'The Whole World Is Watching': Occupy Wall Street Stares Down the NYPD

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Spencer Platt / Getty Images

Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrate following news that the deadline for their removal from Zuccotti Park in New York's financial district was postponed on Oct. 14, 2011.

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Though Occupy Wall Street boasts global support and has spawned similar protests against corporate greed in other cities across the U.S., tiny Zuccotti Park, at the southern tip of Manhattan, shouting distance from Wall Street, has become a symbolic lodestone for the movement. That the protesters could peacefully stare down New York City authorities and preserve Zuccotti Park — Liberty Square, they call it — as theirs is a significant victory for Occupy Wall Street's burgeoning image. As it is, a TIME poll published this week suggests that Occupy Wall Street, a fledgling movement with no single leader or obvious sponsor, garners twice as much support among average Americans as the right-wing Tea Party.

"This is the essence of democracy," says New York City councilman Stephen Levin, standing at the park in support of the protesters. Thirteen New York City council members had earlier submitted a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, urging him to relent on Friday morning's action and refrain from moving the police heavy-handedly into Zuccotti Park. "I applaud the city's wise decision in prioritizing the ability of people to express their First Amendment rights," Levin says.

"I think that what we saw this morning is a response to the massive outcry of support for the movement," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, tells TIME. "At its core, Occupy Wall Street is nonconfrontational. It's about peaceful protest." Still, at least 14 people were arrested — some after bruising altercations with police — when groups of protesters fanned out from Zuccotti Park to celebrate their triumph.

In the coming days — tomorrow, especially — there will likely be more opportunities to judge how protesters and police get along. Oct. 15 marks a global day of action, which was first called by the indignados of Spain to commemorate five months of their dramatic mass demonstrations against austerity measures in their country. Now, though, the energy of the moment lies on the other side of the Atlantic. Protesters plan a number of actions throughout New York City on Saturday, including a march on Times Square. Sympathizers will turn out to show solidarity in virtually every major European capital and in cities elsewhere.

In Zuccotti Park, the feeling now is one of relief and exultation. Hundreds endured a tense, rain-sodden night wondering whether by daybreak they would irrevocably lose a community they've grown to love. At 5:30 a.m., before news broke of the protesters' victory, Marsha Spencer, 56, sits in a chair at the western edge of the park, knitting. A recently laid-off seamstress, she has been coming to Zuccotti Park for weeks, donating garments she has made to fellow protesters. "The [other protesters] have been wonderful," she says. "They call me Mom. They bring me pizza whenever there's some." Unlike the many around her wearing worried expressions, Spencer smiles, confident that the police will let Occupy Wall Street be. "Maybe I'm just a grandmother knitting, but I don't think Mr. Bloomberg is going to take a chance. Just look at all of us here."

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