( Occupy Wall Street’s general strike to celebrate May Day attracted more than 30,000 protestors to various locations across New York City. Standing in solidarity with workers, immigrants, students, retirees and unemployed people across the world, Occupy called for a day of “no work, no school, no shopping, no banking, no housework.”
Peaceful Protest: Occupy Wall Street Meditates
Tuesday morning was rainy and overcast, but by early afternoon the skies cleared, attracting larger crowds of protestors to Occupied Bryant Park. The positive energy in the park was contagious — old friends shared stories, distributed newspapers, pamphlets and posters, and basked in the glory of collective resistance. Protestors spoke about the sense of community they felt being part of this “organized chaos.” “No one has a grand plan, but everyone has an instinctual plan,” said John Camiso.*
Protestors at Occupied Bryant Park.
Occupiers used the day to launch creative projects to express their demands for justice in the heartland of corporate midtown. The Awareness Experiment, a group of activists and artists, built a Dream House in solidarity with those who had lost their homes in foreclosures or as a consequence of the mortgage crisis. Initially intended as a life-sized house made of cardboard, paint and duct tape, the project evolved into a smaller house in which people could anonymously write and share their hopes and dreams.
The Dream House.
Musicians gathered by the Gertrude Stein statue to participate in an unpermitted march to Union Square at 2 p.m. Occupy Guitarmy rehearsed “worldwide rebel songs,” later joined by Tom Morello of the band Rage Against the Machine for the march. By 5:30 p.m., the protestors had arrived at Union Square. An estimated 30,000 people continued down Broadway towards Wall Street, carrying posters, chanting slogans and making music.
Guitarmy Rehearsal Before 2 p.m. March from Bryant Park to Union Square
As the protestors marched past Zuccotti Park, they noticed that the park was eerily empty. Chants of “let’s take the park” started to ripple through the crowd, but the police had barricaded the sidewalks and protestors were forced to stay on the street. Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement, has ceased to be the locus of protest since New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg evicted the movement last November.
Protestors on the March
Occupiers hope that May Day will mark the revival of the movement after the post-eviction lull. “Today feels like the awakening of a protest from hibernation,” said Adrian Staps, an MFA student from the Netherlands. Despite all the enthusiasm and passion behind the renewed protests, Occupy still ceases to articulate any specific goals.
Lady Liberty is Back
With its May Day resurgence, Occupy should have made a concerted effort to move beyond popular chants, banners, and drum circles. But the movement’s continued refusal to articulate any tangible policy demands is precisely where it falters if it aims to achieve any policy change
Many argue that the movement gets power precisely because it is a “leaderless movement” that no individual has the right to speak for, as Carne Ross said on the Colbert Report. The sense of community that this leaderless movement has created is incredible — it has prioritized inequality as a key issue to achieve greater economic, political and social justice in the U.S. It has galvanized different sectors of society into a close community that protests against the gaping inequalities that exist between the rich and the rest of America.
But empowerment, creative expression and a sense of community is probably not enough to ensure that Washington enacts policies that will reduce inequality. Occupy represents several sectors of society — the unemployed, the poor, the homeless, the immigrants, the blue-collared workers — who will benefit not only from belonging to a protest, but also from shifts in policy that improve their standards of living. To fail to develop a roadmap of tangible demands more than seven months into the movement is letting them down.
The huge crowds participating in the May Day protests are a testament to the need for change — and now is the moment for Occupy to galvanize their support and ask for change as clear and specific policy demands.