twitter, see things differently.  Trinity Church is one of the city’s largest landowners and strongly tethered to the 1 percent: Five of the 20 members of its vestry, or church parliament, for example, hail from high-ranking roles at financial firms such as Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, and others come from the insurance behemoth AIG, a market research firm for energy investors, and even Brookfield. The church’s two wardens, the men directly below the rector who are responsible for its assets, run an investment bank and group of mutual funds.

“We are not against the church,” says #D17 organizer Shawn Carrie. “We are against the church aligning itself with Wall Street.”

The Trinity Church parcel, which sits along Canal Street next to the publicly owned Duarte Plaza, has been slated for occupation by OWS even before the eviction from Zuccotti Park. Though the parcel is several subway stops from Wall Street, OWS organizers now see it as their best shot for re-establishing the kind physical presence that many occupiers still consider vital to the movement. But with the church dug in against the idea, claiming that the site is reserved for a future school, organizers have been forced to get creative. In late November, they marched to the lot along with sympathetic clergy members and civil rights leaders to hold a candlelight vigil. They’ve also reached out to local politicians.

“Our community needs more people who volunteer in community service–and that is what Occupy Wall Street pledges to do,” said Keen Berger, the area’s Democratic District Leader, in a statement emailed to me by OWS. “Trinity and the Community Board 2 should welcome them at the Canal Street site with two provisos: That they help the local community, and that they leave when construction of the new school begins.”

Still, it’s far from clear how tomorrow’s occupation will play with the public. “I think it’s a good idea from OWS’ point of view because it will continue the conversation,” said Manhattan Community Board 2 member Robert Riccobono. Though he felt that the board was generally supportive of OWS’ message, he would not go so far as to endorse the occupation: “You can see why Trinity is concerned. I would be too if I owned that space,” he said. “So you have two opposing positions that are both understandable in many ways.”

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