At around 4:30 p.m. on May 1, 2012 a postcard from a hopeful new world coalesced on the southwest side of Union Square Park in New York City. A pack of 60 teachers from Occupy the Department of Education streamed out of the subway exit, pausing for just a second by an anti-deportation contingent, before marching into a throng of over 5,000 working class celebrants already gathered at the south side of the park. On their way they passed a group of more than a hundred straight-laced college students planning their march around a pro-Palestinian freedom banner as a young couple, surrounded by admiring seniors who had shown up to defend the post office, put finishing touches on the “Make Art not War” painting just a few yards behind them. Veterans for Peace watched on approvingly, standing by the Gandhi statue, a few swaying to the music from the drum-circle/dance-off a little further North in the park. Four women from Occupy Block by Block stood 10 feet to their right, reading Workers World, sharing cigarettes and coordinating incomers by phone. A group of Eastern European and Caribbean Teamsters recognized some friends in the transit worker crowd and crossed the street, passing a diverse group from a smaller trade union carrying anti-deportation signs.
A Latin jazz band (union, of course) boomed fast-paced, syncopated populism from a stage now surrounded by an impenetrable throng of working class activists. Some forty members from National Lawyer’s Guild arrived right behind the teachers, donning suits and neon green hats which have become signature of the legal observers who often serve as first-responders when penniless activists get arrested at protests. Behind them nearly a hundred nurses filed into the now brimming park. Watching the arrivals were hundreds of transit workers donning TWU blue t-shirts, preparing for the five o’clock march by gathering on and slowly filling up 15th street, west of the park. Amid the raucous celebratory atmosphere, once more a chant broke out, part rallying cry, part prediction, part statement of strategy: “the people united, will never be defeated.”
Throughout America, over 100 cities celebrated the importance and power of working people in a May Day of rallies, teach-ins, walk-outs, marches and protests. In New York City alone, over 20,000 total celebrants are estimated to have participated in some form of action throughout the day.
From sun-up at Bryant Park and the march on the Williamsburg bridge, to sun-down at a massive General Assembly broken up by riot-gear wielding cops in a mass arrest that included clergy and Vietnam veterans, a rotation of rallies, teach-ins, pickets and outreach made the city feel like it had grown a small city of activists within a big city of power and money. New York activists were not alone as tens of thousands from around the country, and millions of workers around the world joined in May Day festivities.
In line with a national patterns of solidarity, workers in Minnesota brought together Occupy, organized labor and immigrants rights groups in various cities, recognizing the connection in their challenges and the need for more coordination and unity in their struggles. Workers in Boston, Massachusetts celebrated the day with roving rallies and pickets. At 7p.m., hundreds gathered at Copley Square Park in a somber funeral for “capitalism.” In Chicago, several thousand gathered to celebrate May Day in Union Park despite the constant rain. They chanted for peace, education, a fair tax system. They also chanted “Hey hey, ho ho, Rahm Emanuel’s got to go.”
Similarly blessed with an out-of-touch well-to-do mayor, New York activists have their equivalent in the hundreds of protest signs that lampoon Mayor Mike Bloomberg in very unflattering images with the label Mayor 1%.
One could almost gauge the potential power of May Day by the knee-jerk smearing response from the corporate media that is, after all, just another profit engine for the 1%. Despite at least 15 different protests or actions before noon in New York City alone, in the early afternoon Reuters prematurely called the day “a dud” and a failure for activists. Fox News Channel paraded misconstrued stories of the Cleveland terrorists as occupiers and ran flashing headlines at the News Corp building that read “May Day, May Day, May Day, police set to deal with Occupy crowd that vows to shut down the city”, and “NYPD and big corporations braced for trouble”. Meanwhile stories in the L.A. Times and ABC conflated the property damage of separatists with all activists and protesters within the May Day and Occupy movements.
One of the several protests that would kick off the day, News Corp itself would draw the ire of over 40 protesters crowding and demonstrating around the building for not only distorting the news but also underpaying in taxes. While other protesters also focused on the media at such places like the New York Times, several economically focused affinity groups used the morning to make a protest circuit of some of the nation’s most successful corporate criminals conveniently centered around the high-priced mid-town area where many of New York’s May Day elements had gathered. Midtown stops on the tour de greed included Paulson and Co. Hedge Fund, a Chase bank and a Bank of America on 6th Avenue and 50th Street. The first arrest of the day was a Vietnam veteran blocking a corner by that Bank of America.
Being ignored by corporate media at the same time, around 10 a.m., the Free University opened its doors to the public in Madison Square park, attracting well over two thousand visitors throughout the day to more than 30 free classes and workshops on such topics as horizontal pedagogy and the purpose of mass incarceration in a corporatist society. Author and journalist Chris Hedges spoke about the development of American Empire and the growth of resistance. Francis Fox Piven stopped by to observe and join in discussion.
Typical of the rolling, layered solidarity that seemed thematic to the day, just as the Free University was finishing up, a large “people’s marching band” could be heard approaching from a few blocks north, ready to re-energize the crowd and lead them into an evening of rallies and marches. By 3pm, this larger group was joined by three different student contingents. As the brass band served up a New Orleans-style rendition of Ani DiFranco’s “which side are you on now?” hundreds of students arrived from both high school and college solidarity groups. It was typical of a day that started with dozens of various causes but ended in unity of workers in construction and defense of their own future. The various micro-struggles accumulated into what would eventually become a tidal wave of empowered humanity stretching nearly a mile down Broadway, loudly celebrating worker power and demanding a fair shake from a society built by working class people.
Whether striking and sleeping in the parks of Denver Colorado, or picketing an abusive Chipotle Grill in Midtown Manhattan, whether demanding an end to tax cheats in Athens or demanding a fair economy in Madrid, working class activists around the world have once more reminded us of the important power and responsibility within the grasp of all working people everywhere.
Image: Frugal Cafe