By Miranda Leitsinger, msnbc.com
NEW YORK -- Defiant Occupy Wall Street protesters streamed into Zuccotti Park late Tuesday in a bid to rebuild their cause less than 24 hours after police removed them from their camp, with one activist saying the eviction had helped push an important "reset button" on the direction of the growing grassroots movement.
A fired-up crowd of several hundred joined in the first general assembly since the Tuesday morning eviction. Some wore paper cutouts reading “99%,” others carried American flags and several held signs, including one that read, “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
“We can’t fill this park with tents right now, but we can still fill it with our energy," protester Sully Ross, a carpenter from Brooklyn, told the crowd gathered under a light rain and trees of golden-colored leaves. "We can fill it with our bodies and we can fill it with our ideas. …We’re declaring this night a night of celebration and a night of planning.”
Void of the tents that had filled it until early morning, protesters shared their experiences of the eviction and gathered in small groups to discuss the best ways forward. Ross said more than 80 working groups -- tackling issues such as electoral reform and alternative banking options -- were continuing their work and that the spokes council -- made up of those working groups -- would meet Wednesday.
“We must ... recognize our strength," said protester Nysheva-Starr, 35, who led the group in rhythmic clapping to promote unity. "If you lost a little bit of spirit yesterday you're in the right place to get some of it back."
A judge on Tuesday afternoon upheld New York City's legal justification for evicting Occupy protesters from the park after police in riot gear broke up a 2-month-old demonstration against economic inequality.
Protesters were allowed to return but Justice Michael Stallman found that the city, at least for now, can ban them from camping in tents and sleeping bags at the park between Wall Street and the World Trade Center reconstruction site in lower Manhattan.
The New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild had wanted the judge to allow protesters back in with tents and sleeping bags. The guild said Occupy organizers will have to work on strategy about where to go from here in the coming days and months.
Though the ground had been cleared, dozens of books lined the "people's library" in its old corner, and the medical and kitchen working groups set up a presence in the park, too.
Not 'Sleep at Wall Street'
Justin Stone-Diaz, a 38-year-old protester involved since the early days of the movement that began Sept. 17, said the eviction -- though horrible -- had helped pushed the "reset button" on Occupy Wall Street.
"Now, we'll actually be able to do what we've been planning. The biggest thing that was stopping us was the camping community ... it was full of tenters," making it hard to use the park for events, he said, noting that protesters would continue to use the space. "We got overwhelmed by all the campers. (And) once the camper population had a consensus in the group, our group started going in a different direction, which was maintaining the camp."
"It's not about the park, it never was," he added. "It's Occupy Wall Street, it was never 'Sleep at Wall Street.' The message got confused in the camping, the expansion."
The last general assembly before the eviction was marked by yelling and heated exchanges, showing a schism between those living in the park and those who were not. The campers said they felt underrepresented and didn't have enough daily resources as winter approached. That meeting came days after an ad hoc group of protesters held an alternative general assembly and yet others living in the camp formed their own movement.
Some protesters had voiced concerns nearly two weeks ago -- when a man was charged with sexual assault of a woman living in the Occupy Wall Street camp -- about security issues and possible weather-related illness taking over the narrative of the movement. Occupy sites in Portland and Oakland were shut down, partly over security concerns, last weekend.
Jacob Seligmann, a 36-year-old composer who visited Zuccotti Park often and had helped out with security there, said late Tuesday the eviction had helped turn things around.
"It was like a really quickly deteriorating situation (the security) and now look ... this is even better," he said. "The movement is not about camping out ... the movement is about people getting together and collecting ideas."
Looking around the park -- where dozens of protesters mingled after the general assembly while others set off on a march to police headquarters in solidarity with those still in police custody after the eviction -- he noted it was "light" and "airy," and that people could easily meet and talk.
"You don't have all those other issues to encumber us," he said. "It was like they did us a great favor and they gave us all that great publicity."