Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Occupy makes massive May Day comeback

Occupy Wall Street participants stage a march down Broadway as part of May Day celebrations in New York, 05/01/12. (photo: Getty Images)

[Gazette Blog Editor's note: With the mainstream media downplaying the May Day protests in America, here are just a couple of accounts of what happened.  For more, go to 

Lower Manhattan occupied
By Sarah Jaffe
The financial district was occupied all evening - by the NYPD, which was out in riot gear, brandishing batons, lining up on side streets and marching two by two down to rallying points for tired but fired-up occupiers from the final march.

As the march - with crowd estimates of 30,000 or so - wound down, hundreds or even thousands wound up in the space at 55 Water Street, where they held a People's Assembly as night fell. The crowd was peaceful, but the space closed at 10 and so the NYPD moved in, calling for dispersal and threatening arrests. City council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Jumaane Williams were on hand with several members of the clergy, observing and gathering evidence. The two council members are part of a lawsuit filed this week against the NYPD.

I followed a breakout march up side streets, and while at first it was disorganized, a crew of experienced occupiers, including many from the Plus Brigades (a newer working group that specifically works on clowning and other positive reactions in order to defuse tense situations with police) took lead of the march, walking arm in arm, dancing and singing. The tension faded as they marched, for a while, without police interference, singing, "This is what democracy looks like."

When we came to Wall Street, though, we ran into a barricade - it seems that the worst thing occupiers can do is attempt to set foot on the actual street their movement is named for. The march turned up William and then down Pine, and as the crew paused to debate where to go next, reports of police violence on Pearl Street - where we'd just been - came in over Twitter from reporters John and Molly Knefel and Ryan Devereaux. We sat on the steps of a JP Morgan Chase building on Pine, and as some discussed tactics and plans for the rest of the night, stragglers came up William, visibly shaken by what they'd seen. "Police were just grabbing people, throwing them to the ground," one marcher said.

And then the police arrived, bearing batons and riot cuffs. They cleared the steps mostly without incident, though there was tension and a faceoff for a while before most of the crowd dispersed back down Pine - where a line of police reinforced a line of barricades once again, keeping the crowd from getting anywhere near Wall Street.

Many of the occupiers wound up where Occupy began, back in Zuccotti Park, where only one side was barricaded off and about 100 people were sitting, chatting in small groups, discussing, once again, what would come next - for the evening, for the movement, for everyone involved. A week of action is planned for later in May, and Brooklyn College is holding a rally today, May 2, to build on momentum from May Day.

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch. 

Strikes, protests mark 
May Day in Bay Area
By Joshua Holland
The Bay Area celebrated May Day with a series of strikes and protests throughout the day, as 19 local labor unions joined thousands of occupiers and immigrants' rights activists.

The Inlandboatmens' Union staged a half-day strike, shutting down ferry service from Sausalito to San Francisco. The ferry workers are in a dispute with management over healthcare costs, and have been working without a contract for over a year. Early in the morning, they were joined by Occupy protesters in a picket line at the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. Bus and bridge workers had promised to honor the picket.

About 200 people participated in a peaceful but boisterous immigrants' rights march in San Francisco's Mission District in the morning. Several separate demonstrations wound their way through downtown Oakland, trailed by a heavy police presence. At one point, tear gas was deployed to disperse a crowd, according to protesters who were on the scene.

In the afternoon, a large contingent of Occupy San Francisco activists - as many as 1,500 - marched from the Financial District to set up residence in a vacant building from which they had been evicted weeks earlier. The building, formerly a shelter, is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

Police staged around the corner during the afternoon, but at around 4:30, approximately 200 officers clad in riot gear moved in, erecting barricades around the building. A tense standoff ensued, during which time a man on the roof of the building threw several objects - a brick and some metal pipes - at police, striking and injuring another protester, who was taken away by ambulance. A San Francisco police spokesman later said that the man had been apprehended and charged with aggravated assault.

After several hours facing down protesters, police again pulled back, and as of press time, protesters had flooded back into the building en masse.

The largest action of the day took place in Oakland during the evening, as an estimated 3,000 people took to the streets around City Hall. The protest was largely uneventful until after nightfall when, in a scene that has come to be all too familiar, Oakland police ended up dispersing occupiers with tear gas and "flash-bang" grenades. As of press time, arrests were ongoing.
Joshua Holland is an editor and senior writer at AlterNet. He is the author of The 15 Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know About Taxes, Jobs and Corporate America.

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