Last fall, Occupy Wall Street was a fledgling protest movement that few took very seriously, but then two events occurred that quickly and dramatically threw the group into the national spotlight.
An NYPD officer named Anthony Bologna single-handedly turned OWS protesters into a symbol of martyrdom when he pepper-sprayed peaceful young women who were protesting at an October Union Square rally.
Earlier that same month, 700 protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge in one of the largest mass arrests of nonviolent protesters in US history.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to talk about Occupy.
On Sunday, hundreds of OWS protesters marked the six month anniversary of the mass arrests by marching across the Brooklyn Bridge, though this time on the walkway. (all photos by Allison Kilkenny unless credited otherwise)
Bob Broadhurst, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in Boston, told me he was marching to represent labor’s solidarity with the movement, but stressed he was there in an "unofficial" capacity.
Broadhurst was one of the 700 individuals arrested on the bridge last fall, and as he reflected upon the ordeal, it was clear the memories still haunt him. He describes the scene as "terrible," saying the activists were penned together—"crushed"—is the word he uses, and some protesters began climbing any structure within their grasp just to secure a moment’s worth of breathing space.
Broadhurst considers himself one of the lucky ones because he was "only" detained by police for seven hours, and yet he still contends he was falsely arrested. He even uses the world "falsely" on the sign strung around his neck. Many protesters believe the mass arrest was unjust because they claim officers corralled OWS members onto the bridge, and then penned them there so they couldn’t move.
Those claims were part of a filed federal class action lawsuit against New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, the city, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and many police officers by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of Occupy.
This time, marching on the street wasn’t even an option as protesters were greeted with a barrier of police motorcycles, sealing off the way. Activists instead marched on the pedestrian walkway, carrying an elaborate Brooklyn Bridge puppet.
A protester named Finn at one point walked out onto a beam, but the other protesters urged him back onto the walking path, and yet despite this dangerous action, police didn’t arrest the young man, perhaps mindful of the bad publicity that rained down upon the department last time. (Photo by CS Muncy)
During the march, protesters carried banners declaring "Health Care for the 99 Percent," "American Spring" and "Occupy Patriot." One man held a sign above his head that read "Angry Pacifist."
Despite what Broadhurst described as a "disappointing" turnout, Occupiers remain hopeful that the spring, particularly the so-called "General Strike" on May 1 will serve as a rallying point for the movement.
Organized labor thus far has expressed severe reservations about the concept of a General Strike, and yet the specific, local actions such as the the MTA fare prank suggest that individual union members may have gone rogue and joined Occupy actions without leadership approval.
Broadhurst said we’ll continue to see this kind of independent action from workers until "union leadership stops toeing the line with the Democratic slash Republican Party."