The Guardian provides viewpoints of May Day of several noted activists in this article. Much of the press coverage of May Day was predictable, focused on conflict – not the news, successful large protests, or emerging coalitions that participated.The panel provides insights into the evolution of Occupy Wall Street and the opportunities it provides for the restoration of a fair and just democracy.
Janet Byrne: ‘Occupy Wall Street is not a dog-and-pony show anymore’
If one were attempting to mummify Occupy Wall Street by reducing it to a greatest hits list of accomplishments, the kinds of questions asked Tuesday by many mainstream news outlets would be a good start:
“What about the street presence? Isn’t that Occupy’s single greatest strength? Is there anything left if that’s gone?”
With the May Day march down Broadway, protesters effectively put an end to any such efforts to Facebook-timeline the movement.
First, the march was too big to allow Occupy Wall Street to continue to be reduced to a dog-and-pony show. Four police officers I spoke with at about 8pm near Trinity Church, at Wall Street and Broadway, estimated the crowd at 25,000, and Occupy Wall Street organizers put it variously at 10,000–15,000 and at 50,000. The office of the Deputy Commissioner of Public Affairs at the NYPD explained on the morning of 2 May that the NYPD “does not give out crowd estimates. Ask the organizers.” The New York Civil Liberties Union put the number at 30,000.
Janet Byrne is editor of The Occupy Handbook
Reverend Billy Talen: ‘The future lies in reinventing protest form’
Occupy is a new form of protest comprised of ordinary living, strategically placed. It electrified us last fall when, in Liberty Square, we lived simply in the open, fed each other, made our own media and security, created new hand signaling for a start-over democracy.
This proved transfixing theatre. The play had a long run. The police were flummoxed by the invasion of pup tents and pots of soup and crucially sincere discussions.
Clearly, the future lies in again inventing a protest form. Our evolution makes the revolution. There are ways to open up the seams of society and once again emerge powerfully, communicating with the larger world in unstoppable ways.
Reverend Billy Talen is the leader of the activist performance group the Church of Stop Shopping
Hannah Appel: ‘May Day felt like a celebration of renewed possibilities’
May Day started with 99 pickets headed out into the Manhattan drizzle. In front of Citigroup’s world headquarters, protesters chanted their critiques through the now-famous people’s microphone: $10bn profit in 2010 alone, zero dollars federal taxes for five years running. Elsewhere, an Immigrant Worker Justice Tour led protesters from Wells Fargo to Chipotle, to the Capital Grille, setting up a picket at each to highlight the forms of workplace discrimination particular to immigrant workers. In each of the picket lines, one could see signs of Occupy Wall Street – puppets, the use of the people’s microphone – side by side with community organizations (New York Communities for Change, the Immokalee Workers), and unions including the Teamsters Local 814 and the UFCW Local 1500.
In short, May Day 2012 indexed a time of surprising political possibility. Thinking back to the summer of 2011, the intractable political argument in the US was whether or not to raise the debt ceiling. But as Occupy Wall Street burst into downtown Manhattan’s privately-owned public spaces, questions of inequality catapulted to the front pages, as did a renewed focus on the financial industry’s role in an economic crisis that seemed to pass systemic risk to tax payers and systemic reward to the top.
Hannah Appel is an economic anthropologist, active participant in Occupy Wall Street’s alternative banking and thinktank working groups
Tom Hayden: ‘We need a new generation of Robin Hoods’
The measure of a genuine uprising, as distinct from a political campaign or mobilization, is the degree of its “newness”, in the phrase of the New England Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau. By that standard, the broad Occupy movement is a genuinely new force in the world, one which has unhinged “the predictable”.
Tuesday, there were hundreds of spirited protests as Occupiers ended their winter. There were protests against Iraq a decade ago, but these are defined by their youthful leadership, courage, and geographic breadth. The tactics in some places deserves discussion. But instead of being critical spectators on the sideline, we all can demand that our leaders not mechanically defend the status quo with police and empty promises.
The Occupy movement, and kindred spirits from the Middle East to China, is driven by young people who feel unrepresented by the institutions, disenfranchised economically, and threatened by an environmental catastrophe.
Will today’s establishment yield or not? It appears that Merkel’s stark vision of austerity is being rejected, that Labour is rising in the UK, that the Socialists may win in Paris. The popular tide is running against privatization and repression, as it has in the US since 2008, where the Tea Party is losing support.
Tom Hayden is a founding member of Students for a Democratic Society, and is the founder and director of the Peace and Justice Resource Center
McCleave Maharawal: ‘These months of planning have changed the Occupy movement’
May Day in New York City was beautiful. From the “99 pickets” protest in the morning targeting corporate headquarters in midtown, to the Bryant Park pop-up occupation, to the Free University in Madison Square Park where students and educators went on strike by holding their classes outside, to the joyous, fair-like atmosphere of Union Square and, finally, with the energetic march with tens of thousands of people, chanting, singing, dancing all the way to Wall Street, the city felt re-imagined and re-invigorated. The entire day was inspiring and powerful.
These months of planning have changed the Occupy movement. Through alliance-building and working with unions, community groups, immigrant rights groups and the burgeoning student movement, Occupy has had to learn from the longer history of organizing and activism in New York. It has had to learn what it means to listen to groups and people from diverse places and with diverse experiences and to work with them. It has had to understand itself better through this listening, and it has had to convince other groups that it is a serious movement, not just some kids who camped in a park for a few months.
Manissa McCleave Maharawal is a doctoral student at the CUNY Graduate Center, a founding member of the editorial collective In Front and Center