Thousands of people turned out in New York for a day of action that culminated in a confident march down Broadway in the evening sunshine towards Wall Street, the crucible of the protest that began last year with an angry backlash against banking excess.
The stated aim of bringing business in the commercial capital of the US to a standstill went unfulfilled, but as rain gave way to a bright spring afternoon, traffic ground to a halt around Lower Manhatttan as the Occupy movement‘s most anticipated day of action in months took hold.
There were isolated clashes with police as officers clamped down on perceived violations, but by early evening the mood was broadly good-natured. There were flashpoints, however, at protests elsewhere in the United States.
In Oakland, California, scene of several violent clashes between activists and police in recent months, the situation threatened to boil over again when police fired tear gas, sending hundreds of demonstrators scrambling. Police arrested four people.
Officers also fired “flash-bang” grenades to disperse protesters converging on officers as they tried to make arrests, police said. Four people were taken into custody.
Black-clad protesters in Seattle used sticks to smash some downtown windows and ran through the streets disrupting traffic. The city’s mayor, Mike McGinn, made an emergency declaration allowing police to confiscate any items that could be used as weapons.
In San Francisco the Occupy movement was blamed for a night of violence in which cars and small businesses were vandalised. Protest organizers later attempted to distance themselves from the disruption.
In New York threatening letters containing a white powder that appeared to be corn starch were sent to some institutions in the city. Three letters were received on Tuesday: two at News Corporation headquarters and addressed to the Wall Street Journal and Fox News, and one at Citigroup. The message in the letters said: “Happy May Day.”
Seven letters were received on Monday at various banks. One was sent to the New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg.
But in all Tuesday’s disruptions amounted more or less to a series disparate incidents in a day that was far less violent than some of the scenes witnessed when the movement was at its peak last year.
In New York the day of protest began in morning rain at Bryant Park where demonstraters gathered before setting off on marches around the area.
Outside a branch of Bank of America protesters chanted: “Bank of America, bad for America.” One participant, Jason Ahamdi, said he was ready for a long day of demonstrating. “I’m prepared for the whole day,” Ahmadi told the Guardian, saying that he had been involved in preparations for weeks.
As demonstrators marched past the headquarters of News Corp, the Fox News ticker 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”.
In Bryant Park there were many of the staple elements of Occupy’s original encampment, including a library with works from Thoreau, Alice Walker and F Scott Fitzgerald.
A screenprinting table was set up where participants could “up-cycle” their clothing, taking old their clothes and adding Occupy logos and imagery to them.
“Why buy something new when you can improve something you already have?” said David Yap, who was volunteering at the stand.
Eileen Maxwell arrived in New York on Saturday, motivated by the influence of corporate money on the political process. She dismissed the idea that the protest movement had declined in relevance. “People think we’re invisible. We’re not,” she said.
There were some clashes with police during the day, particularly during attempts to break out of the park on marches that did not have police permits. 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 physical 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. Officers attempted to pull a banner from the demonstrators. One senior officer yelled in the face of the protesters as he pulled: “I fucking got it!”
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.”
During the afternoon the focus switched to Union Square. Again protesters took the street. “They were powerful,” said Paul Moore, who said he saw demonstrators push through a “football line” of police officers.
Once gathered in Union Square, Occupy Wall Street supporters converged with thousands of union members and community activists for a free concert. With a police helicopter circling low overhead, Grammy-award winning guitarist Tom Morello opened with his Worldwide Protest Song.
Morello told the Guardian that he “flew 3,000 miles” to aid the movement in its effort to “push a social justice agenda”.
After the concert, which also included performances from Immortal Technique, Das Racist and Dan Deacon, thousands of protesters marched south down Broadway, closed to traffic by the police, to the financial district.
Led by several New York City taxi cabs and scores of union members, the protesters arrived to Manhattan’s southern tip with plans for a long night to come.
“I hope it turns out beautifully,” said one protester, who called herself Anne F, as the remaining demonstrators gathered at a Vietnam Veterans memorial for a popular assembly.
As a police helicopter circled above, Occupy Wall Street organiser Nelini Stamp detailed May Day events around the country and the world to the crowd. “I think the day was a success,” Stamp told the Guardian.
Noting widespread and diverse participation throughout the day, Stamp added: “We showed that we are a force to be reckoned with.”R Soft Web Hosting