This is the second of two installments of a multimedia-accompanied creative feature recounting the events of Occupy Wall Street’s May Day General Strike, which took place on May 1, 212. Be sure to check out the first installment, published on Thursday, May 3rd, for a recap of the day’s earlier events.
Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and the Occupy Guitarmy melded in with the thousands-strong mass of Occupy Wall Street protesters as they went east down 41st Street from Bryant Park. It was shortly after 2: p.m. on May 1, 212, and Occupy Wall Street’s May Day General Strike was starting to look like the movement’s marches of last fall.
Donning a white shirt and a black hat, Morello strummed and sang the old workers’ tune, “Which Side Are You On,” with a cluster of the Occupy Guitarmy as they walked in a sea of increasingly active protesters. A majority of those marching were young adults in their twenties and early 3′s, and the more discerning of observers might have noticed that the immigration movement was present, helping to swell the ranks.
Marchers turned right onto 5th Avenue, flanked by an increasingly outnumbered police force. The NYPD officers did their best to both keep the protesters on the sidewalk and deal with cross-town traffic as the marchers made their way south toward the march’s final destination — Union Square.
Amid the familiar cries of “All day, all week – Occupy Wall Street” and “Bank of America – Bad for America,” members of the Occupy Guitarmy played “One Guitar” and “Which Side Are You On,” inviting those around them to sing along. The tone in the march was one of jubilation, an affirmation of the movement’s post-Zuccotti presence. There was also an inexplicable tension, a sentiment that something was building.
The march continued southward, and with each block the marchers overtook, one could hear more talk of taking the street. We’ve got the numbers, they said. We can work around the police. What are they going to do?
Finally, on 33rd and 5th, the march poured into 5th Avenue amid hoots and cheers, dancing and singing. As women twirled their way between lanes and men in Guy Fawkes masks skipped and chanted with glee, a team of NYPD officers on scooters sped northward, meeting the protesters just south of 33rd street and forming a beeping, motorized barricade as a last-ditch effort to push the protesters back onto the sidewalks. It failed, of course, as marchers simply went around the scooters on the sidewalks and once again took to 5th Avenue after they’d passed the barricade.
The street again turned to a scene of revelry and gleeful disobedience. Chants and music echoed down 5th Avenue as workers and tourists stopped to gawk at the marchers. A chant in spanish spread throughout the marchers as they passed Washington Square Park, veering now onto Broadway:
A! A ti! A ti, capitalista!
A! A ti! A ti, capitalista!
Protesters regrouped just south of Washington Square Park, stopping to allow stragglers to catch up in order to ensure that their numbers were strong enough to defend against the growing police presence. Once they were again in full force, Occupiers, musicians and immigrants marched together, going south on Broadway and eventually spilling out into the northwest corner of Union Square, where the unions were waiting to welcome them in for the night’s closing activities.
A stage had been set up on the south end of Union Square, where labor had spent the early part of the afternoon rallying. Now, with the added presence of Occupy Wall Street, immigration and a number of veterans, the south end of the park grew increasingly dense in anticipation of the musical performances scheduled to rally the protesters once more before the day’s final march.
One of the first performances was Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, who played “This Land Is Your Land” and his own “World Wide Rebel Songs” with a large contingent of the Occupy Guitarmy accompanying him onstage.
Also performing were the New York rap group Das Racist, a latino jazz band, Immortal Technique and a labor choir singing a soulful song about the power of the union.
Baltimore’s Dan Deacon gave a particularly inclusive performance that helped to engender a sense of community among those in the square. One song incorporated what Deacon referred to as the “hive mind” mentality, in which one person in the crowd acted as the queen bee, whom the rest of the fans present had to follow in dancing to the music.
As the musical performances and rousing speeches by labor and immigration representatives came to a close, the crowds in Union Square prepared once more to march south, this time down Broadway — past Zuccotti Park, past Wall Street and past the famous American symbol of capitalism – the Wall Street bull.
An Occupy Wall Street representative sent out an SMS message on the movement’s emergency texting system, alerting subscribers of the march through lower Manhattan.
The marchers passed Zuccotti Park around 8: p.m., with many protesters stopping to take pictures of the pristine park as it sat nearly empty in the final minutes of daylight. A few blocks to the northwest, the World Trade Center’s new tower, which the day before had claimed the title of tallest building in New York City, stood somber in the twilight.
Despite the general showing of peaceful assembly and protest, the night did close with a number of moments marked by acrimony. Amid reports of excessively aggressive arrests earlier in the day, some protesters had grown restless. One group of young folks wearing red and marching with the immigration movement chanted “NYPD, K-K-K, How many kids did you kill today?” as they passed a line of officers in front of Zuccotti Park.
When asked if he had ever dealt with this kind of chanting in the past, one community affairs officer said, “All the time.” He then smiled, adding, “Doesn’t bother me.”
The march came to a close as the sun went down, some 12 hours after the day’s rain-soaked pickets. Protesters, spectators and journalists wandered off a few blocks south of Wall Street, eager to get home and get some rest.
One contingent of the most dedicated protesters gathered at the close of the evening to hold a general assembly by the veteran’s memorial. This was eventually broken up by the police, resulting in the arrests of marchers attempting to hold the space.
So, was May Day a success? Ask any three people on the street today, and you’ll surely hear three different answers. Yes, it revitalized a movement in hibernation. No, the movement is over, and the public is tired of their disruptive actions. We just can’t tell at this point. They need to evolve if they are to survive.
The reality is that it is extremely difficult to determine the success of something like the May Day General Strike, though many will try. Some look at attendance estimates, which protesters themselves placed around 3, by the time of the final march (though others gave significantly more modest estimates, and one Reuters broadcast reporter went so far as to call the day a “dud”). Others could count arrests (87, according to a National Lawyers Guild representative on Wednesday, May 2.). Still others might look at mainstream media coverage and social media activity, both of which were somewhat successful.
But the success of the day won’t be fully understood for quite some time. We must look to see if Occupy maintains a presence in the nation’s dialogue — if its topics continue to trend online and the newspapers continue to follow the story lines. We will watch the political debates to see if the issues brought up among the protesters will be addressed on the national stage in the upcoming political races — Glass-Steagall, Citizens United and student loans. We will look to the movement’s physical and online presence, follow both of their evolutions and see if the movement will find a way to remain both newsworthy and exciting, inclusive and civil, instructive and constructive. We will wait to see what the movement does to the nation’s dialogue, and then see where this dialogue takes the nation before we can make any coherent assessment on the May Day General Strike.