And just like that, the police may once again attempt to break up the Occupy Wall Street protest movement only a couple of days after receiving the assurances of New York City's mayor.
What's odd is that the public park where protesters are camping is privately owned. Zuccotti Park was created in the 1960s in a deal that gave the developer concessions on certain development rules in exchange for building the public space. The park's current owner, Brookfield Properties (NYSE: BPO ) , a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management (NYSE: BAM ) , and sister-company of Brookfield Infrastructure Partners (NYSE: BIP ) , had demanded the protesters clear out for the day, arguing they needed to hose down the park, before promising to enforce bans on tents, lying down on the ground or benches, or placing large personal items on the ground.
Protesters, who have been employing an organized sanitation committee, argued they'd kept the place clean, and after hundreds of thousands of signatures were petitioned last night, the company and mayor agreed to let them stay -- for now.
Whatever your opinion about the anti-Wall Street movement, the fact that a private real estate company attempted to call in the police to clear protesters out of the park is a pretty fitting picture for a movement protesting what they believe is undue corporate influence over public life and politics.
Along those lines, one humorous sidenote to the unfolding saga -- the mayor's girlfriend is on Brookfield's Board of Directors. (According to company filings, she only received $86,947 from Brookfield for her work in 2010. That may sound like a lot -- and it is -- but not in the grand scheme of board membership; she also made $286,000 last year sitting on Citigroup's (NYSE: C ) board.)
It's no secret that Wall Street -- and its mayor -- aren't really enamored with the anti-Wall Street protests. Michael Bloomberg had previously commented on Occupy Wall Street, calling it "unproductive" of them to attack "the jobs of working people." And, to be fair, much of Wall Street does perform legitimate, socially useful services. But that's not necessarily what people are upset about. As my fellow Fool Brian Richards reported, the protesters have a variety of viewpoints, a great deal of which were quite nuanced. It may not require a huge intellectual stretch to support capitalism and banking in general, yet be opposed to 1% of the population owning 40% of the nation's wealth and the too-big-to-fail status of risky companies like Citigroup, Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , Goldman Sachs (NYSE: GS ) , and AIG (NYSE: AIG ) , as many protesters are.
New York's police got bad press after they were accused of entrapping and arresting 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge and one of its officers was caught on video pepper-spraying two females (the officer has been placed under investigation).
One thing's clear: This won't be the death of protests like Occupy Wall Street. Similar "occupy" events are sprouting up in hundreds of cities. As the CEO of BlackRock (NYSE: BLK ) -- Brookfield's largest U.S. corporate shareholder -- put it, "These are not lazy people sitting around looking for something to do. We have people losing hope and they're going into the street, whether it's justified or not."
This is the sort of thing that's to be expected after Wall Street helps create an economic implosion, gets bailed out, and returns to bubble-era levels of profitability while the middle class remains under enormous stress with jobs few and far between.
Movements tend to happen when people feel like there's not much hope left in the status quo. Sticky movements like Occupy Wall Street happen when people become desperate enough to try to change things.