Occupy Wall Street, unions and immigrants’ rights groups collaborated to organize massive protests on Tuesday in New York City and Oakland and smaller events across the country and around the world.
Yet one would have little knowledge about the scale of the rallies by reading and viewing the establishment media. The New York Daily News absurdly claims “hundreds of activists across the U.S.” participated in the marches, despite the fact that in New York City alone tens of thousands of people took to the streets. Reuters concurred, calling the resurgence a “dud,” adding accusations of a “poor turnout.”
Even the so-called left-leaning network MSNBC devoted little time to the gatherings. (photo via @dontbeaputz)
Perhaps it would have been easy to adopt a pessimistic perception of the day standing in the rain at 4 am by the Brooklyn Bridge, waiting for a mass show of civil disobedience that never came or later sprinting through the streets of Chinatown on the Wildcat march that consisted of hundreds of masked young men and women overturning garbage cans, carrying a “Fuck the Police” banner and leading police on a wild goose chase that lasted forty-five minutes, as officers used their scooters like battering rams and activists seized police barricades to partition the street and make their getaway.
There was a time in that morning period when even the most devoted Occupier felt some anxiety about the protest. The weather was crappy, the turnout smaller than expected and police ultimately arrested around thirty activists (the AP puts it at fifty arrested), sometimes in highly aggressive fashions for specious reasons. For example, the Wildcat marchers barely took two steps before police attacked them, and one young man I saw arrested was taken into custody for jaywalking. (photo: Wildcat march)
Zack, an Occupier who had been involved with some of the May Day organizing, remained optimistic during those hours and said he attended the event to see how the past four months of organizing would shape up.
“I think this is going to be a really important test for the movement and where we’re at in in New York. We’ll see what kind of support we have from the city and the people of the city,” he said, emphasizing that the protest was just one day. “It’s a day of economic noncompliance, a day of withdrawing our consent. It’ll be interesting to see how the collaboration with unions and immigrants rights groups pans out.” (photo: protester arrested after jaywalking)
I asked Zack what he thought would need to happen for Occupy to consider the day a success.
“We’ll know it if we feel it. I think a lot of people have taken down their expectations quite a bit from like a couple months ago just because it does feel like we’ve lost some momentum. I think the solidarity march will be really powerful, and I think success looks like…the pickets going really well, and us really working together and working in solidarity with each other to be very disruptive today so we’re actually affecting capital and we’re actually disrupting the economic engine in the city.”
While Zack admitted the day was “pivotal,” he shied away from calling it a do-or-die moment for the movement.
“It’s definitely going to affect whether this kind of format or the meme of Occupy maintains traction in the coming months, and over the summer, but I definitely think as economic conditions worsen over the next several years, or even months, people will be more receptive to grassroots activism and organizing. So I do think public perception of Occupy is going to be affected by today. But I don’t think this is do-or-die because a lot of us are in this for the long haul, but it is a critical moment.”
In the afternoon, several breakout protests, called the 99 picket lines, picketed businesses that have a history of mistreating workers.
Members of the Legal Services of NYC, including Gibb Surette, president of the Legal Services Staff Association, a part of UAW Local 2320, met at the New York Times building on Eighth Avenue to fight for a better contract. (photo: picket outside NYT)
“We spend our days fighting for other people’s rights, but on some days like this, we have to come out and fight for our own,” said Surette, after listing a laundry list of complaints against management and the board, including abuse of senior workers and the targeting of another round of givebacks to healthcare.
Surette said he think it’s extremely important workers in the United States show solidarity on May 1 with the laborers of the world.
“May Day is International Workers Day, and internationalism is an extremely important concept for workers’ rights—not just because of globalism and solidarity with workers in other countries—but because the character of the working class in the United States is extremely international, and it always has been. It was a major feature of the working class movement and the struggle that gave birth to May Day. Most of the Haymarket martyrs were immigrants. The ability to target and exploit a class of people with less rights than others undermines the rights of all workers, so to be standing shoulder-to-shoulder with groups that are fighting for immigrants’ rights is an absolute natural for labor.”
Though Surette said a great deal of credit for labor issues reclaiming the national spotlight must go to the organized labor movement itself, Occupy has managed to refocus attention on wealth disparity—and, he adds, the group has been successful in its effort to “take back the dialogue from an obsessive focus on artificial budget deficits, and I say artificial because of the enormous military spending, and spending on tax breaks for the rich, among other things. And of course, when you talk about wealth disparity, and disparities in power, that obviously has everything in the world to do with labor.”
“99 pickets” converged later in the day at Sixth Avenue and 49th Street for a lively march that included protesters screaming “Fuck Jamie Dimon!” as they nearly stormed a Chase bank before security and the NYPD, batons wielding, frantically pushed back the surging crowd, and protest organizers convinced the activists to keep marching. (photo: police seal off Chase bank entrance from protesters)
But it was in the evening, long after the rain passed and Reuters’s Conway Gittens hurried home to file, that the coalition representing the 99 percent really got to flex its muscle and show its potent strength.
Tom Morello and the “guitarmy” led hundreds of protesters along Fifth Avenue from Bryant Park to Union Square where bands and artists, including Das Racist, Dan Deacon and Immortal Technique, and speakers entertained the teeming crowd.
Afterwards, tens of thousands of individuals poured out of Union Square and marched up Broadway where stores and restaurants along the city’s most famous street closed for the evening, thereby aiding Occupy in at least one of its goals for the day: disrupting business.
The procession was led by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, who drove a handful of taxis at the front of the march with a sign attached to one of the cars that read, “No disability insurance—15 years on the job.”
May Day protests were held across the country, where police fired tear gas and flash-bang grenades at demonstrators in Oakland, protesters smashed windows in Seattle, and activists occupied a building owned by the Catholic archdiocese in San Francisco. Protests were also held in Chicago; Washington, DC; and Atlanta; and globally in Greece, London and Turkey.
In total, the Occupy movement organized protests in 125 US cities, according to the group’s website.
In Seattle, Mayor Mike McGinn said he was making an emergency declaration allowing police to confiscate items that can be used as weapons following the May Day chaos.
A group of about 1,000 Occupiers gathered at a park on Water Street to the east of Bowling Green in New York at around 10 pm and discussed the possibility of trying to spend the night in the space, though police eventually moved in and pushed most of the protesters out of the park with little resistance. However, some activists did resist, again leading to sprinting chases through the streets. (photo: protesters briefly sit down by Wall Street)
Midnight came and an estimated 100 protesters gathered at Zuccotti—protesters cried, “We’re home!” upon seeing the small concrete square—to discuss whether or not they should stay through the morning.
Beyond the short-term conversations about reoccupation, however, activists are asking big questions about the future of their movement, namely if the solidarity felt on Tuesday will last throughout the summer.