May Day demos offer prelude to summer awakening

BY ZACH WILLIAMS  |  A broad range of progressive activists staged a series of May Day demonstrations in an effort to further their mission of what they consider to be crucial social, political and economic change.

Labor unions, immigration rights groups and Occupy Wall Street comprise the core coalition that organized the May 1 events throughout New York City. Activists expressed outrage throughout Manhattan against bank bail-outs, corporate influence on politics, American militarism, income inequality and other issues in the form of marches, rallies, teach-ins and even a “guitarmy” of about 100 guitar players. Thousands of demonstrators participated in an afternoon rally at Union Square and a march all the way down Broadway to the vicinity of Bowling Green Park.

As of press time, only a handful of arrests were recorded and no major disruptions had occurred, despite the occupiers’ request for tunnels and bridges entering Manhattan to be shut down.

The citywide events were part of a national effort that also included demonstrations in Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland and other cities across the country. The protesters’ hope was that the “day without the 99 percent” would mark the beginning of renewed efforts from the O.W.S. movement to reclaim the national attention they enjoyed last fall following the establishment of the group’s original encampment in Zuccotti Park.

“We’ve lost our democracy. We’ve lost our civil rights,” said Carol Gay, 64, of New Jersey who has participated in the movement since September. “Everything that we were supposed to stand for, being a democracy, is just a sham now.”

Gay, a veteran activist, said that taking direct action against Wall Street can lead to victories both large and small, including a recent foreclosure intervention that saved an elderly woman from eviction. Gay said that staging large, disruptive actions are necessary in order to get everyday citizens, government officials and corporate workers alike to respond to the movement.

“I think we need to be a little crazy and out of control sometimes, [otherwise] they don’t listen,” said Gay.

O.W.S. protesters who formed a spur-of-the-moment occupation early in the morning managed to bring about 1,000 people to Bryant Park. Picket lines quickly materialized outside branches of Bank of America, Chase Manhattan and News Corporation’s midtown offices. The occupiers also organized a free “university” workshop at Madison Square Park, which featured teach-ins on capitalism and the history of May Day among other topics.

The afternoon rally at Union Square attracted scores of activists to an event that featured speakers from throughout the coalition as well as musical performances by Tom Morello, Immortal Technique and other artists.

By about 6 p.m., activists had begun to trickle out of the square and march down Broadway. While labor unions and other traditional progressive organizations focused their mobilizing efforts on the permitted rally and march, ‘occupiers’ staged less-conventional actions that quickly caught the attention of the scores of NYPD present at demonstrations.

The ‘guitarmy’ group accompanied a non-permitted march of several hundred occupiers in the afternoon. Shortly after the demonstrators left Bryant Park, some of them attempted to swarm the intersection of 33rd Street and Fifth Avenue. Dozens of police shoved protesters and members of the media back onto the sidewalk, and then blocked a crosswalk, which led to a further scattering of demonstrators as they headed toward a rally taking place at Union Square.

Activists vowed that May Day was only the beginning of ongoing demonstrations that would persist through the summer.

Nick Nelson, 24, a native of Grand Rapids, Michigan who attended his first Occupy protest this week, said the movement has already helped to alter the national political discourse.

Regardless of whether or not the movement survives, he said, Nelson is optimistic about what the future holds.

“Even if it does fail,” he said, “It’s setting the stage for something bigger.”