Friday, May 04, 2012

“Another World Is Possible” – May Day in New York

Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park banner. Photo by me.
After months of planning and hard work May Day was a great success for the Occupy movement in New York City. Though you wouldn't know it from reading any New York newspapers, thousands of people participated in hundreds of actions all over the city during the day, and the culminating march from Union Square to Wall Street saw many tens of thousands of exuberant protesters filling the streets. Confrontations between demonstrators and police were few until the final hours of the protest, when cops violently broke up an assembly by some of the protesters who kept things going after the officially tolerated time.

While it is true that the "general strike" calls generated by many in the movement proved only symbolic, the day marked the vibrancy and deepening of Occupy, which spent the winter building ties in neighborhoods and communities, and across networks of activists and organizations. Occupy is anything but moribund.

For me the day started in Brooklyn, as my local neighborhood Occupy assembly, Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park, gathered on the Avenue in front of two local branches of the big banks Citibank and Chase. We had planned a march/speakout that would go through one of the main drags of the neighborhood, stopping at various stations to address issues relevant to this multi-ethnic, working class community. So at the point of assembly we carried out a skit about the role of the banks and about income inequality. About 35 of us marched.

The next stop, shown above, was at the offices of May First People Link, the independent radical internet service provider that has recently been targeted and harassed by the FBI. The First Amendment from the Bill of Rights was read in English and Spanish, and May First People Link members read a statement to the gathered protesters.

From there we moved on to the site of a horrible incident of police brutality in the neighborhood a few years ago where several members of the Acosta family, including the grandmother of the family, were strip searched and brutalized right out on the street. Harassment by the NYPD in Sunset Park is a daily thing for the neighborhood's Hispanic residents, many of them immigrants. A member of the Acosta family thanked us and reminded us of our right to reject police mistreatment.

Reclaiming the courthouse. Photo by OSP.
We moved on to the Courthouse building on 4th Avenue, which we have previously targeted for a "People's Repossession." This time we had a ribbon cutting ceremony, and placed a sign promised the "Future Home of the Sunset Park Community Center," and the gathered folks yelled out all the things we'd like to see in such a desperately needed bit of community space. Everything from free daycare and cultural classes to a health clinic and legal aid clinic. Right now this beautiful landmark building is occupied by cops being warehoused to push pencils. We rejected the idea that any immigrants to our neighborhood are "illegal."

From there we stopped at the Dewey Middle School. The city is cutting back services in our neighborhood to working-class families, cutting back funding to daycare and after-school programs, and threatening schools like this one with union-busting turnaround or transformation into for-profit charter schools. Dewey was just saved from turnaround by community outcry, and we celebrated that fact while giving Mayor Bloomberg's corporatist Department of Education "F's" on a giant report card for its role in toying with the education of the children of our community.

Occupying the Subway. Photo by OSP's Krys M.
From there we marched to the Subway at 36th Street and 4th Avenue. Above ground we stopped to call for full employment jobs programs and, well, for an end to capitalism! A bunch of us went down into the subway together (above, and yes, that's me) to ride to Union Square for the big march. On the subway we met up with folks from Occupy Red Hook who are also engaged in organizing an assembly in their neighborhood, right near ours.

Occupy/Ocupemos Sunset Park is a really awesome group of people I'm incredibly proud to work with. We planned the day's event together and carried it out in a real spirit of collectivity.

"Everything for Everyone – Dream Dangerously" Kasama banner in Manhattan. Photo from Kasama.
So into Manhattan we went. I spent some of the time with my Occupy Sunset Park comrades, and some of the time with comrades from the Kasama Project with their wonderfully challenging banner shown above. From my end of the absolutely packed Union Square I couldn't hear the tail end of the rally, but I marched most of the way downtown until my middle-aged ankles started complaining about the day of walking. I missed the assembly at the very end; friends reported that it was incredibly empowering and almost magically beautiful.

It was hard from any one spot amidst the assembled thousands to get a feel for the whole crowd. There were people from every imaginable left group, from unions and community organizations, and thousands of Occupy activists displaying their nack for truly revolutionary creativity. I ran into all sorts of people I've gotten to know from the past few months of organizing.

The mood was high and celebratory, despite occasional minor harassment from the cops who kept trying to pen the marchers in. It's the first time I can remember where a march this size was seized with such absolutely revolutionary optimism. People sang, and chanted, laughed and smiled. And while "This is what democracy looks like" was a favorite, Occupy really showed its colors by chanting things like "Another World Is Possible." This is absolutely a moment when people are coming together to see things with fresh eyes, casting away old illusions and attachments, and bringing a real spirit of hope and real change.

It was not, in the end, a general strike. And millions of New Yorkers probably didn't notice what happened. But I know I feel energized by this May Day; it was a taste of what we can do. A reminder, for sure, of all the work to be done. But tens of thousands of people did see it, did participate in it, and together we can keep building and growing.

For me the day was full of the positive lessons of what real democracy looks and feels like. It's not elections and waiting for somebody else to save us, knowing they will mostly betray us, it's taking things into our own hands because, well, the world is ours, the world, is us.


  1. Thanks for the nice and detailed report. I know you all worked so hard for this day. I wish the Occupy Movement would have garnered more attention on the national news; the positive side, as you say, of what democracy really looks like. Hopefully this will continue and continue... like the annoying drip of a water faucet, until it gets fixed. I love all your pictures as well. Good job.

  2. Thanks Annie.

    The one detail I forgot about was our police shadow. We had a van, two patrol cars, and two or three or these weird go-cart looking things following us the entire afternoon in Sunset Park. It was almost humorous when we were on the residential side street where the banner photo was taken. Everybody was in a great mood, happy to be together, a threat to nobody, nobody reaching for loose rocks, and yet we were surrounded by cops. Who knows what they were fantasizing we would do.