Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets in cities and towns across the country yesterday. In New York City, where the movement began last September, a large coalition of labor unions, community organizations, immigrant rights groups and Occupy Wall Street activists came together to take part in a variety of May Day protest actions and demonstrations culminating in a massive march to Wall Street that shut down the Broadway thoroughfare from Union Square to the Financial District.
Protesters began gathering at Bryant Park, just west of Times Square, at 8am for the myriad events scheduled over the course of the day. From there, picketers fanned out into midtown Manhattan for planned and impromptu marches throughout the morning, targeting the offices of Wall Street banks and corporate conglomerates among others. The pickets aimed to draw attention to exploitative labor practices and the corrosive effect of corporate influence on our nation’s politics.
Ten blocks south, at Madison Square Park, a “Free University” was set up for the day featuring teach-ins, workshops, skill shares and open assemblies. Down at Washington Square Park, New York University students and neighborhood residents gathered to protest the institution’s planned expansion in Greenwich Village.
The founding fathers were clearly on the minds of more than a few participants who assembled for the day’s events. When asked why she supports Occupy Wall Street, one protester quoted President James Madison: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations.”
Here at IVN yesterday, on the basis of early mainstream media assessments, it was reported that only a few hundred individuals turned out in New York City for the May Day actions, indicating a “noticeable lack of participation.” This would come as a big surprise to anyone who was there. Indeed, one City Council member estimated that as many as 100,000 people participated in the day’s actions.
In the early afternoon, crowds began massing at Union Square, with their numbers quickly swelling into the thousands as the various pickets converged from all over the city ahead of the evening march. New York City’s labor unions and working folks of all stripes were out in force. Among them were transit workers, nurses, teachers, communications workers, food and commercial workers, taxi drivers, undocumented laborers, unpaid interns, and students, to name a few.
The Occupy Wall Street movement appears to have invigorated New York City’s labor unions. The afternoon rally and evening march easily dwarfed last year’s May Day events in Manhattan. Many union activists carried signage and chanted mottos that became virtually synonymous with the Occupy Wall Street protest, such as “We are the 99%,” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” The action, of course, is reciprocal. Many of New York City’s labor unions were vocal supporters of the Occupy Wall Street protest as it settled in to Manhattan’s financial district last fall.
As night fell, thousands gathered at Vietnam Veterans Plaza for impromptu assemblies discussing the day’s events and brainstorming future actions. At its height, the march easily stretched over more than twenty city blocks as protesters marched past Wall Street by the thousands for hours over the course of the evening. New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez estimated that 100,000 people participated in the various actions over the course of the day. “I believe this movement is the voice of the working class,” he told me as he left Zuccotti Park with another City Council member. “OWS is stronger than ever and will get bigger,” he continued. “Today’s action was beautiful. In my estimation, 100,000 people came out for all these actions all over the city.”