Yesterday, May 1st – or May Day – was International Workers’ Day, a day meant to honor labor and workers rights, and often used around the world by workers unions and labor movements to organize rallies, demonstrations, marches, and strikes. This year the notorious Occupy movement seized hold of the date as an opportunity to relaunch and reinvigorate its ongoing efforts, and described the planned, coordinated events that took place throughout the United States and around the world as a “coming together” of the Occupy movement.
Although financial institutions continued to remain the largest targets of protests – with focus on unjust corporate practices and irresponsibility, and the disparity of income and wealth in the U.S. between the top 1% and the lower 99%, as well as perceived abuses of that wealth and power – activists have also begun picketing for labor rights, immigration rights and reforms, and better financing options for the rising costs of higher education.
Organizers called upon people wishing to show solidarity with the protesters to take the day off work or walk out of class, as well as refraining from shopping and encouraged other “creative forms of resistance disrupting the status quo.” They also initially tried to persuade labor unions to participate in a general strike.
Not everyone who took part in yesterday’s May Day events was part of the Occupy movement, though there does seem to be a similar voice and views on a wide range of issues. Other participants of yesterday’s May Day activities included workers unions, activist groups seeking reform in workers rights, healthcare groups, and immigrant rights groups. Many used the day to speak out about the need for fair labor practices and working conditions. Still others tried to use the day as leverage for wage and benefits increases.
Yesterday’s May Day celebrations and events included marches, rallies, picketing, workshops, exhibits, performances, and even (unfortunately) a few riots across cities all over the United States. While most demonstrators and participants were peaceful, there were several incidents where small factions of the groups acted violently and caused property damage.
In Seattle, for instance, a group of violent protesters dressed in black carried black flags on sticks that they used to shatter the windows of several stores and buildings. They also damaged cars, slashed tires, threw paint bombs, and even reportedly attempted to use rudimentary incendiary devices, causing Mayor Mike McGinn to grant police emergency powers to bring the situation back under control and attempt to prevent more violence.
Other Seattle protests and rallies remained peaceful and organized, and the Occupy group has stressed that the actions of these individuals is not indicative of the entire movement.
In Cleveland all Occupy events were cancelled for the day by organizers “out of respect for the city” after a group of five self-described anarchists were arrested on suspicions of a plot to blow up a highway bridge over a national park. Occupy Cleveland issued a statement saying this group was in no way representing or acting on their behalf, and stressing that they are committed to non-violent protest.
Although Los Angeles’ atmosphere was described as festive, elsewhere in the sunny state of California a group of 100 masked protesters with crowbars and paintball guns caused extensive damage and vandalism in San Francisco, smashing windows, defacing buildings and cars, and even attacking a police station. Marches also turned violent in nearby Oakland, a city where the Occupy movement has been met with more aggressive police tactics so far then elsewhere in the country, frequently using tear gas and flash-bang grenades.
In New York city, considered the hub of the Occupy movement, May Day featured a series of events around the city including a “family friendly” pop-up Occupation in Bryant Park with free food, a free market, and workshops; a free spring-up University in Madison Square Garden; a march with “1,000 guitar playing musicians” to Union Square led by Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine; a permitted solidarity rally with musical performances by Das Racist, Dan Deacon, Tom Morello, Immortal Technique, Bobby Sanabria, and others; a permitted march from Union Square into the heart of Wall Street; and finally, an “after party” for evening actions with a People’s Assembly.
Participants of the Occupy Wall Street group in New York have been planning the event since January, meeting in churches and union halls to discuss various tasks such as communications and logistics in group break-out sessions. About 150 people attended the last planning meeting in Greenwich Village on April 25th, making final preparations.
For a movement that has been mostly quiet for the winter, the spirit of Occupy has definitely made a strong Spring resurgence, and yesterday’s May Day activities (which included events in over 115 cities within the U.S.) seem to have rejuvenated the spirit of that camp and given it new steam.