I spent much of Thursday evening at Foley Square across from the courthouse at 100 Centre Street, where a few hundred protesters had gathered to await friends who, in the wake of a judge's order that detainees be released, were trickling out at 10 to 15 minute intervals.
Each time someone crossed the street, the gathered crowd would erupt in applause and cheers, friends running up to embrace them and strangers patting them on the back with shouts of "welcome back to freedom!"
A few came out crying and visibly shaken, but most just seemed exhilarated to be out after spending many hours penned up in a filthy warehouse-like building with hundreds of others.
Once out, legal observers took names in order to try to keep a running tab of how many were left inside, and volunteers from Food Not Bombs ladled out plates of vegetarian food (Indian, if my nose discerned correctly) from cylindrical vats. ("Please don't take our picture," one of them asks me, "what we're doing is illegal," a fact a nearby officer confirms. Serving food in the park's apparently technically a no-no, but the police have obviously concluded that enforcing this one's not worth the trouble—more on that later.)
There are some organized groups working there—observers from the New York Civil Liberties Union and National Lawyers Guild—but also a fair amount of anarchic-yet-effective coordination. Someone will periodically volunteer to lend a hand at the food table or with the legal observers, if only for a half hour or so. Jamie, 26, has brought some clean T-shirts which she's distributing to the (often rather bedraggled) folks being released, part of what she calls a "mutual aid effort." "Most of the people here identify as anarchists," she says, "so there isn't really a central group planning anything." When announcements need to get made, the group borrows a trick from the fireflies: one girl stands in a crowd and shouts a sentence or two of the message to be relayed. The few dozen people around her then repeat the message in tandem, forming a booming impromptu PA system.