The spring resurgence of Occupy protests shows that despite continuing police suppression, the impulse to defy the authority of the corrupted political and financial system is stronger than ever. As part of a worldwide May Day mobilization, large demonstrations were organized in cities across America, including Chicago, Denver, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, New York and Boston.
The May Day “general strike” action also revealed how the inclusiveness and carnivalesque forms of protest facilitated by Occupy Wall Street has enabled it to act as a focus and connection for unions, community groups, immigrant rights groups and the student movement. During the winter months occupiers were busy building alliances with these groups.
In New York, an estimated 30,000 people filled Lower Manhattan in the late afternoon, converging on Union Square to join a city-permitted march to Wall Street. Commenting in the Guardian, Janet Byrne noted the diversity of the marchers’ affiliations: “Among the groups chanting ‘We are the 99%’ were the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, construction worker union LIUNA Local 78, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, and the AFL-CIO.”
Earlier in the day, protesters had picketed banks, corporate headquarters, and other locations throughout Manhattan. Democracy Now interviewed Jackie DiSalvo, a liaison to the coalition that Occupy Wall Street formed with labor and immigrant organizations for the May Day events. She explained: “We organize what we’re calling the ‘99 Pickets’ campaign, and there are many going on today. In fact, right now, the National Association of Broadcast and Entertainment Technicians are picketing ABC-Disney. And they were going to pick up some supporters at—from Occupy at Bryant Square and march up to 67th Street. There’s—this morning, the New York Times reporters were out in front of the New York Times. The Newspaper Guild can’t get a contract. There are just—we have over 40 labor pickets, and then a lot of pickets that are going to the 1 percent, the banks, mainly.”
Sarah Jaffe of Alternet covered the UAW picket at the New York Times building, where they were supporting lawyers and legal support staff of Legal Services NYC who face cuts to their healthcare benefits and to the free legal aid they provide to low-income New Yorkers. “As we stood talking, the Rude Mechanical Orchestra and a small march rolled in, playing ‘Which Side Are You On?’ and thrilling the workers, who didn’t seem terribly connected at first to the larger May Day celebrations. The picket line turned into a dance party, and the band played along with chants of ‘Hey hey rich boy, my job is not your toy’ and ‘We’re legal services for the poor, fired up won’t take no more’.”
Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice described a protest outside St. Vincent’s hospital in Greenwich Village: “There’s about 60 demonstrators walking around in a circle, some of them costumed with bloody bandages. Among them are doctors and nurses who used to work at St. Vincent’s before it was closed last year. The average age of the demonstrators is probably 60, with several walking with difficulty with canes and walkers. Clearly, the closing of the hospital has had a devastating impact on many lives.”
The mainstream media ignored this aspect of the day’s protests in favor of reporting the more than 80 arrests in Manhattan. The Guardian reported that clashes with police began when protesters attempted to break out of Bryant Park where they had been kettled: “During one such attempt, at around 1pm, demonstrators, most clad in black and many with their faces covered, faced off against scores of NYPD officers. Shortly after 1pm, the demonstrators attempted to begin their march amid chants of ‘a-anti, anti-capitalista’. Moments after they stepped off the sidewalk, attempting to cross an intersection, police moved in to stop them. A confrontation ensued and one young man was pulled to the ground by his hair. With his face pressed against a sewer grate the man was handcuffed and arrested along with several others.
“The ruccus at the front of the park created an opportunity for others to slip out through the rear, where demonstrators quickly moved into the roadway. The march tore through China Town and Soho, with demonstrators darting down streets and sprinting to stay ahead of police scooters in pursuit. As he watched the rowdy march pass, Jason Rose cheered in support. ‘I think they’re doing the right thing,’ Rose said. Seth Carter, another bystander, agreed: ‘I think this is the best thing’.”
The effectiveness of black bloc tactics seemed to vary across the country; in New York unpermitted “wildcat” demonstrations attracted support from onlookers, but also led to attacks on the press. According to the Gothamist, some protesters were seen knocking photographers’ cameras out of their hands, in one instance shooting black paint at a lens. C.S. Muncy of the Village Voice reported: “Interaction between the black bloc and the press, it’s pretty ugly. I had a couple grab at my lens.”
Protesters started to rally at Union Square in mid-afternoon. According to Alternet blogger Julianne Escobedo Shepherd: “One of the only spots with a city permit, [Union] Square was the destination for the day’s live music, but it also served as a safe space for protesters unwilling or unable to risk arrest. As such, the undocumented faction came out in droves, and it became a symbolic place where unions and Occupy joined forces with immigrants’ rights movements. People carried signs reading, ‘Amnesty Para Todos,’ ‘Trabajando y Educación Para Todos,’ ‘Stop the Raids’ and, most crucially, ‘No a la guerra, ni a la militarización de la frontera’. … the most salient point of the rally was made by a speaker later in the day, who reminded us that the Supreme Court is on the cusp of legalizing Arizona’s immigration law, SB 1070, and that it was up to us to stand against similar racist laws like it.”
At 6 p.m., 30 minutes after the official start of the march, thousands were still trapped by police barricades at Union Square. OWS blogged: “Broadway is packed, stretching for blocks for the permitted march. Some people report being stuck in the same place for 45+ minutes. Chants: ‘Let us march!’ Large union presence. Chants at front: ‘Obama, escucha! Estamos en la lucha!’ ‘One struggle, one fight! Workers of the world, unite!’” (Watch video here)
When the marchers finally reached the financial district they found police had blocked off Wall Street, so many continued to the Veterans Vietnam Memorial Plaza in lower Manhattan. According to the Guardian: “Scores of New York City police officers with riot gear moved in to enforce a 10pm curfew at the memorial. Roughly a dozen clergy members and veterans – some of them having served in Vietnam – locked arms and attempted to block the eviction. They were arrested and the NYPD proceeded to clear all remaining demonstrators from the area.”
However, students planned to stage a continuation of the May Day action at CUNY’s Brooklyn College Campus starting May 2 with teach-ins, political theater, food, music, and events to show that “Another University is Possible.”