Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Ghosts of the Haymarket, Occupy and a Revitalized May Day

At least they it around midnight the night before May Day, when reports of raids of houses of several known anarchists and Occupy activists began to surface on the internet.   The police were going to the houses of those with outstanding warrants, chilling the movement even more.   The following morning, the NY Times reported “Envelopes with White Powder Sent to Mayor and 6 Banks.”   The Times reported that unnamed sources speculating that the letters were sent from Occupy Wall Street, although no evidence could be found which linked the letters to the movement.  OWS media representative Bill Dobbs confirmed that “It doesn’t sound like anything that’s part of the plans for tomorrow.”  Still, the link between movement and terrorism had been established for the day.  And it was raining.

I had been planning to attend the morning commute and Wildcat March to start off May Day, but between raids and the memo from the NYPD Counterterrorism unit seemingly linking unpermitted parades with disruptive terrorist activities, I thought otherwise, deciding to meet up with the movement elsewhere.  When the cop gets in our heads, the police no longer need to push bodies out of the streets, they have already done so with their public relations.  Instead of reveling in my constitutional right to freedom of assembly to petition the government for a redress of grievances, we think twice.  Images of orange netting and pre emptive arrests, 2004 style come to mind. This is NYPD crowd control at its finest.   Fear is our greatest liability; conversely, joy our greatest asset. Capitalism needs sadness; it is the job of activists not to succumb. Yet it still rained all morning, creating a gray May Day.

With all this in mind, I watched my kids celebrate May Day dancing around the May pole at school and zipped out to the 99 pickets.  So many smiles as kids revel in the coming of Spring. Walking off the F train at 42nd street, I heard the drums of protest.   Stepping out at Bryant Park, one of the OWS picket groups was marching to join the immigrant picket at Capital Grill at 42nd and 3rd.  “1,2,3, 4 Don’t Go in This Restaurant Door, 5,6,7,8 Until They Don’t Discriminate.” The group swelled with supporters from multiple movements as OWS joined campaigns around wages and everyday struggles for justice. “Get up, get down, there’s arevolution in this town,” some screamed. “Outta the stores into the streets,” others chimed in.  Soon the crowd joined a picket line in front of Chipolte.  Sadly, Chipolte has not showed much commitment to its workers, refusing to sign the CIW food pact.

“San Francisco and Chicago just took the street,” one man reported as we all walked. 
Strolling by Citibank, a man started photographing the police huddled in the doorway.  A push turned to a scuffle and police zoomed in.  We were all on a very tight lease.

Walking over to Bryant Park, I was wondering about our capacity to create longer change.  Certainly, Occupy can take its place in the long history of street actions which changed New York.  Planes crashing into buildings and the movements which grew over the meaning of the War on Terror, AIDS activists crashing a service at St Patrick’s Cathedral over church’s hostility to reproductive rights and HIV prevention, workers beating up anti-war activists during the 'Hard Hat Riots', Emma Goldman preaching on labor and anarchism at Union Square – these were moments which helped crystallize a clash of ideas.  They dramatized conflict between cultures, imperialism, sexual self determination, class, and reproductive autonomy.  Occupy’s struggle over public space has helped illustrate a class conflict over an expanding disparity of wealth in the US.  A generation long decrease in Union membership mirrors the expansion in inequalities in wealthOccupy  helped identify the problem.  It ridiculed a popular, powerful governor as “Governor 1%” and watched him budge; it built alliances with labor, and pushed to create a space for a different perspective not often seen or heard in increasingly controlled public space.  The problem is large.  So are the efforts by the pwers and principalities to stop Occupy.  The problem Occupy has taken on is profound.  Yet, the sun was coming out.

Gradually, the picket moved back to Bryant Park, the scene of Guitarmy, a DIY carnivalesque musical jam.  Everyone, including bad banjoists, such as myself, were invited to take part.  A brief description:

Join us May Day, May 1st: Bring anything that makes music, but most importantly bring YOUR VOICE. With Tom Morello, Ben Harper and YOU. Meetup noon at Bryant Park, march to Union Square 2pm… 

Join the legions of guitarists, string players, singers, and DIY-shaker makers will converge on Bryant Park May 1, 2012 for Occupy Guitarmy, part of the Occupy Wall Street May Day actions for social and economic justice.

Occupy Guitarmy is a large gathering of New York-area guitarists and string players from complete beginner to master shredder, from bedroom artist to legend. All are equal in this guitarmy. We play and march to support Occupy, to raise our voices, to recognize each other was musicians, music workers, community. We ask all New York City-area guitarists and string players to join us on this day.

We will play and sing together the following social justice songs: “This Land Is Your Land,” Woody Guthrie, “El Pueblo Unido,” Sergio Ortega / Quilapayún, “One Guitar” Willie Nile, “World Wide Rebel Songs,” The Nightwatchman, and the spiritual “We Shall Not Be Moved.” These songs' chords, lyrics, MP3s and videos are available on the site.

Our base camp is Bryant Park, next to the Gertrude Stein station. There the Occupy Guitarmy will begin with teachers helping other musicians master chords, song leaders teaching songs, and those who mastered it all invariably jamming. We will organize into groups and, along with other groups assembled at the Park, we will sing, play, and march our way down to Union Square Park.

The Occupy Guitarmy is part of May Day, a call for the 99% to take the streets and reclaim our communities. We’ll demand economic justice from the major institutions of government and industry who refuse to step forward and deliver a just society. No Work, No School, No Shopping, No Housework, No Compliance. May Day will be another important step forward in the growth of a resistance movement that has captured international headlines since the occupation of Liberty Square on September 17th, 2011 and contributed to a renewed national and global focus on social and economic injustice.

The author to the left in the May Day Guitarmy by Jennifer Julia Maskell

When I arrived everyone was rehearsing in a collective musical skill share. I joined a few banjoists to work out the chords for “We Shall Not Be Moved.”  We headed out with “This Land is Your Land.”  Woody Guthrie’s prophetic words, so familiar, in a chorus of voices from a new social movement, just as so many movements had sung before it. When Pete Seeger leads everyone, thousands sing along.  Block after block we sang and played. Turning around I saw a man with his cello hanging around his neck, his bow finding the melody for “This Land.”  And it sounded lovely.  By the time, we began the two chords of “One Guitar” walking, singing and dancing, I was in my body and the music, not in my head worrying about police and income inequality. Crossing over to 30th street, most of the rally moved into the street, celebrating to joy of connection with each other, as well as the defiance of a model of citizenship which says we have to ask for permission to live democratically.  Some sang and more smiled as they marched.   And more and more people filled the street.   Within a few minutes, police scooters started to scoot across 5th Ave.   “Run around them like you are water,” one man screamed. Many of us stopped playing and scooted around.  I was still picking “Angels We Heard on High” and “When the Saints Go Marching In,” watching bodies collectively move to fill our public space with our unpermitted expression of wanderlust for a more embodied, authentic expression urban living.  Police scooped around again from the other side of the street and activists ran around them again.  The process went on all the way to Madison Square park, as cat and mouse games became part of our May Day ritual.

So many lovely moments.  By Giles Clark

As we approached Union Square, police zoomed directly into a line of activists. And the crowd broke into two responses.  Some surrounded the police, serenading them with, “This Land.”  Another group screamed “Fucking Cops.”  One man wore a black bandana; he was a young African American man.  Watching him scream, I walked up to him and chimed in.  “Take this as you will.”  He stopped for a second.  “But if you want to get arrested keep doing what you are doing.”  He listened.  “Seriously, you fit the profile they are looking for and you are African American.  They would be more than happy to arrest you.”  After watching youth wearing black bandanas in Union Square on May Day in 2000 be swept up for merely standing in the park, I have long wondered about the utility of ‘black block’ masked profile.  He pulled down his mask and looked at me, looking much younger. “I love you.  I want you to be around here not in jail.”  He said thanks and walked away.  I’m not much for playing pop at rallies, but aesthetics are part of this game we’re playing here.  There are power dynamics in the presentation of self in everyday life.  And for many of us, the image of the black block has gotten old, even if we do support a diversity of tactics. 

Others, including Seattle veterans Starhawk and Lisa Fithian have certainly helped Occupy distance itself from the Black Block look. And it is not because any of these activists harbors support for a politics of respectability, as much as that many of us recognize the imagery of  menacing men in masks is not necessarily useful for this movement’s claims, even if one does respect a diversity of tactics.  “I'd like to personally thank the 50 masked up idiots in black who are marginalizing the other 99% of us today in downtown Seattle,”  noted direct action veteran John Sellers.  I don't know if you are right or left wing provocateurs. But way to go assholes. Mission accomplicated.”  Black masks give provocateurs a cover for their surveillance and disruption of our movements. 

May Day at Union Square by Patricia Gardener

An important message for May Day.  Photo by  the Rev Erik McGregor

Walking through Union Square, I listed to the immigrant rally, compared notes with friends, and grabbed a coffee.  My adrenaline, which had been oozing out of my ears as we ran away from the police, was now waning.  It was a lovely energized feeling in Union Square.  Members of  the Plus Brigades hung out under some trees in northwest corner of the park, joined by members of the infamous Bike Block, along with the OWS hospitality.   And the Reverend Billy and Church of Stop Shopping were busy singing to union members.  It was a peaceful moment after what had already been a very eventful day.  I left for class at 5:30 as the rally march was starting, taught my 6 PM class, where we all compared notes, and returned after 8 PM.  And the union march was still going, with thousands passing Zuccotti.  Looking into the distance up Broadway, bodies filled the street for as long as I could see. 

Jed Brandt
May Day by Patric Mccern

Walking through Zuccotti, I ran into my friend Peter who had befriended Queen Mother, an African American activist who had joined the Council of Elders, bridging the Civil Rights and  Occupy movements.  Early in the fall, she had connected with Occupy, attending General Assemblies where she urged members of the burgeoning OWS to take seriously the conditions of those outside of the movement’s immediately vicinity. Fighting a predatory lender while living in a building without a boiler, she asked for help, returning every day.  A contingent joined her, helped her replace her boiler and  formed Occupy the Hood.  “I am the community mother of Harlem and the Ambassador of Goodwill to Harlem…” she noted in an interview with Peter and myself. “I am here to help support the young people, Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Hood, to look out for my OWS.  I want them to bring us all a plan of action,” she advised.  OWS has connected with so many amazing people and helped them feel connected and valued. This is part of the long term vitality of this movement.

Some of the people who had been marching, riding, running from police, twittering, and chanting since 9 AM were now pouring into the Blarney Stone, a pub on Trinity Place where Occupiers have been hanging out since the spring before the occupation when we held our May 12 rally on Wall Street.  We shared stories of the day.  Many from the Bike Block and Church of Stop Shopping were already there when I arrived.  Throughout the night people would pop in and out, in between the General Assembly taking place at the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial.  Many were clearly energized by what had happened during the day.  Instead of creating a day of action without second act, OWS had gone local, joining 99 picket lines and struggles throughout the city.  Radical historian Staughtyn Lynd has advised that the movement build counter institutions and traditions, rather than more opposition.  And it appears this is slowly happening.  Rather than the summits and days of action which propelled the global justice movement, OWS is building inroads into multiple movements.  “This could last for the next ten years,” one man noted.   Others talked about plans to Occupy Brooklyn College the following day (see addendum below).  Others were talking about a May Day victory lap and picket at Sotherby’s the next day.  Some danced to the tunes from the jukebox.  And more conversations ensued.

May Day General Assembly by Deborah Poo

I walked over to check out the General Assembly at the Vietnam Veteran’s memorial where members of Occupy Faith and Veteran’s for Peace helped hold the space as hundreds converged.  Paul Russell would later report to the Judson memorial list: “Michael Ellick was one of the arrested. Occupiers entered the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with intent to hold the space and exercise their right to free speech and assembly. Members of Veterans for Peace and Clergy linked arms and squared off against dozens of NYPD in riot gear. These arrests were peaceful. Others weren't as fortunate. Thanks to all of you who support Judson's justice work. I'm deeply humbled by how well this community effectively creates conflict and peace in the aim of creating a more compassionate world.”

Michael Ellick, Occupy Faith and Veterans hold the space before arrest at  the General Assembly.
Photo by Stacy Lanyon

Most of the clash was done by the time we arrived. “The corporations have made sure there is almost no space for a group of people to meet in this town,” noted one Occupier.  Reviewing the day, she seemed to be right.  The bonus plaza zoned for public access was closed all day, as were the subways to the space.  Yet, the movement pushed forward, inserting itself in the public consciousness, even if that meant taking arrests if need be as Ellick and nearly a hundred others from had done. 

Walking back to the Blarney Stone, it started to dawn on me that this was the best May Day I have been part of.  Between unpermitted street actions, pickets, a mass labor rally, the Guitarmy, and its chorus of songs, more voices had found expression than I imagined possible.  As much as people are told to go home and take part in the democracy of consumerism and private space, countless others joined in a democracy of the streets, freedom of bodies, ideas, and dreams for another kind of city.  Happy May Day Occupy!   

Addendum Brooklyn College, May 2
May 2, reports filed in all day about the Occupation at Brooklyn College.
Following a rally in the quad targeting the privitization of CUNY, several students locked arms while sitting in front of the College President's office. After a brief standoff, students were dragged off by CUNY security while on lookers were pushed down the hall. In the process two students were arrested,” noted Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale.
Billy Wharton concurs: “Brooklyn College Campus Police and the NYPD assaulted peaceful student demonstrators outside of President Gould's office today on campus. Multiple students were pushed against walls, thrown through doorways, and knocked to the floor, a disabled student was assaulted and had her cane taken from her, and multiple students were arrested and literally carried away by the NYPD.
Brooklyn College Student Union, CUNY Grad Center General Assembly,
Students United for a Free CUNY, and New York Students Rising present...

Education Convergence At 
Brooklyn College
Noon, Wednesday - May 2, 2012
Brooklyn College Quad (Next to the library and Bell Tower)

12:00: Sign Making, Music, Student Loan Debt Balloons, 
12:30: Political Theater: Wedding of CUNY Chancellor Goldstein + Kroll Security Group
1:00: Student Speakers, Reading of Solidarity Statements from Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and The Quebec Student Strike.
1:30: March
2: 00: Free Lunch and Free University teach-ins: David Graeber, and others! - Many for the May Day Free University (

2,5 Train to Flatbush Ave/Brooklyn College, Walk one block West on Hillel Place 
B,Q Train to Ave H. Walk Four Blocks East on Ave H to the Campus Road 
(If security guards are assholes, then walk to another entrance. We will have tenure faculty at some of the entrances ensuring people get in.)

web: twitter: @NYCMay2_2012 #May2

Another University is Possible. Wednesday, May 2nd, students from across NYC will be joining together at the Brooklyn College Campus to take back our future from the 1%. 

Hundreds of students will be staging a continuation of May Day and the Free University by taking over the Quad at Brooklyn College with Teach-ins, food, music and events to show an alternative university. 

While subsidies, tax breaks, and corporate loopholes continue to exist allowing banks and corporations to make record profits, slashes to education have resulted in students paying more and more in CUNY while receiving less and less. 

Contact the Convergence:
Press Inquiries/General Info: (347) 670-FREU (3738)
Twitter: Follow @NYCMay2_2012 #May2

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